The Leeside Legends series: Diminutive Willie John Daly cast a giant shadow

The Leeside Legends series: Diminutive Willie John Daly cast a giant shadow

The Cork hurling team that beat Dublin in the 1952 All-Ireland final. Willie John Daly is to the left of Christy Ring (second from left, front row).

WILLIE JOHN DALY of Carrigtwohill was a brilliant hurler and one of the star figures of the Cork side that won a hat-trick of All-Ireland Senior hurling championships from 1952.

Although Daly was small in stature, he was renowned as one the toughest players of his era.

Willie John played it hard gave the knocks without apology and took them without complaining as the Cork fans loves his style of play and Daly certainly always responded to them.

Willie John was born in Carrigtwohill in 1925 at a time when hurling was enjoying great success in the parish.

From the outset of his distinguished career Wille John always took inspiration from his own boyhood hero Tom Barry who won his third successive All-Ireland in 1931.

From his early days, Daly thought about nothing else but hurling and the village of Carrigtwohill meant an awful lot to Willie as he consistently put his local club ahead of everything else.

From the day he took up hurling, Daly was a firm believer in stickwork and was hard at it during many hours of practice and training.

A goal that stood out in the mind of Willie John came against Tipperary in the 1948 National League final when he blasted the ball past Tony Reddan who was rated one the best goalkeepers of all time.

Daly loved playing against Tipperary and believes those famous Cork-Tipp games did so much to enhance the sport of hurling over the years.

The Cork hurling team that beat Dublin in the 1952 All-Ireland final. Willie John Daly is to the left of Christy Ring (second from left, front row).
The Cork hurling team that beat Dublin in the 1952 All-Ireland final. Willie John Daly is to the left of Christy Ring (second from left, front row).

In the words of Willie John, the three most important traits for hurling are skill, dedication and heart pointing out that’s what was in the hurlers of Cork in abundance during his time playing with the county.

In the opinion of Daly, the removal of the third man tackle was a terrible mistake as it was a case of a man helping out a man a teammate with a fair shoulder charge.

The third man tackle was hard and tough but never dirty and the spectators responded to it with encouragement.

Before his death Willie John believed the modern game players weren’t better than those of his era.

“There is no first time hurling now like the stuff we played and when it is the last time you saw a goalie puck a ball out and a midfielder double on it in the air and send it up to the other end of the field.

“The art of doubling is gone and with it the speed of hurling that is so essential.”

Willie John played with great players during his inter-county careers pointing out of course the greatest ever player-the legendary Christy Ring.

Daly paid tribute to all his former teammates who helped end Tipperay’s four in a row bid of 1952 and launched Cork’s own successful bid for three back to back All-Ireland’s.

The name of Willie John Daly was given to a horse and in February 2003 that aptly named horse won a Bumper race at Naas.

Up to his death Willie resided in Cobh the home town of his wife Teresa but he is still a household name in his home village of Carrigtwohill.

His words in describing the legendary Christy Ring are stirring.

“Christy was simply the greatest ever as he had everything, and it was an honour to play with him and our friendship was a close one even after we both retired from the game.

“He used a hurley four ounces heavier than the usual and he could wield it with no trouble and looking at him striking the ball it was like a bullet because he had wrists and the power to swing it.”

The toughest opponent that Willie John faced was Mickey Byrne of Tipperary and players like Jimmy Finn, Pat Stakelum and Tommy Doyle of Tipperary, Sean Herbert of Limerick, Ned Wheeler of Wexford and Vinny Baston of Waterford also captured his imagination.

You will rarely meet a man who derived so much enjoyment from talking about his favourite sport.

Up to his death in 2017 at the age of 92 his love for hurling was unquestionable and Willie John Daly will always be remembered as the fearless powerhouse of his era.

FACTFILE: 

Willie John Daly was part of the Cork team that won a hat-trick of Senior All-Ireland titles from 1952-1954.

He was a firm believer his former teammate and friend Christy Ring was the greatest player ever to play hurling.

In the opinion of Daly the three greatest essentials in hurling are skill, dedication and heart.

A horse was named after Willie John and won its first race in February 2003 at Naas.

Willie John Daly died on November 29 2017 at the age of 92.

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