Tipperary mourns one of the game's greats

 

GAELIC GAMES:IT COMES as a sad postscript to an exceptional year for Tipperary hurling that the county’s most iconic player should pass away at the very end of 2010. John Doyle’s achievement on the field crystallised in his emulating Christy Ring’s record of eight All-Ireland medals won on the field – a benchmark that, although equalled in the meantime, survives to this day.

The county was also left to mourn yesterday’s announcement of the passing of Jimmy “Butler” Coffey, who celebrated his 101st birthday in October. He remained a lively conversationalist with a keen memory, and his passing takes away the last surviving member of the 1937 All-Ireland victory over Kilkenny played in Killarney.

John Doyle’s playing career was prodigious: senior All-Irelands in each of his first three seasons; a career stretching from 1949 to 1967 without being dropped for or replaced in a championship match; a record 11 NHL medals to go with the All-Irelands and 10 Munster titles.

A member of the Holycross-Ballycahill club with whom he won three county championships, Doyle is acknowledged as one of the great corner backs in the history of the game.

Selected for both the hurling teams of the century in 1984 and of the millennium 16 years later, he was also the Texaco Hurler of the Year in 1964 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. He was a member of the inaugural All Stars, then awarded by Gaelic Weekly magazine, in 1963 and in ’64.

In his later years he played at left wing back after a brief experiment at full forward and ended his intercounty playing days in that position. With the club, however, he was often played farther up the field, lining out at centrefield and centre forward.

According to the autobiography of his 1960s team-mate Michael Babs Keating, “He had more ability in his hands than most players of any generation.”

Renowned as a physical presence with pace over short distances and the skill to hit long clearances under pressure, Doyle was part of the legendary Hell’s Kitchen full-back line with Kieran Carey and Michael Maher.

Speaking to Keith Duggan in this newspaper before the 2009 All-Ireland final, he said of Tipperary’s 1960s full-back line:

“That was a good back line, but they were all well able to hurl. They were brave. There wasn’t anyone who would run through them too handy. We had the best goalkeeper ever, in my opinion, in Tony Reddan.”

His intercounty career nearly ended when he considered retirement in 1957 but was talked out of it by Paddy Leahy, the great Tipperary trainer who was also a neighbour and mentor. Instead, he went on to win five more All-Ireland medals in the 10 years that followed before bowing out after an attempt to set a record fell short in the 1967 final against Kilkenny.

After his playing career Doyle served Tipperary as a selector and Central Council delegate. He also took up electoral politics, running unsuccessfully for Fianna Fáil in the 1969 and ’73 general elections and spending the interim years in the Seanad, to which he was elected on the agricultural panel.

“I wish to express my sincere sympathies and those of the whole of the GAA to the family of the late John Doyle, who has sadly passed away,” said GAA president Christy Cooney yesterday.

“John made an immense contribution to the association over the course of his life. This spanned from his remarkable success on the hurling field . . . right up to his contribution at national level. He is regarded as one of the best defenders ever to grace the game.”

Tipperary chairman Barry O’Brien also paid tribute: “The name of John Doyle will go down in hurling folklore as one of the all-time greats. The achievement of winning 19 senior national titles will surely never be surpassed.

“On behalf of Tipperary county board and all Gaels in the county, we extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Ann, two sons, five daughters and the wider Doyle family on their bereavement. May he rest in peace.”

His sons, Johnny and Michael, played for Tipperary at all levels, and Michael was manager of the Tipperary hurling team. He is survived by his wife, Anne, sons Johnny and Michael, and daughters Collette, Margaret, Anne-Marie, Sandra and Liz.

Arrangements: reposing at Egan’s Funeral Home, Thurles, today from 4-8pm, removal afterwards to Holycross Abbey. Requiem Mass tomorrow at 11.30am.

HONOUR ROLL A CAREER OF ACHIEVEMENT

Born: February 12th, 1930.

Tipperary championship career: 1949-1967.

Club: Holycross-Ballycahill.

Honours

8 All-Ireland Senior medals – 1949, ’50, ’51, ’58, ’61, ’62, ’64, ’65.

10 Munster Senior medals – 1949, ’50, ’51, ’58, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, ’67.

11 National League medals – 1949, ’50, ’52, ’54, ’55 (capt), ’57, ’59, ’60, ’61, ’64, ’65.

1 All-Ireland Minor medal – 1947.

2 Munster Minor medals – 1946, ’47.

8 Railway Cup medals – 1951, ’52, ’53, ’55, ’60, ’61, ’63, ’66.

3 County Senior medals – 1948, ’51, ’54.

2 County Minor medals – 1947, ’48.

6 Oireachtas medals – 1949, ’60, ’61, ’63, ’64, ’65.

Left Full Back on Team of the Century – 1984.

Left Full Back on Team of the Millennium – 2000.

Left Full Back on Tipperary Team of the Millennium – 1999.

Texaco Hall of Fame Award – 1992.

Texaco Hurler of the Year – 1964.