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27 Nov 2021

Tipperary's All-Ireland success in 1971 coincided with abolition of the ludicrous Ban

Triumph of 50 years ago had an element of last fling before the famine

Babs Keating

Babs Keating was one of the standout players of the 1971 Munster and All-Ireland hurling championships, when Tipperary were successful

Of all celebration milestones the golden jubilee is one of the most marked. Fifty years seems a neat, rounded figure to tick off the passage of time. Half a century has a compact feel to it.

1971 then fits the groove for present purposes. It was a year of Tipperary triumph, but also an element of last fling before the famine. A year too of significance for the GAA generally as the long-debated Ban was finally removed.

A glance at Stephen Gleeson’s book, Game Of My Life links in with 1971 also as three of the 35 featured players select a game from that year as their standout match.

The GAA Congress, held in Belfast in 1971, finally removed the contentious Ban from association rules. Waterford’s Pat Fanning was president and after years of angst and agitation this controversial regulation went without a whimper of opposition. By then, I guess, the debate was long  over, the final decision a mere formality.

Maybe it’s a legacy of years spent in the classroom but I’m always conscious when referencing items like this that younger generations are often in the dark about such events.

From today’s perspective it seems incredible that the GAA once had a rule banning its members from either playing, promoting or attending so-called foreign games – mainly soccer and rugby but cricket and hockey were also on the hit list.

In truth it was a relic from the past but one that the GAA clung to tenaciously. It was a time when the association was far more inward looking, locked into a very straitened view of history and Irishness. The transformation since then to the modern, vibrant movement of today has been remarkable.

Vigilance committees were a method of enforcing the rule but I’m not so sure how widely, or effectively, they were used. The very notion of having these guys secretly spying on rugby and soccer events seems ludicrous.

It was often said that Mick Mackey had a fondness for attending rugby games so as a method of covering his back they put him on a vigilance committee.

The rule led to famous controversies such as the Cooney case in Tipperary in 1938 when Carrick-on-Suir hurler, Jimmy Cooney, was suspended for attending an Ireland/England rugby game.

He was later re-suspended on a technicality and when he played for Tipperary against Clare the Banner successfully objected to the match outcome. Tipperary, the reigning All-Ireland champions, were thrown out of the championship. 

1938 was also the year of the Douglas Hyde controversy. The first President of Ireland was removed from his position as patron of the GAA when he attended, in his official capacity as president, an Ireland/Poland soccer game at Dalymount Park.

There were few more Gaelic-minded and patriotic individuals than Dr Hyde, so his case clearly exposed the incongruity of the rule. Yet it remained for over thirty more years.

It always struck me as an unnecessary aggravation for the GAA to have such a rule on its books. The very concept seems ludicrous now – it made little sense back then either.

So, that was the famous Rule 27, or the Ban as it was more commonly known, before good sense finally prevailed in 1971. It’s a 50th anniversary worth recording.

For Tipperary, 1971 holds fond memories of a 22nd All-Ireland title. For me it’s a particularly treasured one because it was my first.

When the late and loved county councillor Jack Crowe passed away in 2019 the stories at his funeral were legion. One featured the 1971 All-Ireland. Jack took his young nephew, Willie, with him to the final. 

Never one to miss a good celebration Jack wasn’t going to be in a hurry home, so he put Wille on the return train and tipped off a conductor to make sure he got off at Dundrum. It was Wednesday when Jack finally arrived home to be met with a dishcloth from Willie’s mam! 

I was on that same train as Willie and it’s funny how certain details still stand out all those years later. I was taken to the match by an elder brother and I can still recall some of our fellow travellers, including Tom O’Dwyer, a great-hearted Annacarty hurler who died far too young. 

My memories of the match itself are spotty enough. We stood behind the Canal End goal where Peter O’Sullivan and Kilkenny’s Ned Byrne had a set-to at one stage. I recall some classy points from Francis Loughnane. Mostly I remember a high-scoring game of swaying emotions, veering this way and that.

In the far distance late in the game Dinny Ryan hit a crucial goal. Dinny went down injured as he celebrated the goal and Micheal O’Muircheartaigh later claimed he invented the hamstring. Tipp won by 5-17 to 5-14.

Incidentally it was the first final televised in colour and the first eighty minute All-Ireland.

As we made our way back to Heuston Station that evening few could have known that it was to be a last fling for Tipperary hurling for some time. Maybe the more perceptive ones might have noticed that the underage well had run dry but for most there was just huge excitement at another All-Ireland win.

Stephen Gleeson’s book, Game Of My Life, is a memory collection by 35 Tipperary hurlers who recall their standout game and offer some reflections on their careers. Not surprisingly Babs Keating nominates September 5 1971 as the game of his life. Indeed 1971 was the year of his hurling life.

Babs had his name all over that year. From his “dry ball” goal in the Killarney Munster final to a personal input of 2-12 against Galway in the semi-final and then hurling in his bare feet in the final, his colourful stamp was tattooed to this year.

Named hurler of the year and one of four  Tipperary All Stars – the others were Tadhg O’Connor, Mick Roche and Francis Loughnane - in the inaugural year of the awards, it was the apex of an outstanding career for Babs.

Both Dinny Ryan and Tadhg O’Connor nominate the Killarney Munster final against Limerick as their standout game. The dominant rivalry that year was between Tipperary and Limerick so there’s no doubt that game took on a special resonance.

Amazingly Killarney on July 25 was the fourth meeting of the counties that season, and heading to Kerry that day the score read three-nil to Limerick. The teams met three times in the league.

There was an initial meeting in a regular round at the Gaelic Grounds on April 18, which Limerick won by a point, 0-13 to 1-8. A play-off at Croke Park the following week to decide quarter and semi-final qualifications again saw Limerick prevail, this time by 2-15 to 1-15. And then there was the league final at Cork on May 23 when once more Limerick had the edge, 3-12 to 3-11. Sounds a bit scarily familiar, doesn’t it?

Anyway, in the rain at Killarney after another ferocious tussle Tipperary finally put one over on the neighbours, John Flanagan the hero with a last-minute point.

The teams might have met a fifth time, except that Tipperary withdrew from the Oireachtas competition in order to facilitate the completion of the club championship. It was a decision that needled Limerick, who would have loved another crack at their arch-nemesis.

So, which was the better team that year? I suppose you could say regarding results that Limerick had the quantity, but Tipperary had the quality. I’ve no doubt Limerick would have willingly swapped but they would soon have their day in 1973 when the fates conspired to balance the books.

One of the merits of Stephen Gleeson’s book is that you can dip in and out at any time because it’s made up of 35 individual inputs.

You can enjoy without any compulsion to finish the lot. In my experience unfinished GAA books are all too common, where you start off and then feel the drudgery 100 pages later and decide life is too short to waste time on this dross. This book avoids such a fate, the sheer variety being one of its great virtues.

In truth I was drawn more towards the earlier contributions. Perhaps over-familiarity with the recent decades lessened the appeal. Unless there was something new or incisive (usually there wasn’t) then there was no great incentive to dwell on recent triumphs.

I particularly liked Dinny Ryan’s contribution. Little Dinny from Curreeny near Kilcommon had stormed onto the scene in 1971.

Actually, he was just coming back from a twelve-month suspension, after he was sanctioned following a Doon tournament game. In his own words he got six months for “suspected striking” and another six for “refusing to leave the field of play.”

For a small man Dinny was a real force of nature – a pocket-sized dynamo. He was a contrarian with loads of hurling skill and a leading light in the emergence of Sean Treacys. He did for Sean Treacys what John Leahy did for Mullinahone. He nominates that Killarney game as his finest for Tipperary.

Here he tells the story of an incident that happened at the end of the match. As he was shaking hands with his opponent, Phil Bennis, a Limerick supporter raced in and punched Bennis in the jaw.

“I presume he had a few bob on the game,” reflects Dinny sardonically.

Stephen Gleeson has done a major job of work here with so many different contributors. There’s one for everyone in the audience, so the appeal is widespread. It’s a collection of individual snippets rather than a heavy narrative, one where the little anecdotes are often the most interesting parts. I recommend it.

Finally, a Jack Crowe story to finish. He went on pilgrimage to Knock once and on return was asked what he thought of the basilica. 

“Janey,” said Jack, “I don’t remember being in that pub.”

For more Westside read What you see is what you get with Len Gaynor

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