A GENIAL figure, whether it was in the thick of the action on the pitch or meticulously patrolling the sideline, this ‘Little Man with the Midas Touch’ has been synonymous with St Rynagh’s, Birr and Offaly hurling for over half a century.
He has the remarkable distinction of winning five SHC medals in-a-row as a player with St Rynagh’s between 1972 & ‘76 and managing Birr to five titles in succession between 1999 & 2003.
And at 66 years of age he has lost none of his zest or passion for the ancient game. Indeed, he and sons Brian, Simon & Barry have won an unbelievable 43 SHC medals between them.
So how’s this for an honours list as a player? With St Rynagh’s he won an U-16 county HC medal in 1961, three MHC medals in 1961, ’62 & ’63 and also three U-21 HC medals in 1962, ’64 and ’65. He won a Munster Inter-Firms senior hurling medal with Roscrea Meats in 1967 and seventeen years later, in 1984 as player/manager, won Connacht and All-Ireland Inter Firms senior medals with Green Isle of Banagher.
Between league and championship he lined out with Offaly senior hurlers on 82 occasions between 1967 & ’78 and was centre forward on the side that suffered an agonising 3-9 to 0-16 loss to Kilkenny in the 1969 Leinster Final. In the semi-final they overcame reigning All-Ireland champions Wexford, thereby setting up Offaly’s first provincial senior final appearance since 1928.
He hurled with Leinster in the Railway Cup of 1968 & ’78, claimed a Division 2 HL medal and won the first of his ten SHC medals with St Rynagh’s in 1965 and the last in 1976. He captained the side and accepted the Sean Robbins Cup in 1975, emulating his brother Frank who lifted the cup three years earlier and three of his sons did likewise with Birr, Brian in 1991 & 2007, Simon in 2001 and Barry in 2005. He collected two Leinster Club SHC medals however All-Ireland Final glory eluded St Rynagh’s as they succumbed to Roscrea and Glen Rovers in 1971 & ’73, respectively. In 1985 he was again player/manager as Birr won their only JHC.
And away from hurling, he dabbled in some gaelic football, winning an U-21 medal in 1965 and JFC ‘A’ medals in 1974 & ’75 with St Rynagh’s, and a JFC ‘B’ medal with Birr in ’85.
After hanging up his hurley, he turned his hand to management and guided Offaly minors to their first Leinster and All-Ireland minor titles in 1986 and they repeated this feat in ’87 & ’89. They defeated Munster opposition in the three Irish Press Cup showdowns, Cork, Tipperary and Clare, respectively.
Indeed, ’89 was a hectic year as he masterminded Offaly’s minor, U-21 and senior Leinster Final victories over Kilkenny – the same year his eldest son Brian played in all three All-Ireland semi-finals.
He guided St Rynagh’s to the 14th of their 16 SHC titles in 1990 and the following year was a selector with Birr as they captured Offaly and Leinster club glory.
He went on to enjoy phenomenal success as Birr supremo and under his stewardship they became the greatest club side in the country. He led them to 3 All-Ireland (1998, ’02 & ’03), 5 Leinster (1997, ’99, ’01, ’02 & ’07) and 8 senior county titles (1997, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02 & ’03, ’07 & ’08), along with four intermediate county titles (1997, ’98, ’99 & ’07), during two spells as manager from 1997 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2009. He was in charge of Offaly minors again in 1994 & ’95 and the county U-21’s in ’96 and they reached the Leinster Final in each of those years.
And his coaching services were in high demand elsewhere also as he managed Limerick senior hurlers and club sides in Galway, Tipperary and Laois, including Killimordaly, Toomevara, Eire Og Nenagh, Durrow Harps, Thurles Sarsfields, Drom and Inch, while locally he trained Crinkle in the mid 90’s and most recently Kilcormac/Killoughey.
In his acclaimed autobiography ‘Life, Death & Hurling’, Michael Duignan said tonight’s Hall of Fame inductee “instilled great confidence in us as minors in 1986. He encouraged us to express ourselves and play without fear of any opponent. He’s someone I’ve immense regard for.”