The attendance at the 1961 All-Ireland Hurling Final, September 3, between Tipperary and Dublin, was:
And of that number none was a more passionate follower of the team in blue than Harry, patriarch of the clan Smyth. While on the side of the team in blue and gold, his opposite number was Dan, patriarch of the clan Devitt.
For Harry Smyth nowhere could be a longer way away from Dublin than Tipperary while for Dan Devitt, although resident in Dublin for the previous quarter of a century, for many years he thought nothing of biking it back to Tipp for the weekend. Until a combination of his aching daddy long legs and She who Must be Obeyed put a halt to that gallop by stating in terms that were clear and guaranteed to instil a modicum of fear:
-You’ll do no such thing. No more Ras Tailteanning for you, sir. After your rashers and eggs it’s the lawnmower for you.
A glance at the official programme (more accurate but less entertaining than the now, sadly, extinct unofficial programme) revealed a multitude about the togged-out hurlers and about whom the multitude gathered were all agog. It cost 6p and was signed by Pádraig O’ Caoimh, after whom Páirc Uí Chaoimh was subsequently called. (Though for a sour spell last year it was dissed as Páirc Jurassic where the Dinosaurs disport themselves).
The Tipperary team was: Donal O' Brien, Matt Hassett, Michael Maher, Kieran Carey, Mick Burns, Tony Wall, John Doyle, Matt O' Gara, Theo English, Jimmy Doyle, Liam Devaney, Donie Nealon, Mackey McKenna, Billy Moloughney, Tom Moloughney.
Although Matt Hassett was the actual captain and he who was to hold aloft the Liam McCarthy Cup the programme incorrectly named Michael Maher as the boss of the boys with the bos. (Let’s hear it for the unofficial programme!).
Could be, of course, that Tipp were the premier county to come up with the idea of a Co-Captaincy?
It will be noted that John Doyle (aka The Rock of Cashel) was in the half back line and had yet to move back in future seasons to take the spot vacated by Matt Hassett. The legendary full back line of Doyle, Maher and Carey became known as Hell’s Kitchen. (No rashers and eggs on the menu there).
The Dublin team was: Jimmy Grey, Dessie Ferguson, Noel Dromgoole (capt.), Lar Foley, Liam Ferguson, Christy Hayes, Shay Lynch, Fran Whelan, Achill Boothman, Mick Bohan, Larry Shannon, Bernie Boothman, Paddy Croke, Billy Jackson.
Unlike the Munster champions, where there were no brothers, there were three sets of brothers on the Dublin team: the Foley Bros, the Ferguson Bros and the Boothman Bros.
Whereas the Foley Brothers were farmers from faraway Kinsealy the Boothman Brothers were not farmers from St. Columba’s in Crumlin. Sub Paddy Maycock was in the same club: thus, while we had haycocks from North Dublin we had a Maycock from South Dublin.
While Des and Lar Foley were true sons of the soil, especially Lar – even though Des Foley’s Bobby Moore blonde looks and stature were more West ‘Am than best ham – the Brothers Boothman (not Boothboys when they played minor) cut quite the exotic dash in Croker a half a century ago: a pair of ponytailed gypsies with earrings.
One can still see Harry Smyth (hard to believe he was supporting a team containing a couple of farmers but then he was ever a believer in the shared space) taking his perilous place, perched perhaps on top of either the old neo-Hogan Stand or atop the retro-Railway Wall. (Health and Safety? Less H.A.S. been, more for the very distant future). And he to be doing his famous imitation of Larry Olivier before the whistle was blown and the sliotar thrown in:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
(Careful too to pronounce Saint Crispin in the authentic Dublin way, as if he were referring to the former British stateman, Sir Stafford Cripps).
Harry knew of which he orated: for he was once on his way with his father to Croke Park for a previous game involving Dublin and Tipperary, two score years before that, a game involving the big ball rather than the small ball, when wiser counsel prevailed. Belonging to a maternal voice in the family it convinced the Smyths Snr and Jnr to say at home. And give the game a miss. Not to mention a massacre, though not in the footballing sense, for that was Bloody Sunday.
Back to the hurling final of 1961, which Tipperary won by one score:
-Tipperary 0-16: 1-12 Dublin.
My own recollection of the 60 minute game was of the blur in which it passed: a hurling game in those days as in these days always seemed to be in a hurry, only more so because it was ten minutes shorter back in the day.
My memory of the immediate aftermath was the muted nature of my Tipperary father’s reaction after the long, final, arm-waver of a whistle: less celebration than cerebration.
-By a whisker. Even though his team wasn’t attired in the black and amber.
Which is more or less how we caught the bus home (Catch 22! was our retrospective catch cry) he lapsed into an unusually pensive mood for a post-match trip when his team had been victorious.
This memory was enforced by an article which appeared on the approach to the fiftieth anniversary of the Premier County’s narrowest of victories.
In this article the journalist talks to a few survivors of the Tipperary and Dublin teams:
-We were the luckiest team ever to win that All-Ireland’ says Tipp midfielder Theo English. ‘We won against the run of play, a medal I always say we should never have won. We were carrying a few injuries but Dublin deserved to win that day. They were all over us. I was on
Des Foley and got a fair roasting. John Doyle got a terrible roasting off Achill Boothman’.
Likewise, Jimmy Doyle pays tribute to that Dublin team:
‘Yes they were very close, that had a great team that time, a good crew. I was on a fella called Shay Lynch, he was good too, and they had the Foley brothers, the Fergusons, the Boothmans; they had a Jackson corner-forward, he was dangerous, and a Tipperary fella at full-forward, Paddy Croke. All those fellas were good but Des Foley was the star. I hurled against him when he was playing for Leinster, and then for the Rest of Ireland when Tipp won the All-Ireland. He was an outstanding hurler’.
Jimmy Gray was the Dublin goalkeeper on that day, 1961, went on to manage Dublin in the 90s and became a top administrator, L’Eminence Grise, indeed, with Dublin.
Here’s a fascinating thing which Gray had to say:
‘Two very important people were missing from the Dublin team: Norman Allen had emigrated to America, he would have been a huge addition to us at centre-forward; and Kevin Heffernan was a great goal-poacher. He always contends that he was available for selection and of course he was, he was playing with St. Vincent’s, but the selectors of the day didn’t see fit to pick him’.
Could be, of course, that Harry on high, atop the Hogan Stand might well have lost the run of himself in his oratorical flights – most understandable given the mounting tensions that day, not least during the pre-match march around by the contending teams behind the Artane Boys Band.
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'
There is a hedge school of thought which contends that if Harry S. indeed had made that second speech, with its too, too explicit last line, it might well have put the mockers on the Dublin team.
It is not known if the Artane Boys Band included in their pre-match repertoire on that disappointing day when Dublin lost by a point: 'Hats off to Larry'. That was a hit song of 1961 by Del Shannon and could have have referred to 'Larry Shannon', the classy Dublin hurler, a past pupil of O'Connell's School, on the opposite bank of the Royal Canal.
Perhaps it was ruled out on grounds of bias, not wanting to be known as the Artane Bias Band.