Tuesday, April 28, 2015

'Action Replay' on Kilcullen hurling

Brendan Moran, Frank Morrow, Tom O'Connell and Liam Sherry.
When John Martin held up a 1962 All Ireland Hurling Championship medal at last Sunday's 'Action Replay' event in Kilcullen Library, he noted that not many people knew there were a number of them held by local people, writes Brian Byrne.

That was the introduction to some very singular sporting memories by those same medal holders — Tom O'Connell, Stevie Schwer, Jim Barker and Liam Sherry. Liam was quick to point out that he hadn't actually played on the Kildare team that beat Longford in the All-Ireland final, but had been on the panel.

Tom O'Connell, who captained the winning Kildare team, outlined how so many Kilcullen players came to be on it. "A new curate, Fr Sean Collier, introduced hurling in Kilcullen when he came here," he recalled. "He was a Laois man and had played for his county in Senior hurling. My father, who came from Kilkenny, was interested, and so was JJ Whelan's father, and a few more."

Under Fr Collier's tutelage, the Kilcullen lads were able to put together a Minor squad, training in the 'Priest's Garden', now the piece of land beside the Church Car Park. However, as they got older, they weren't able to keep enough players to form a Junior team, so several Kilcullen lads went to play with Moorefield in Newbridge, and later played for Kildare. "In 1962 we won the Leinster Championships against Wicklow, and then the All Ireland final against Longford."

Among the other mementos from that game is the ball used, which is owned by Stevie Schwer.

Among the GAA memories of the afternoon was one about how priests were not supposed to play football and other games at the time, and those who did used pseudonyms. "We had Fr Collier playing football for Kilcullen, and later also Fr Hegarty — who went on to play a lot of rugby afterwards," Stevie Schwer remembered. "But whenever the Kilcullen priests were mentioned in match reports, they were named as 'Joe Furlong', taking the name of the parish priest at the time ... without his knowledge."

The converation went from there to some mention of the now-notorious 'ban', which prohibited GAA players from participating in 'foreign' games like soccer and rugby. Brendan Moran recalled how Tony Aspell was one of the local players who defied the ban, playing rugby with the Old Kilcullen Rugby Football team and then togging out for Kilcullen GAA.

That prompted John Martin to observe that in many soccer and rugby team photographs of the time in newspapers, some players could be noted with their heads down, 'looking at the ground'. "And one of the best GAA jobs at the time was to be on the vigilante committee, because you had to attend all the games ... to see if anyone was breaking the ban."

That segment of the afternoon concluded with a recollection that Tom O'Connell had come joint third in the famous 'Puck Fada' competition in the Cooley Mountains during his hurling days.

The competition involved players chosen from each county, 'pucking' a ball over a course in the mountains as if they were playing golf. "The winner that year did it in 70 pucks," Tom remembered. "I scored 72, coming joint third."

NOTE: As there was so much material and memories at the 'Action Replay' organised by Julie O'Donoghue and Mary Orford, the Diary is reporting from it in a series of stories over the next week or so.