THE game of hurling has been blessed with great teams from different eras, Tipperary in the ’60s, Cork in the ’70s and more recently the great Kilkenny team that won four-in-a-row.
People would have different opinions about which of them was the greatest.
As one who was fortunate to be around for all three, you could make a strong case for all three.
One was in the infancy years of life when we got to see the great Tipp team of the ’60s in action, a team that won four All-Ireland titles between the years ’61 and ’65, in two of those years they dished out severe beatings to Cork in ’64 and ’65.
One has memories of being inside Semple Stadium and the Gaelic Grounds on scorching Summer Sundays at noon, over three hours before those battles of the ’60s commenced That was the way it was in those days.
You could have 60,000 at either venue back then, a male dominated attendance.
The game of hurling has evolved dramatically since then and the argument could be made that the teams of that time would not live in the modern era.
Maybe, maybe not but that Tipperary team of the ’60s was and has to be regarded as one of the best of all time.
That team contained some of the greatest names ever to grace a hurling field.
In front of John O’Donoghue, a county medal winner with UCC in 1963, you had ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, Kieran Carey, Mick Maher and John Doyle.
Their motto was very simple, thou shall not pass.
At the time they were fearsome figures who took no prisoners.
In front of them you had Mick Burns, the mighty Tony Wall and the elegant Len Gaynor, surely one of the best half-back lines of all time.
That prince of players, Mick Roche partnered Theo English in the middle of the field and was there a better partnership who complemented each other so well.
The late and great Jimmy Doyle, somebody we have spoken about many times in this publication, was surely one of the most magnificent of all forwards, the boy wonder who became one of the giants of the game.
Liam Devaney was teak tough alongside him in the half-forward line, a great hurler, some might say he was one of the keys to the whole operation.
You had Donie Nealon, John ‘Mackey’ McKenna, Babs Keating and that ironman on the edge of the square, Seán McLoughlin, he had many battles with our own Tom Donoghue of Sars.
Cork were very poor in some of those years but, amazingly, came back to the forefront in 1966 after Eamon Cregan had scored 3-5 for Limerick that year when they stunned Tipp in Munster.
Limerick had some great hurlers in those days too, players who never got the reward they might have deserved.
That great player, Tom McGarry was one of them, now a very friendly face with the Munster Council in his work with them.
Waterford were probably Tipp’s most formidable opponents in some of those ’60 years, defeating them in 1959 and 1963.
They too had outstanding performers, men like Philly Grimes, Frankie Walsh, Tom Cheasty, Austin Flynn, Ned Power, Larry Guinan and Mick Flannery.
They got their All-Ireland in ’59 but lost in ’63 to Kilkenny in the final.
Cork were fortunate to defeat Clare in 1966 when Justin McCarthy equalised with a late goal to take the game to a replay.
Clare too produced great hurlers down the years who were never properly rewarded either, men like Pat Cronin, Jimmy Cullinane, Jackie O’Gorman, Noel Pyne and perhaps the greatest of them all, Jimmy Smyth.
That great Tipperary team ensured that a lot of great players from across the province of Munster ended their careers empty handed The team of that era was backboned by Thurles Sars players, at the time one of the country’s foremost teams.
They were the Glen, ’Barrs and Rockies of Tipperary club teams.
Cork got hammered by Tipp in ’65 so therefore it was a fantastic achievement to come back a year later and win the All-Ireland.
In later editions we will compare that Tipp team with the Cork of 1976, ’77 and ’78 and Kilkenny under Brian Cody.
However, if one was tasked with selecting the greatest 15 hurlers of all time it’s a certainty that quite a few of that Tipperary team of the ‘60s would be included.
Great players, irrespective of where they hail from must always be admired and as a very young boy you just had to admire Tipperary of that era.
The memories of those halcyon summer days are a fading memory now but great hurlers will always endure.
Tipp, of course, entered a very barren period when those players left the arena, going from 1971 to 1989 without a Munster title.
That was the year that team captain Richard Stakelum declared down in Killarney that the famine had ended.
In many ways that famine was inevitable because it was always going to be a mammoth task to replace that bunch of players, many of them now gone to their eternal reward.