POWER PLAYERS: The best Hurlers of the 1960s
Sport

POWER PLAYERS: The best Hurlers of the 1960s

FOR me, sport, in the form of Gaelic football and hurling took prominence over everything else, and if I’m being totally honest hurling was my first love.

I think it’s safe to say the love affair is still pretty hot. Don’t worry, herself is well aware of the ongoing situation.

Because my mother lost my real hurl sometime around 1959, (or should I say used it for firewood because of my misuse around the farm) I made my own from a spoke of an ass cart.

I painstakingly used an axe to chop it down, then shaped it with a hatchet, before finishing it off with a penknife.

It took a month to design and when finished it still resembled a spoke from an ass cart.

My carpentry days were over before they’d begun.

I recall a story relayed to me by the great Billy Rackard about the end of his county minor days.

When he was leaving the pitch at the end of the game a senior Wexford official ran up to him and before he had reached the dressing room pulled the jersey over his head and gave it to a senior player who was about to play for Wexford in a championship game against Kilkenny.

Hard to believe nowadays, there was only one set of jerseys in the county.

Oh, the good old days!

My home county of Sligo was never a hurling hotbed and as a consequence I never gained any great skill at the game, and now in my seventies it is highly unlikely I ever will.

Cork’s dominance after years of plenty in the forties and fifties, gave way to years of famine in the sixties, albeit they did win an All-Ireland in ’66.

The pendulum swung back the Lee-siders way in the seventies, when once again they became a force to be reckoned with.

The decade also witnessed Galway’s disappearing act, after appearing in, and losing, three finals in the fifties.

Wexford heralded in the sixties in style.

With half of the legends of the fifties still going strong and a balance of old and new, they shocked Tipperary with an emphatic win in 1960.

But despite this winning to the decade, Tipperary were the team of the sixties, and should have won more than their four titles.

Their backline included the hardmen of John Doyle, Michael Maher and Kieran Carey, collectively known as ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ on account of their ferocity around the goal-mouth.

I was never a huge fan of Tipperary in the sixties, yet, amazingly, their ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ hard man Kieran Carey became related to me.

Kieran’s son married my niece. It’s a small world!

Now what about Kilkenny?

Hurling is in their DNA and working life regularly takes second place.

The county’s rich tradition was weaved out over the years from the beginning of the last century. The sixties provided three titles in ‘63, ‘67 and ‘69.

Anyway, enough of the teams, it’s time now to focus on the men that made them great...

Goalkeepers

Ollie Walsh, Kilkenny

Ollie brough the art of goalkeeping to a new level during his career, with his flamboyant style, confidence and brilliant side-steps.

Pat Nolan, Wexford

A tremendous keeper under pressure, and the essence of reliability, his lengthy clearances created many scoring opportunities for the Wexford forwards.

Defenders

Jimmy Brohan, Cork

Although never getting his hands on a Celtic cross, he demonstrated his talents by winning Munster Railway cups in the sixties. A tall, lightly built player who relished the challenge of subduing in-rushing forwards.

Tom Neville, Wexford

A tower of strength at corner back for Wexford, Tom was a tenacious tackler and gave sterling service to the ‘Yellow Bellies’.

Austin Flynn, Waterford

A sportsman to his fingernails, who worked tirelessly in the full back position, he marshalled the defence with great authority, never once resorting to rough play.

Noel Drumgoole, Dublin

From the famed St Vincent’s club in Dublin, he captained the county in the All-Ireland final of 1961. A strong elegant defender.

Kieran Carey, Tipperary

Part of the quartet of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ who enjoyed a glittering career in the blue and gold of Tipperary, Kieran was a no-nonsense corner back who optimised reliability through his tough wholehearted approach to the game.

Lar Foley, Dublin

A top dual player of the late fifties and sixties, he competed fiercely for every ball that came his way, covering his backline with physical toughness.

Tom McGarry, Limerick

Tom made his debt for Limerick in the late fifties and was the sole Limerick player for many years, on the star-laden Munster Railway Cup team.

Jim English, Wexford 

A terrific hurler, who was fiercely competitive with great ball control and composure. A class act in the early sixties.

Billy Rackard, Wexford

Billy was a colossal hurler and a rock-solid defender. He perfected the art of catching the dropping ball as he held off his opponent with his shoulder protecting his hand with his hurl. A man with a splendid physique, unrivalled vision and incredible strength when lashing the ball up field.

Martin Og Morrissey, Waterford 

Martin starred for Waterford for many years and was still strutting his stuff in the sixties. He had a great eye for the ball, coupled with long relieving clearances.

Jimmy Duggan, Galway

One of three brothers who starred for Galway in the fifties and sixties, Jimmy was a delightful, elegant, clean hurler, who suffered heartbreak in losing a number of finals in the fifties.

Ollie Fennell, Laois

Over the years Laois produced some fine hurlers, but none better than Ollie. He figured regularly in Railway cup teams, a stylish player with unlimited hurling skills.

Midfield

Theo English, Tipperary

A very underrated powerful player, who played a key role in all of Tipperary’s successes. Quite an imposing figure, a tactician of note with good ball control and excellent stickwork.

Jim Morrissey, Wexford

This was an exemplary sportsman, and a wonderful striker of the ball both on the ground and in the air.

Forwards

Jimmy Doyle, Tipperary

One of the greatest hurlers ever to yield the hurl, no player encapsulated the grace and skill of Tipperary hurling more than Jimmy. Once he got the ball in sight of goal, you immediately chalked up a score.

Christy O’Brien, Laois

Christy was one of the finest exponents of hurling in the fifties and sixties. He led his club, Borris-in-Ossory to many county titles.

Tony Doran, Wexford

One of the stars of Wexford’s hurling triumph in 1968, donning the mantle of his hero Nickey Rackard. He was over six-foot-tall, forceful and hardworking,

Donie Nealen, Tipperary

Slightly built, and a specialist at palming the ball to the net, whilst being tightly marked, enabled him to score frequently.

Eddie Keher, Kilkenny

Like many other Kilkenny players, Keher practiced and perfected his hurling skills at the famed St Kieran’s College. He was a prolific scoring machine and his free talking was a feature of his game.

Larry Guinan, Waterford

A product of the famous Mount Sion club in Waterford city, Larry first came into the team in the late fifties. A tough, skilful player who was not easily intimated by wily defenders.

Achill Boothman, Dublin

One of three sets of brothers in the Dublin team that played Tipperary in the 1961 All Ireland hurling final. His brother Bernard was equally as good as Achill, so it’s difficult to pick one of them for my selection.

Liam Devaney, Tipperary

An outstanding player who was lethal around the forward line, Liam had great positional sense and the ability to spot an opening either for himself or a colleague.

Paddy Molloy, Offaly

One of the greats of Offaly hurling at a time before the ‘Faithful County’ joined the elite. He had the frustration of losing many games, but never lost the desire to give of his best.

Tom Walsh, Kilkenny

The blonde bombshell who sadly lost an eye playing in the 1967 hurling final to Tipperary, Tom played for Thomastown, a town steeped in hurling tradition. His class and all-round ability made him a hurler of truly exceptional class.

 Oliver (Hopper) McGrath, Wexford

Hopper was the first Wexford player to come out of the town of Wexford in the late fifties. Though small in build, he made up for his size with his bewildering pace and unlimited hurling skills.

That’s it folks, until we hit the 1970s. 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]