The Rackards and Tony Doran, Model heroes for a Wexford man

BILLY ROCHE, Writer, 61 Hurling

BILLY ROCHE,Writer, 61 Hurling

WHAT’S your first memory of hurling?

When I was a child the Rackards were in full flow. Being from Wexford, they naturally had a hold on me. The next hero I have a memory of was Tony Doran. Tony was such a warrior. I wish we could find a Tony Doran now. Somebody said that Tony would catch the ball with these big hands that he had and if there was time he’d actually show it to his opponent before he buried it.

Did you play yourself?


No. I was never a very good hurler. I wasn’t a bad footballer and I boxed a little bit.

What were the Rackard brothers like?

They brought that passion to it. They were 6ft tall, and they changed the game, too. They went up for the ball; before everybody used to just pull on the ball. There was a story about one time when Billy Rackard was marking Christy Ring and Christy was just going to pull on the ball and Rackard went up and swept it out of the sky, and Christy Ring muttered under his breath, “That’s not hurling at all”. I think it was Billy Rackard who created the cluster of players around him that enabled him to catch the ball. If enough players come around you and block the other people’s hurls then you’re free to catch it without losing a finger.

It’s an amazing feat – to catch a sliotar like that, isn’t it?

It is quite incredible – the power of the eye. I was at a game years and years ago and Darragh Ryan was our full back. Joe Deane was marking him. Darragh Ryan very rarely missed the ball in those days. He went out to the ball and Deane just stood behind him, whatever way his eye was on the ball, it came through a little hole and he caught it and buried it or put it over, I can’t remember, which, but it was just wonderful to see – the coordination of it all.

What’s it like being in the shadow of Kilkenny?

You have to take your hat off to Kilkenny. They’re a phenomenal team. I go over to St Kieran’s College once a year, and every second lad that comes in to hear my reading has a hurl in his hand. They absolutely live for it. They have a particular build as well – they’re tall, gangly, deceptively strong; you think that they’re bony but they’re very strong. I’m married to a Kilkenny woman. Her dad, Jack Egan from Three Castles, won an All-Ireland medal as a sub for Kilkenny in 1946, and he had that build – tall, lean, but very, very strong.

What sticks out about the All-Ireland win in ’96?

That team, they weren’t the best hurlers in Ireland, but they were the best team. I remember watching that day and it was close, very close but I just knew they weren’t going to be beaten that day. Their minds . . . . Liam Griffin had hypnotised them.

What’s Liam Griffin like?

He’s an amazing mind and I’ve often talked to him about it. He has this sheer passion, and sense of fair play as well. I think he adapts what Shakespeare mentioned in one of the Henry plays: “the gentlest gamester is the soonest winner”; I suppose gentlest would be in italics. He doesn’t believe in cheating.

What frustrates you about the game?

I’d give a fella a red card for diving. There’s this thing creeping in of fellas falling, when their jersey’s pulled. Be a man about it.

What’s the most audacious thing you’ve seen on a hurling field?

I think Eoin Quigley’s point in Croke Park against Kilkenny a few years ago. He was centrefield and he didn’t catch it; he just scooped it up and hit it over the bar. I remember RTÉ pundit Michael Duignan saying he thought it was one of the best points ever scored in Croke Park. It was a beaut.

Of those great Wexford days, which was the highlight?

In 2004 when we beat Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final. I had two people with me that day who had never been to a hurling match before – the theatre director Robin Lefevre and an actor called Andy Robinson. He was the punk singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” in the first Dirty Harry film. Eventually, when in the very last second of the game, Michael Jacob scored a goal they were on their feet because they’d twigged that it was over and that Wexford had won a David and Goliath encounter.

  • For information on Billy Roche's Tumbling Down and Tales From Rainwater Pond,visit:
  • In conversation with Richard Fitzpatrick