An iconic image - blood stained Richard Stakelum gets the Munster cup to end the famine
A look back at Tipperary hurling through the '80's
"The Famine is Over"
Those were the famous words uttered by Richard Stakelum as he lifted the Munster Senior Hurling trophy on July 19th 1987 in Killarney.
Tipperary hurling followers had seen sixteen lean years pass by and many of them were beginning to doubt if Tipperary would ever again capture the prized trophy.
Having failed so often over that sixteen year period it was becoming more difficult by the year to reach the winning post. 1987 proved to be a challenging year . After many different combinations of selectors had come and gone a big change came about in 1987. The County Board decided that the number of selectors be reduced to three. After many meetings and discussions had taken place the management team for the Tipperary Senior hurlers for 1987 was made up of manager Michael ‘Babs’ Keating, Donie Nealon, and the late and much lamented Theo English.
Babs put his own stamp on things and he felt that in order to in implement his plans finance was required. He was conscious that the staging of the Centenary All Ireland in Thurles had drained the coffers pf the County Board and that other means of raising money was needed. ‘Babs’ had a wide range of business contacts and he in company with likeminded individuals who wanted to see Tipperary restored to its rightful place in the hurling world decided to form The Tipperary Supporters club whose sole aim was to provide finance in order that our Senior Hurling Team would once again be able to compete with the other hurling counties and ultimately capture provincial and All Ireland Senior Hurling honours on a regular basis.
Pat Fox and Donie O'Connell in action against Cork's Jim Cashman
The first venture into fund raising by the Supporters club was to raffle a horse named as ‘Slievenamon’. It proved to be a huge success and the venture yielded a profit of £100,000. Even at this stage there was no great optimism that Tipperary would be successful and the ‘Ratler’ Byrne was supposed to have said that Slievenamon had a better chance of winning the Epsom Derby than Tipp had of winning ‘Liam McCarthy.
With money raised by the Supporters Club Babs saw to it that injured players were treated by the top medics in the country. He also saw to it that when the players when representing Tipperary were dressed in a blazer and slacks and that they travelled to games by coach rather than individual cars. This was all done to raise the morale of the players and to ensure that playing for Tipperary was an honour to be respected. Also after Championship games players and their partners were treated to an evening meal befitting the occasion.
This situation was a God send to the Tipperary County Board as they could now set out a plan to defray the cost of having staged the centenary All Ireland in Thurles. Mick Frawley who chaired the County Board in Centenary year came up with the Double your Money scheme which proved quite successful. It generated some of the required finance. Michael Lowry who succeeded Frawley in the chair came up with the idea of staging concerts in Semple Stadium and they were also huge money spinners that helped in no small way to clear the debt.
Finally Noel Morris who succeeded Lowry in the chair initiated the County Board Draw which has proved a life saver for the County Board and is still going strong doing its job for well in excess of thirty years. This is due in no small way to the wonderful work of the charismatic county board Secretary Tim Floyd who has steered the ship during all those years.
From the word go in 1987 Babs and his fellow mentors were discovering that to put a competitive championship team on the field was not going to be easy. The most modern method of physical fitness was secured through the good offices of Liam Hennessy and considering the success of our Minor and (U-21) teams in the eighties it was evident that a pool of competent hurlers were there.
Inspirational leader of '87 - Richard Stakelum
The standard of club hurling in Tipperary was quite good and both Kilruane McDonaghs and Borrisileigh had won All Ireland club titles in 1986 and 1987 respectively.
In round one of the Championship Tipperary were paired against Claire and were quite fortunate to draw with the Banner. The replay saw Tipp improve to the extent that they ran out victorious by (4-17) to (0-8).
The Munster Final v Cork in Thurles ended all square (1-18) each. A week later on July 19th all roads led to Killarney for the replay and after another classic Munster Final that went to extra time Tipperary bridged a sixteen year gap with a (4-22) to (1-22) victory over the rebels.
Richard Stakelum’s speech on receiving the Cup summed it all up, the famine was over and Tipperary once more regained their rightful place at the top table in the hurling world.
The cheers from the huge Tipperary following that still had some voice left, I would say shook the foundations of the old stand in the famed Fitzgerald Stadium as warrior Stakelum delivered his famous acceptance speech. It was a never to be forgotten evening by the lakes. The occasion caused the pent up feelings of sixteen years of frustration to be released. Many of the die-hard Tipperary supporters were seen to shed a tear or two as the Cup made its way down on the field.
The evening was celebrated in style by the huge Tipperary following. Never before in the proud history of Munster hurling had a Tipperary team celebrated winning ‘Munster’ to such an extent. With all the loose ends having been sorted the victorious Munster Champions made their way to the home of team captain Richard Stakelum in Borrisileigh where the celebrations lasted for a number of days. There was widespread praise for our gallant team of warriors on their achievement and also appreciation was lavished on ‘Babs’ Donie and Theo for their contribution.
It was a long journey from 1971 to the famine ending in July 1987. Following Tipperary’s hugely successful sixties, the seventies yielded little silverware. Tipperary won the senior hurling All Ireland in 1971, they were successful in Minor in 1976, Templemore C.B.S won Harty and All Ireland Colleges titles in 1978 and an (U-21) All Ireland was won in 1979. The 1979 winning combination included names that subsequently made a huge contribution to Tipperary hurling such as captain Ml. Doyle, Donie O Connell, Pat Fox. Eamon Ó Shea, Gerry Stapleton, Cormac Bonner and the current County Secretary, Tim Floyd.
To hurling followers throughout the county it was a source of worry that Tipperary had not won a game in the Munster Championships since 1973.
1979 promised well for Tipperary as they won the National Hurling League defeating Galway by (3-15) to (0-8) in the Final. There was great hope that Cork could be beaten in the championship, a game that was fixed for June that year. Despite a gallant effort Tipperary came up short and were narrowly beaten (1-14) to (2-10) in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Following the gallant effort of 1979 there was a huge optimism that Tipperary would beat Cork in round one of the Munster Championship, that was scheduled for Semple Stadium in June 1980. Tipperary gave a very poor display and were emphatically beaten by the rebels on a score of (2-17) to (1-12). The selection committee comprising of manager Mick Minogue, Senator Murphy, Tom Moloughney, Dinny Ryan and yours truly got our P.45 forms. The underage scene was doing very well and Tipperary Minors captained by Loughmore’s Jim Maher beat Wexford by (2-15) to (1-10) to capture the Irish Press Cup. The team included such future stars as Ken Hogan, Ger. O Neill, Nicky English and Paddy Maher, father of the future stars Paudie and Ronan.
The (U-21) team also won the All Ireland title defeating Kilkenny by (2-9) to (0-14) in the Final. The stars on that winning team were Cormac Bonner, Pat Fox, Pat McGrath and Bobby Ryan.
1981 was again a disappointing year as the seniors once more failed to win a round of the Munster Championship. The (U-21)’s victory in the All Ireland Final, beating Kilkenny emphatically by (1-16) to (1-10) gave a ray of hope.
1982 once more saw our senior team fail to win a game in the Munster Championship. We lost a first round game to Cork by (1-19) to (2-8). There was some consolation as our Minor hurlers won the All Ireland title beating Galway by (2-7) to (0-4) in the Final. The team included future All Ireland senior medal winners such as Colm Bonner, Noel Sheedy, Aidan Ryan, John Cormack and Clonoulty-Rossmore’s John Kennedy.
The Tipp team which won the All-Ireland Final in 1989
For the first time in a decade Tipperary beat Clare in the first round of the Senior Championship by a three point margin in 1983, but the feel good factor did not last long as Waterford were victors in the Munster Semi Final by a four point margin (4-13) to (2-15). Both minor and (U-21) teams won their provincial titles but lost in the All Ireland series to Galway on both occasions.
Centenary year arrived and no stone was left unturned to ensure Tipperary teams in hurling and football would maximise their potential. For a number of years progress on the football front had been poor but a huge breakthrough at minor level occurred in 1984 with Tipperary winning the Munster minor title. In the Munster Final v Kerry in Killarney, Tipperary were victors by (2-3) to (0-8) with Fethard’s Brian Bourke being the shining light.
Tipp beat Roscommon in the All Ireland semi-final but lost to Dublin on the score (1-9) to (0-4)in the All Ireland Final. It was a gallant effort that did justice to the year we were celebrating. The (U- 21) hurlers went all the way to the All-Ireland Final but lost a close final to Kilkenny by (1-12) to (0-11). Great hopes were pinned on our senior hurlers and despite having a fortunate victory over Clare in the Munster semi-final they faced the Munster Final v Cork in Thurles with a degree of optimism. Despite another gallant effort a few unlucky breaks tilted the game towards Cork and in the end Tipperary came up short by a four point margin.
As 1985 arrived victory by Tipperary in the Centenary Cup, a once off competition to celebrate the occasion, gave hope once more that Tipperary might do well in the 1985 Championship. Having beaten Clare after a replay in the semi-final they once more faced Cork in the Munster Final and again Cork were clear cut winners by (4-17) to (4-11). The underage scene still gave hope and the (U-21)s won the All Ireland defeating Kilkenny in the final (1-10) to (2-6).
The recently restored All Ireland Junior Competition saw Tipperary reach the final but were defeated by Wexford (3-9) to (1-13).
As 1986 arrived disillusionment was rife in Tipperary GAA circles. Despite our underage success and a number of gallant efforts to get back to capturing the big prizes it had not happened.
In Round 1 of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship 1986 in Ennis, Clare came out on top by (2-10) to (1-11). That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and immediately the wheels were put in motion by the County Board under the leadership of Michael Lowry to come up with a solution to what had now become a critical situation.
For 1987 the new form of management under ‘Babs’, with Donie Nealon and Theo English on board was now put in place which thankfully ended the famine.
Having won the Munster Final for the first time in sixteen years Tipperary was paired against Galway in the All Ireland semi-final. As Tipperary headed to Croke Park for the All Ireland semi-final our good Kilkenny friends put up billboards in Urlingford and Johnstown giving us directions to headquarters.
Having celebrated the Munster Final victory a little too much Tipperary failed to Galway on the score (3-20) to (2-17) . Tipperary people were far from downhearted and they approached the 1988 season with a spring in their steps. It was a different Tipperary team that was now taking the field. There was a confidence about them that was refreshing.
Tipperary beat Limerick in the Munster semi-final by (0-15) to (0-8) and Cork in the Munster Final by (2-19) to (1-13). That was the day that Cormac Bonner signalled his arrival with a major contribution to the Tipperary attack.
Tipperary beat Antrim in the All Ireland Semi-final but lost the Final to Galway by (1-15) to (0-14) with a Noel Lane goal being the deciding factor.
The county approached the 1989 season with great optimism. They went to the League Final for the first time in years but lost to Galway in a great game by (2-16) to (4-8).
The Championship commenced with a victory over Limerick (4-18) to(2-11). Waterford were defeated in the Munster Final by (0-26) to (2-8) and in a tempestuous semi-final Tipperary beat Galway by (1-17) to (2-11). In the All Ireland Final Tipperary were victorious over Antrim by (4-24) to (2-9) thus bridging an eighteen year gap since their last victory in 1971. There was a sense of relief among the hurling people in Tipperary that at last after in excess of a decade and a half in the hurling wilderness we were once more dining at the top table.
To complete the decade Tipperary won the All Ireland (U-21) crown beating Offaly in a great final by (4-10) to (3-11) and the Junior Hurling Team also won their final beating Galway by (0-12) to (0-8).
For Tipperary it was a great end to a decade that gave great enjoyment but also a share of heartbreak.