THE HURLEY was just inside the front door — parked up in retirement for many decades, but all the while looking as if it was at the ready, ready for one more flash of the ash in remembrance of old hurling times.
All-Ireland winning times.
The hurley itself gave the game away. Just below the boss that was much narrower than the modern-day camán said it all: ‘Tipperary – All-Ireland Hurling Champions 1945’ and then the names of hurling men made famous that GAA year were reeled off underneath.
Captain John Maher — who started his career in the Tipp colours as far back as 1929, which made him a veteran of the All-Ireland winning teams of ’30 when Dublin were defeated and ’37 when the final against Kilkenny was played in Killarney — rightly headed the list.
Maher also provided a link to Tipperary’s first ever All-Ireland win back in 1887 — he was the son of ‘Long’ Dinny Maher of the Thurles Blues, captain of the team that year, albeit he didn’t play any part in the final win owing to the first ever dispute over All-Ireland travel expenses.
Next on list came James Maher from Boherlahan, who manned the gap in goal, while the sixth listed was Mick Murphy, the hurling import from County Clare — the Kilmaley man who blazed the trail for fellow parishioner Conor Clancy 40 years later by being a member of Tipp’s All-Ireland winning class of 1945.
Both the hurley and the hurler lasted very well indeed — back in 2005 when The Clare People came calling it was 60 years since they saw All-Ireland action.
Fast forward a dozen years and Murphy was the last man standing from 1945, and the oldest living All-Ireland winner and in his 100th year before he passed away peacefully on New Year’s Day.
You could say that Murphy hurled to the last — in 2016 he was honoured with a Hall of Fame award by Thurles Sarsfields for his part in the club’s golden 1940s era, that All-Ireland win of ‘45 and the signal honour of being the oldest All-Ireland man alive.
And when The Clare People called to hear his hurling story, he talked as well as played the game, his introduction to 1945 an all that being just seconds after a knock on the front door of his home in Ballygall that’s nestled between Glasnevin and Finglas.
The door swung open and straight away Murphy stepped outside, and with hurley in hand he simulated his finest hour. Simulated, just because he had no sliotar, and facing south east towards Croke Park he let fly.
Only then was it time for the then 87-year-old to leave his hurley rest and talk about his experiences in Croke Park and beyond in Semple Stadium, and his hurling journey to both places that started in Kilmaley.
1945 WAS a great year for Clare GAA — all because the county achieved the most elusive and sought after double of them all that year, even if no team Clare senior team got remotely near Croke Park.
But the All-Ireland senior double came to Clare thanks to its GAA diaspora made up of the two Micks — Murphy from Kilmaley and Tubridy from Kilrush.
Tubridy was left-half-forward on the Cork team that won the football final and was one of the stars in hitting 1-1 in the victory over Cavan; Murphy was right-half-back on the Tipperary team that beat Kilkenny — he didn’t score but still had a great game in the collective defensive effort that helped win the day.
“Sticking to their men with a grimness that was scarcely ever before bettered by any set of defenders, Ger Cornally, Tommy Purcell, John Maher, Jim Devitt, Flor Coffey and Mick Murphy held their goal safe at a vital stage and, if it was the Tipp forwards who won the game in the second quarter, an equal slice of the honours must go to the backs,” said ‘Green Flag’ in The Irish Press.
Murphy’s journey to this grand stage started when he hurled away his youth in Fairyhill, Kilmaley. “I wasn’t dreaming of All-Irelands,” he said of his earliest days. “You didn’t have time to dream when you were hurling all the time.”
And, hurl all the time is what Mick Murphy did. Along with his brother JJ it was from field to field for hurling. Where ever they could find a green patch of grass to play.
“JJ and I used to go around to the houses, gathering lads to hurl. It would nearly always be in the evening and we’d play on any level green spot we’d get on a field, any field.
“Sometimes we trained in my father’s field – then we got a field down in Gortaganniv. We used to train up on the hill there – up where Tom Neylon lived.
“We’d be out four times a week hurling. Gerry Griffey had three boys, there were three Keanes and three Burkes. JJ would go in goal – I used to have to play against a couple of lads in midfield.”
It was a great apprenticeship, one that got him a start with the Kilmaley intermediate team at 15. He was good enough, so he was old enough and at 18 starred on the Kilmaley team that won the intermediate championship.
“It was before the war,” recounted Mick, “1938 was the year and Kilmaley had a very good team. We played Ogonnelloe in the final in Kilkishen. I was playing at midfield that day, “Father Burke was a curate in our parish and he used to train us. He was transferred to Ogonnelloe two weeks before the match. ‘Who are ye going to shout for today,’ we all asked him. ‘Ah, I’ll stay on the sideline looking in,’ is all he’d say. I’d say he was cheering for Kilmaley.
“I got a belt in the forehead and was split open and had to go to hospital. I couldn’t go home with the group because I was in the county hospital. At that time Dr. Mac Clancy was in the hospital – he kept me in over night but I was back in work the following morning.”
Work was the famous Cash Company on O’Connell Street, Ennis. He served his time as a draper in Donagh Moylan’s family firm, cycling in and out to work everyday for three years before Tipperary hurling came into his life in 1940.
“A commercial traveller used to come into the Cash and he asked me did I want to go down to work in Thurles. I jumped at the chance for a change and started with Russells drapery shop in the Square.”
Mick had landed in a home of hurling – the Sarsfields ruled Thurles and Tipperary having won four out of the previous six county championships. This was the club of Tom Semple, his field is where they trained and played.
“We were out on the field four nights a weeks, winter or summer it didn’t matter. We were mad for hurling. I got on the Thurles senior team in ’42 and we beat Killenaule in the final. The following year we were back in the final but couldn’t play because there was foot and mouth. Annacarty and Moycarkey played in the final instead.”
But back came the Sarsfields and won three-in-row from ’44 – Mick Murphy was a star in a team of stars and during this period became a countyman for the first time as Tipperary tried to break Cork’s stranglehold.
With the National League suspended during the war years, Murphy’s first taste of inter-county fare came when he was drafted into the squad in the summer of ’45, with Tipperary opening their account in Fermoy with a 3-6 to 0-3 win over Waterford in Fermoy.
Murphy had to be content with being an unused sub that day, a similar fate that awaited in the semi-final when they faced Cork in Thurles. The Rebels were the team of the decade, having won the previous four All-Irelands from 1941 and favourites to record an unprecedented five-in-a-row, only for Tipp to turn them over by 2-13 to 3-2.
Limerick edged Clare by 3-6 to 3-3 in the other semi-final to tee up a first Tipp/Limerick Munster decider since 1937, with Murphy again on the bench before finally getting the call to arms after 19 minutes when coming in at midfield for Tom Wall.
Murphy helped save Clare’s hurling blushes that day — the county’s minors were on the receiving end of an 8-10 to 0-2 defeat to Tipp in the Munster minor final curtain-raiser — by becoming a Munster champion.
“I was the only non-Tipp fella on the team,” he remembered, “but they never said a word to me at all about it, with the club and the county. They took me in as one of their own. Limerick were the hot team that year in the Munster Championship. I was marking the great Timmy Ryan – I think it was his last game. It was all ball and fair hurling. The Mackeys were playing, so too was Jackie Power and Dick Stokes. We were great that day – everything went right for us and the ball was hopping into my hands when I came on,” he added.
Tipperary, having led at half-time by three goals, withstood a determined rally by the Shannonsiders in the second half to win the day by 4-3 to 2-6 and book a semi-final spot against Antrim in Croke Park.
It was a run-out for Tipperary on at headquarters before the All-Ireland final as they scored a comfortable 5-9 to 1-6 win over the Ulster champions. It was Murphy’s first time there when he was once more brought on as a sub for Tom Wall.
Afterwards he was dreaming of becoming the first Clareman to win an All-Ireland since Dr Bill Loughnane was on the Dublin team that won the 1938 final, while his own All-Ireland final recollections went back to 1932 when Clare had last made the big day.
“I had heard people talking about that ’32 final,” he remembered. “People who were listening to the match on the radio told me everything. ‘Tull has it, Tull has it,’ they kept saying to me going back to that famous day.
“Everyone thought Tull Considine was going to score the goal to win the All-Ireland for Clare but he missed. ‘Two Kilkenny men come in on him,’ the lads roar. ‘And what happens’, I say. ‘He falls to his knees and takes a swipe of the ball’. As a young fella I was really excited by their description.
“‘And what happens then,’ I ask. ‘He’s missed, he’s missed,’ they cry. People at home in Kilmaley loved telling this All-Ireland story. Now a few years later I found myself in an All-Ireland final and didn’t want to miss my big chance,” he added.
And, the fact that Tipperary had huge faith in the Kilmaley man’s ability was shown when the selection committee named him in championship the starting 15 for the first time ever. “Mick Murphy wins a place at right half-back,” reported the Nenagh Guardian. “Came on as a sub against Antrim. Is a tough reliable player who will more than hold his own if he strikes form. This is is first big game.”
Murphy got his chance because of an injury to Johnny Ryan from Moycarkey-Borris, who was a veteran of the 1937 All-Ireland winning team. “Discussing with a Tipperary man the team to play Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling final on Sunday at Croke Park, I remarked that Johnny Ryan would be a big loss to the side,” reported ‘Green Flag’ in The Irish Press.
“Back came the ready answer ‘well, it isn’t a one-man team and if we cannot find a player or two to fill the blanks, hurling must be dead in Tipperary’. Undoubtedly there is a lot in this statement and it has always been characteristic of Tipperary to rise to the occasion when the clouds were darkest.
“The Tipperary selectors have now moved Jim Devitt to right full back and brought on Mick Murphy of Sarsfields to fill the Cashel man’s vacated right half berth. I thought Devitt was one of the best backs in the Munster tests, while Murphy, coming on as a sub against Antrim shaped well at midfield,” he added.
Murphy was one of five Sarsfields men in Tipperary’s starting 15 — in defence 37-year-old John Maher, who became the first, and still, only captain to be chaired, shoulder-high from Semple Stadium to Liberty Square after the Munster final win over Limerick, was at centre-back; Ger Cornelly, a fellow All-Ireland winner from ’37, was behind him at full-back, while finals debutant Murphy was outside him on the right wing; Tommy Doyle, described by the Nenagh Guardian as “the ‘rubber ball’ man of the team”, who was also on the ’37 team, led the attack at centre-forward, while Ed Gleeson was outside him at left-half-forward.
“I’d never be nervous before a game and it was the same before the All-Ireland,” recalled Murphy. “We stayed out in Blackrock College on the Saturday before the game. Some fella from Tipperary got us in there – we were away from the crowds and the excitement.
“We were going for walks around the grounds – we walked down to the seaside in Blackrock, came back for something to eat and maybe had one drink and then went off to bed. After mass on Sunday in the college we went off to Croke Park. I felt better in Croke Park than I did in Thurles – the crowd was in on top of us and I felt really good when I was out there before the start of the game,” he added.
The stage was set, with ‘Green Flag’ summing up the level of expectation around this clash of the titans when saying “it will be a great game, probably the greatest All-Ireland of the century”.
It was this hype that contributed to a record All-Ireland final attendance of 69,489, a jump of 18,224 from the previous record that was set in 1936 when Limerick beat Kilkenny.
“It was as good an All-Ireland as was seen at Croke Park or any other park in the long history of the championship which Tipperary has now won 13 times to Kilkenny’s 12 and Cork’s 15,” said ‘Green Flag’ afterwards.
“The pace was fast a furious with Kilkenny ‘snigging’, flicking, backhanding and doubling a ball that the Tipp men pulled on first time with a dare-devilry that must have appeared reckless to the many of that record crowd
“The better team won, but for patches it was touch and go and only a gallant defence could have come through those Kilkenny raids with flying colours. John Maher, who 15 years ago won his first All-Ireland medal at Croke Park, played a brilliant part in the great struggle, but he got splendid assistance from Cornally, Devitt, Murphy, Purcell and Coffey,” he added.
Murphy more than played his part in what was a 5-6 to 3-6 win — a success that Tipperary looked to be coasting towards in the first half when opening up a 4-3 to 0-3 interval lead on the back of some brilliant forward play and uncompromising defence.
A point in the dying minutes of the half from Paddy ‘The Sweeper’ Ryan edged them four goals clear, with all the goals having come in the second quarter when Ed Gleeson (2), John Coffey and Mutt Ryan rattled the net to put the Munster champions on the high road.
“The robust, bustling, hard-hitting methods of the Tipperary men had an upsetting effect on the Kilkenny attack,” noted ‘Recorder’ in The Irish Independent, but back Kilkenny roared in the second half with goals by young clerical student Tommy Maher, who would later train the Cats to seven All-Ireland senior titles between 1957 and ’75, and Sean O’Brien reducing the gap to just four points entering the last ten minutes.
“Tipperary backs had to withstand repeated attacks, which with a little luck could have brought the turning point in the game,” bemoaned ‘An Camán’ in The Kilkenny People.
Instead, dame fortune smiled on Tipperary, with the combination a breakaway goal from Tony Brennan when he was allowed “dribble through for an easy goal” and a vital intervention of Murphy sealing Kilkenny’s fate just when the game was back in the melting pot.
It happened when Jack Gargan, a veteran of the Kilkenny’s last All-Ireland win that came in the famous ‘Thunder and Lightening’ final of 1939, had goal on his mind as the sliotar broke before him just outside the square.
It’s when Mick Murphy took up his All-Ireland final story. “The ball came in and I caught it, but it then fell out of my hand,” he recalled. “Gargan was there when the sliotar, broke and he just let fly with his hurley.
“As he did that I just stuck my hurley in and he connected with it. He missed the sliotar, it hopped up into my hand and I just took a few steps and cleared it up the field.”
With that Mick picked up his hurley once more and pointed to the boss. “That chip was taken out of it when Gargan let fly and went for his goal that could have helped Kilkenny with the All-Ireland,” he revealed. “It’s the only mark on the hurley.”
Well, almost. The names of the Tipperary team were written along the hurley from the bos down. John Maher the captain, Jim Maher the keeper, Mick Murphy the wing-back all the way down to Paddy ‘The Sweeper’ Ryan at corner-forward.
For Mick Murphy from Fairyhill in Kilmaley, memories were made of this – memories of his stellar, albeit short, but hugely significant career in the blue and gold of Tipperary that saw him return to Croke Park later that 1945 to win an Oireachtas medal as one of the Premier County’s star men at midfield.
“The sizzling exchanges told their tale on the Galway pair and in the second half,” said ‘Green Flag’, “and once Tommy Doyle and Mick Murphy got into their stride, Tipp shaped like a winning side”.
Then there were those four county senior titles with Sars, not forgetting the his contribution to the Clare senior team from 1947 to ’49 when declaring for his native county once more after moving to Dublin to take up a job in Clery’s on O’Connell Street.
And starting work in the famous department store sparked another hurling memory for Murphy: “When we won the All-Ireland the after match reception was in Clerys,” he recalled, “because there was a huge dining room up there. Then we went to the Mansion House for the big GAA dance. It was over about four in the morning and after that we we walked back to Barry’s Hotel for the night.”
Dawn was breaking for everyone else as Mick Murphy finally rested at the end of his perfect day and night.
He was an All-Ireland man.
In time he would become the oldest All-Ireland man of them all.