Pride of place inspired Theo English to Tipperary glory days

Tipp hurling legend celebrates 90th birthday

Eamon Lacey

Reporter:

Eamon Lacey

Email:

elacey@nationalist.ie

As a youngster he idolised the greats, he went on to play with and against the legends on the biggest occasions and later in life he guided stars of Tipperary hurling to memorable glory days in Croke Park. Theo English lived the hurling dream.
Theo English celebrated his 90th birthday surrounded by his family – his wife Maureen, sons Theo, John and Conor, daughter Siobhan and eleven grandchildren and ten great grandchildren last Sunday.
Theo was one of the true legends of the game. He lived an extraordinary life, one that was dominated by his love of hurling and his home village of Marlfield.
At the heart of it all was his incredible sense of place. His beloved Marlfield imbued him with an enormous pride that he carried on and off the field that he still carries with him to this day.
“I am very lucky to have had the life I have had,” said Theo as he reflected on a wonderful life.
Despite his haul of five All-Ireland senior hurling medals and having had the honour of being named on the Tipperary team of the century, any visitor to his home would have a hard job locating the solitary picture of his glittering hurling career he has hanging on a living room wall.
As you would expect from such a no-nonsense hurler, one who did all of his talking on the field, there are no ostentatious displays of medals, trophies, jerseys or hurling memorabilia adorning his welcoming home.
A midfield powerhouse, Theo English was an integral part of the greatest Tipperary team of all time that won five All-Ireland senior hurling titles between 1958 and 1965 and he was a hugely influential figure for Tipperary senior hurling teams from 1953 to 1967.
In keeping with his humble approach concerning his own career, Theo English deftly introduces a detour should the conversation stray into territory that would allow him any time to dwell on his own hurling achievements.
His distinguished hurling career is all the more remarkable, given his journey from what was a newly-formed junior club in the south division to the meteoric heights he reached as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
Everything started and remains centered around Marlfield to the present day.
Theo is a familiar sight taking his daily walk at the lake in Marlfield.
He still has an incredible level of fitness that stood to him throughout his career. His lifestyle, a non-drinker and non-smoker, means he is still capable of doing his press-ups at the lake most days.
Hurling always came first for Theo and his family had to get used to it from day one.
His wedding to his wife Maureen was postponed from the summer to October to allow the championship to finish.
A friendly priest was persuaded to switch the christening of his first child John from a Sunday to a Thursday to avoid a clash with a big match.
“Luckily for me Maureen was very interested in hurling, she came from a strong GAA family in Clonmel. Just as well because no other woman would put up with it,” said Theo.
His love of the games began in 1939 when he attended his first match at the age of eight and he has an incredible recall of that day, as well as the matches he attended and the matches he played in for decades after that.
He remembers as an eight year-old telling his mother he was going to Clonmel field to watch his first match and he decided to go further afield to Kilsheelan instead.
A huge
row developed on the field and he was separated from his friends, who went to intervene in the row on the field.
“The first match I saw was Carrick Swan against Killenaule as a young fellah. If you gave me 1,000/1 that I would end up playing for Tipperary I would not have put on the bet. I was from a junior club in the south division. I never thought I would play for Tipperary.I was watching players like Pat Stakelum and Jimmy Finn in games, I never thought I would end up playing like them,” said Theo.
That frightening experience in Kilsheelan did not deter his enthusiasm for the game and a few years later, after 10.30 Mass in St.Mary’s, he got a loan of a bike from Simon Molloy and although he was too small to sit on the saddle he managed to travel to Thurles without sitting on the saddle to see Cork play Limerick in the Munster final.
Theo played his first competitive match for St Mary’s minor hurling team because his club Marlfield had only been formed in 1946 and they did not have a minor team . He won his first medal playing for the Old Bridge minor football team and he went on to win a county football championship with Clonmel Comercials.
He first came to prominence as a footballer as there were no options available to him to play hurling other than on the streets with his friends.He won a Munster Junior football medal with Tipperary in 1952.
Huge success did materialise for Theo in Marlfield colours as the club was the first senior club from Clonmel to win a South Tipperary senior hurling championship.
The breakthrough represented a golden era not only for Clonmel hurling but also for Marlfield as a club, as they went on to win four south senior hurling titles in 1960,1962,1964 and 1970.
“I would have walked out on one leg to play for Marlfield. They were very special days, I am very proud of all the players of the time and what we did for the village. We will never see those days again,” laments Theo.
He togged out for his last game in Marlfield colours in 1981, bringing an end to a distinguished playing career.
GAA administration duties never appealed to him despite being offered many opportunities.
“I was elected to the Munster council once and after attending one meeting I had to stick it out for the year but decided to take a powder after that,” said Theo.
Playing was everything for Theo and when that option was taken from him he welcomed opportunities to work as a manager with rural clubs that had the same dynamic as Marlfield.
He jumped at the invitations extended to him to become a selector for the Tipperary senior team, which saw him experience great success in 1971 and again in 1989 when he was part of All-Ireland management winning teams.
At club level he enjoyed many memorable years, guiding teams in Annacarty, Tooraneena and in Piltown to success.
He was at the helm for Mullinahone when he guided the former junior club to appear in their first county senior hurling final against Clonoulty in 1997.
“Just to see what it meant to people in places where success was very rare was fantastic. It is very special for a rural club and the whole community gets a great lift and I enjoyed being part of that. I met some great people and had some great times,” said Theo.
Theo would talk hurling all day long but when invited to select highlights from his career he does not pick any particular victory on the field of play or any particular personal performance that stood out.
He has no hesitation in recalling the night he arrived back in Marlfield for the first time with the Liam McCarthy in 1958 as an All-Ireland winner as a very special personal memory.
He greatly cherishes that moment because of what it meant to the village.
That Marlfield bonfire homecoming, along with the honour of being named on the Tipperary hurling team of the century give him enormous pleasure as he looks back over his life.
“To get a place on that team with those hurlers, Jimmy Doyle was the best I have ever seen, I really appreciate it,” said Theo.
Theo English, forever lined out in midfield on the Tipperary team of the Century, will always be in the company of the greats.

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