Three times Tipperary All-Star Tadhg O’Connor, who captained Tipperary to win the 1971 All-Ireland - the last before the eighteen year famine - has revealed in a new book that had the backdoor system been in place back then, Tipperary would have won more All-Ireland titles.
In a new book entitled ‘Captains of the Premier Ship’ which was penned by local journalist Noel Dundon of The Tipperary Star and which is to be launched on Saturday November 15th in St Patrick’s College in Thurles by Nicky English, the Roscrea man states that while Tipperary were just outside the standard in the straight knockout system, a backdoor would have given them vital extra games, and, crucially, a chance to make amends.
Tipperary, having beaten Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Final of 1971 - a game made famous by the appearance of Michael ‘Babs’ Keating in his bare feet - surrendered their Munster and All-Ireland titles in 1972. The team bounced back in 1973 to reach the Munster final again. Limerick were the opponents for the second time in three years but on this occasion Tadhg ended up on the losing side.
“We were just outside the standard and losing those games meant that your season was over. We were beaten by the eventual Munster winners and they went on to at least contest the All-Ireland final. We were not too far off at all and I suppose if the current backdoor system was in place back then, we would have been in the shake-up a lot more often. But it wasn’t and, when you lost in the championship, that was it for another year. The backdoor came about forty years too late for us,” he said.
Tadgh played in three National Hurling League Finals, but won only one medal, when Tipperary beat Galway in 1979. However, he cited the importance of the league and said that players always made themselves available to play for Tipperary whenever they could, because, having been knocked out so early in the championship, it was the only show in town fore regular games in the blue and gold jersey.
Also in the book, which is a 320 page history of the twenty one All-Ireland winning senior hurling captains from the county, and a record of the twenty six All-Ireland titles captured, the legendary Jimmy Doyle tells of how he cried the day 1964 captain Michael Murphy was told he would have to retire from the game due to a recurring knee injury. Doyle, captain in 1962 and 1965 described his Thurles Sarsfields clubmate as ‘stylish and classy’ and added that he had a magnificent All-Ireland Final on the great Eddie Keher in 1964.
“I went to school with him and lived near him – he was always in and out of our house at home in Bohernananve. When he was forced to retire I was so disappointed for him because he lived for hurling and loved it. I cried actually when he got the news,”Jimmy said.
He added, “We nearly reared him and he was a brilliant sticksman. He was as good a half back as there was and he was badly missed when he departed the scene. It was very hard on him. It was cartilage trouble – a problem which would be mended now in a few weeks – but it was the finishing of a hurler back then. I had a scare myself training for the club when one of the lads came down on my knee during football training. I was out for a good while and I realised how quickly it could all come to an end – as it did for Michael. I was lucky, I managed to get back but the knee was never the same.
“I was always very fond of Michael – himself and Sean McLoughlin are great clubmen and great Tipperary men. McLoughlin was so unlucky not to captain Tipperary to an All-Ireland title in 1963 - we spoke about it recently and I told him that along with Michael’s injury, one of my regrets would be that we didn’t win the All-Ireland when McLoughlin was captain,”Jimmy says.
The book will be available in local bookshops after the launch is a real collectors item as well as being a very interesting insight into the unique band of brothers - Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning senior hurling captains.
All profits from the publication are going to the mental health charity AWARE.