To aficionados of the great days of Tipperary hurling, Jimmy Doyle, who has died aged 76, will be remembered as perhaps the greatest hurler to sport the county colours of blue and gold.
Playing in an era when intercounty rivalry was more intense and titles hard to come by, Doyle managed to win six All-Ireland medals between 1958 and 1971 and nine Munster championships. A visitor to his home on Church View in Thurles would also find seven National League and eight Railway Cup inter-provincial medals in the cabinet.
His glittering hurling skills were honed during childhood hours spent hitting a ball against the wall of Semple Stadium, the Mecca of Munster hurling, just a puck of a sliotar from the street where he was born and grew up.
From his early schooldays at Thurles CBS, he stood out as a gifted hurler. He was only 15 when he began playing at inter-county minor level, going on to play in four finals and win three All-Ireland minor titles between 1954 and 1957, plus a coveted Harty Cup schools medal in 1956.
Like his father before him, who played in goal for Tipperary, the young Doyle wanted to be a goalie. Fired by ambition to emulate his childhood hero, the great Tipperary goalkeeper, Tony Redden, his career began in goal. Not surprisingly, however, as his skills were recognised, he was soon playing outfield.
Following his senior debut for Tipperary as an 18-year-old in the 1957-58 league campaign, he continued playing with the county until the championship of 1973. At club level, he played at right corner forward with Thurles Sarsfields, winning ten county medals, plus one for football. He was also a talented player on the badminton court, another game in which sharpness of eye and speed of hand are essential.
With a striker’s natural instinct, Doyle was at his deadliest once he had the sliotar in his fist and an eye on the goal. In an era when most people still relied on radio commentary, his fans expected him to put the ball in the back of the net or over the bar every time Micheál Ó hEithir mentioned his name.
And they were seldom disappointed as Doyle became top scorer in the championships of ’58, ’60,’61, ’62, and ’64 amassing a grand total of 18 goals and 176 points by the time he retired following 39 championship appearances for the county. His record as Tipperary’s top scorer was surpassed by Eoin Kelly in 2007
Named as right corner-forward in the hurling team of the century in 1984 for GAA centenary celebrations, he featured as left corner-forward in 1999 on the Team of the Millennium.
Though comparatively light of build, he was absolutely fearless amid the then fierce cut-and-thrust of intercounty hurling. Surviving many a tackle that today might merit a yellow or even a red carded, he invariably emerged with the ball on his stick when a hurling scrum developed.
Having captained his school team, he led Tipperary to All-Ireland victories of 1962 and 1965. In his playing days, he won three Cú Chulainn awards and was named Texaco hurler of the year in 1965. In retirement he became involved in team management and coaching.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game, the jury is still out as to whether or not he was the greatest. The story goes that hurling fans once asked Tipperary's Babs Keating to adjudicate on this question. In the company of Cork's Christy Ring at the time, he demurred. But as they walked to the car park, Ring quietly observed: 'Do ya know Babs, if Jimmy Doyle was as strong as you and I... no one would ever ask who was the greatest hurler'.
A calm, humble man, he bore his fame lightly. Revered by the people of Thurles, the Jimmy Doyle Road was named in his honour.
Predeceased by his sister Olive and brother Gary, he is survived by his daughter Janet, sons Gerry, Walter and James, sisters Hannah and Breda, and brother Paddy.