Cyril Lyons fulfilled Jimmy Smyth’s dream for Clare when he was a member of the All-Ireland winning side in 1995 – a victory he had hungered for all his hurling life, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
“Many people are due many thanks so that today might become a reality. I think first and foremost at this time of the many great Clare teams who were never as fortunate as we were. Now we accept the Liam McCarthy Cup on behalf of all of those teams who ever wore the Clare jersey.”
Anthony Daly, September 1995
CYRIL Lyons was on the steps of the Hogan Stand to hear Anthony Daly’s words, having played his part out on the field.
Jimmy Smyth was in the stand and along with other past-masters had played his part – it’s what Anthony Daly was talking about.
It’s one of Cyril Lyons’ great reflections on Jimmy Smyth and his hurling life. Ruanman. Clareman. How important it was for him, in life and in hurling to have seen Clare finally reach the promised land.
“Two things were huge to Jimmy,” says Lyons. “To see Clare in Croke Park and to see them win an All-Ireland – you couldn’t quantify what it meant to him. The second thing was the acknowledgement that Anthony Daly made in his speech about all the players who had gone before the players of ’95 and had strived for success and kept the flame alive and the dream alive. It was absolutely massive.”
The dream that Lyons was privileged to be part of – the dream stoked in Ruan on the back of the club that had made Ruan famous. The dream stoked in Clare and everywhere, thanks to Smyth and what he could do on the other side of the whitewash.
“He put the club and the parish on the map,” says Lyons. “Jimmy Smyth and Ruan were synonymous with each other. For people who travelled outside the county – no matter where they went in the ‘50s and ‘60s and if they said Ruan the next thing someone would say was ‘ah that’s Jimmy Smyth country’.
“I never saw Jimmy play, but I’m relying on the valued opinions of older people and from an early age Jimmy was marked out as special. When you see that he played senior colleges hurling for five years – from his first year to his fifth year in St Flannan’s he was playing Harty hurling and played minor hurling for Clare at 14.
“He played his first senior game for Ruan at 16 years of age, he told me. It was against Smith O’Brien’s in 1947 and the following year he was centre-field on the Ruan team that beat Clarecastle in the 1948 final.
“Ruan had never been in a senior final before and Ruan’s best time in senior hurling co-incided with Jimmy Smyth’s adult career. It was no coincidence. There were other outstanding players on that Ruan team, but what the players from that era would always say was that when all things were equal on days it was Jimmy’ ability that made all the difference in matches,” adds Lyons.
Lyons followed in the Ruan tradition – he also followed Smyth to St Flannan’s College and emulated his achievement in winning a Harty and All-Ireland title in 1978.
“I went to St Flannan’s College, not for an education but to play hurling,” he admits “and I’m sure I was no different to many of the boys that went there. The fact that we got an education as well was a bonus.
“We were so lucky in St Flannan’s in my time. We had Fr Gardiner and Bishop Willie Walsh as coaches – they had been past-pupils in Flannan’s and Bishop Willie was in Flannan’s when Jimmy Smyth was there.
“They had the legacy of that succcess and they passed it on to other people. There was a certain expectation that St Flannan’s would have good hurling teams because of what the school did in Jimmy’s time,” he adds.
But it’s back to Ruan that Cyril Lyons and everyone else from the parish defaults to when thinking of Smyth and the everlasting affection with which he will be remembered there.
“He went to Dublin in 1964 but he never left Ruan,” says Lyons. “He always came home and he always came to the funerals of the players that he played with. It would be easy to say ‘I’m living in Dublin and I can’t make it down’, but he never failed to make it down. For subsequent generations in Ruan they’d remember him more for that because they would have never seen him play.
“The players who played with him in Ruan would always say, it wasn’t about his achievements from his hurling days but how he played the game. He had no tolerance of foul or indisciplined play.
“He had done many interviews and he said once about hurling and the way it should be played ‘if you couldn’t shake the hand of your direct opponent after the game the game was all the poorer for it’. He was a great hurler, but a gentleman.
“We had our victory celebration a few weeks ago and he sent a card down to us saying ‘sorry I can’t be with you on the night, but I am thinking of you’.”
Hurling people in Ruan, greater Clare and beyond are thinking of Jimmy Smyth this week.
And, they’ll never forget him.