CLASH OF THE ASH: The greatest hurlers of the 1970s
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CLASH OF THE ASH: The greatest hurlers of the 1970s

THE choice of Gaelic footballers and hurlers is personal, selective and based on my recollections of games I’ve seen over the years and from talking to former greats of Gaelic games.

It’s an absolute pleasure to debate the selections and my team may not be the same one selected by readers of The Irish Post, it’s very much a subjective test, and you will be judge and jury on my verdict.

I’m thinking of those summer days again, and the spine-tingling sound of the clash of the ash - let’s bring on the seventies.

This decade belonged to Cork and Kilkenny who shared the spoils of four titles each.

Cork started the decade in devasting style when they defeated Wexford in the first 80-minute final. It was also a significant year for ‘The Rebels’ as it brought them level with Tipperary on the All-Ireland rankings, with 21 titles apiece.

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The Cork three-in-a-row period, ’76 – ‘78, was a magnificent campaign, and signalled the start of something special, with a talented pool of players.

Kilkenny, with an air of invincibility about them, and a conveyor belt of new talent on show, to compliment the old brigade, began a winning sequence that would bring them four All Ireland titles in the decade.

In 1973, the cup returned to Limerick after a lapse of 33 years. The revival of Limerick was so welcome. The more teams challenging realistically for the top honour the better.

You may rightly ask, what about Tipperary?

Well, having bid farewell to some of the old heroes, the wheels fell off the wagon after the golden sixties.

At last, a time for realignment and the introduction of much needed fresh blood. Although the remedy didn’t immediately pay dividends, they did at least get a windfall with victory in ’71.

There you have it, the teams that made the ‘70s, now time for my choice of the best hurlers of the decade.

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Goalkeepers

Noel Skehan, Kilkenny

Noel marshalled his defence as if his life depended on it. He was fearless around the goal mouth, dashing out through a forest of hurls, and clearing his lines.

Seamus Durack, Clare

Although success eluded him in the championship, he showcased his ability on the bigger stage of Railway Cup competitions. A fine custodian.

Defenders

Phil (Fan) Larkin, Kilkenny

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From a family steeped in hurling, Phil was small of statue, but he made up for his lack of physique with a shrewd hurling brain and tremendous skill and courage.

Ted Carroll, Kilkenny

A delightful and elegant corner back, with a deceptive burst of speed, often leaving forwards trailing in his wake.

Pat Hartigan, Limerick

Pat was a gentle giant, well over 6’3 in height and built like a tank. He was a fullback of incredible talent, and for a man of his size never resorted to physical confrontation.

Dan Quigley, Wexford

The name Quigley has adorned Wexford hurling for decades. There were so many of them, all brothers. A big man, Dan was a tough, traditional defender, who did not stand on ceremony.

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Pat Dunny, Kildare

A renowned dual star, who won provincial honours in both codes for Leinster, Pat had this never-say-die attitude, matched with great hurling intensity, and astute vision.

Iggy Clark, Galway

A hurler of great skill and composure, who kept the ‘West’ awake during the seventies. He wasn’t around when the honours arrived in the eighties. If anyone was born in the wrong era, it was Iggy Clark.

Tom Cashman, Cork

From a famous hurling family, it was only natural Tom would follow in his father’s footsteps. He was a superb hurling artist, the bedrock of the Cork defence for many years.

Martin Coogan, Kilkenny

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A natural left-handed player, with boundless energy, Martin, was utterly reliable, fast, hard and fearless.

Pat Henderson, Kilkenny

From 1964 and 1991, the Henderson family name never left the Kilkenny team sheet. Pat, the eldest, played in ten All-Ireland finals, winning five of them. He was a colossal hurler.

Ger Loughnane, Clare

Ger, was clever in his stickwork, one of the many facets in his repertoire of skills. He later became manager of Clare hurlers and led them to glory.

Len Gaynor, Tipperary

The tough-as-teak defender won his first All-Ireland medal in 1965 and his name is inextricably linked with the great years of Tipperary’s dominance.

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Jim Treacy, Kilkenny

A robust player with good mobility, both on the ground and in the air, Jim hurled with Kilkenny at a time when the team had a great understanding between themselves.

Mid-fielders

Mick Jacob, Wexford

One of the greatest of all Wexford hurlers, a class act who avoided the physical challenges by his swift awareness, and movement, Mick had a great spirit, combined with total commitment.

Eamon Cregan, Limerick

From his debut in 1964, to his farewell game in 1983, Eamon played a leading role in Limerick’s All-Ireland success.  A born hurler, and playmaker with delightful skills that were not fashioned overnight.

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Forwards

Gerald McCarthy, Cork

Gerald had determination and flair with unerring accuracy from frees, as well as contributing scoring opportunities for his colleagues in his general play.

Eamon Grimes, Limerick

The blonde-haired flyer was one of Limerick’s top score-getters. A tireless worker who thrived on one-to-one situations and never shirked a tackle.

Pat Delaney, Kilkenny

Pat was one of the finest forwards ever to play for Kilkenny. He had the capacity to penetrate the tightest of defences and his scoring record was phenomenal.

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Martin Cuddy, Laois

Martin was very strong, with huge physical presence. He arrived in Oxford around 1968, so I can vouch for his strength. He would go through a brick wall, taking man and ball with him.

Babs Keating, Tipperary

One of the greatest duel players of all time, Babs arrived on the inter-county scene in the early sixties, winning his first All- Ireland medal in 1964. A player of great style, speed and strength.

Joe Henry, Mayo

It is generally accepted that hurling is not native to Mayo. Joe, undoubtedly Mayo’s finest hurler of all time, carved a niche for himself in the hurling lore of the land, winning three Railway Cup medals with Connacht.

Jimmy Barry Murphy, Cork

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A duel player, with amazing talent that would fit into my selection for both the football and hurling all-time greats. A child prodigy, who had this propensity for attack and scoring spectacular goals and points.

PJ Molloy, Galway

PJ was graced with unlimited hurling skills, and a real opportunist in or near the goals. He ploughed a lone furrow for many years but got his rewards at the end.

Ray Cummins, Cork

Ray was another duel star with exceptional talent. He played in ten All-Ireland finals in both codes, and eventually had a postage stamp issued in his honour.

Mick Birmingham, Dublin

The only Dublin player to have won five Railway Cup titles with Leinster, testament to his hurling prowess and ability.

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Billy Fitzpatrick, Kilkenny

Billy played in six senior All-Ireland hurling finals and was successful in five of them. He was Kilkenny’s leading marksmen over many years, a classy player with a graceful style.

Joe Connolly, Galway

From a famous family in Castlegar, Galway, he first pulled on the maroon jersey in the late seventies and was still wearing it when he captained the county to All-Ireland glory in 1980.

So that’s it, folks.  In the meantime, do look after yourselves and stay safe.

Henry Wymbs has always had a love of Gaelic football and hurling and played inter-county football for Sligo in 1967. He now presents ‘Irish Eye', a weekly Irish music programme broadcast from Oxford across BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Berkshire and online via BBC iPlayer. Email [email protected]