The Making of an All-Ireland

Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1990, pp 15-17


In an interview with the Tipperary Star on the eve of the All-Ireland, Babs Keating mentioned a figure 'in excess of £225,000' raised by the Supporters' Club over three years through raffles, golf outings and sponsorship. This money had gone towards the cost of training the Tipperary senior hurling team. 

At a subsequent county board meeting, treasurer Michael Nolan informed the members that, in 1988 alone, £30,000 had been paid from board funds towards the training of the team. These figures reveal the tremendous cost of getting the county senior team to Croke Park on September 3. 

The cost in members' time and travel is equally impressive. Five of the present panel and management, Babs Keating, Ken Hogan, Declan Carr, Nicholas English and Philip Conway, are based in Dublin. The round trip to Thurles is nearly 200 miles and this journey is done sometimes as many as three nights a week. For instance, Philip Conway took over as team physical trainer on March 15 and between then and the All-Ireland there were 43 team sessions. He attended 38 of them which, translated into miles, is between seven and eight thousand!


New Management

The number of games played, since the present management structure was set up in September 1986, is also staggering. The new management had been appointed at the August county board meeting following a special meeting of the board in July, which reviewed the structures in the county and the system of appointing selectors and team management. A sub­committee of county officials Michael Lowry, Tommy Barrett and Martin O'Connor, plus divisional chairmen Paddy Browne, Pat Cullen, Mick McGuire and Noel Morris, was set up to appoint a team manager. 

Initially, the committee drew up a list of 14 candidates for consideration, among whom were believed to be Joe McGrath from Down and Dermot Healy from Kilkenny. Among the Tipperary contenders for the position were Tony Wall, Len Gaynor, Mick Minogue, Jimmy Doyle and the man who was appointed, Babs Keating. The new manager appointed former team-mates Donie Nealon and Theo English to assist him in his selectorial duties. Interestingly, all three appointees were members of junior clubs.


Poor Performance

The reason for the decision to change the method of appointing the selectors of the team was the dismal showing of the senior hurlers against Clare in that year's championship. In a staggering last quarter collapse at Ennis, Tipperary surrendered a nine point lead and were defeated by 2-10 to 1-11. For the record, the team was Tony Sheppard (capt.), Colm Bonnar, Peter Brennan, Seamus Gibson, Donal Kealy, Noel Sheehy, Bobby Ryan, John McGrath, Ralph Callaghan, Liam Stokes, Donie O'Connell, Philip Kennedy, Ger O'Neill, Seamus Power, Liam Maher. Subs to appear that day were John McIntyre and Eamon O'Shea. The selectors were Pat Stakelum, Rev. Ray Reidy, Jimmy Hennessy, Len Gaynor and Liam King. 

The new management took over for the start of the 1986-87 League. In preparalion there was a challenge with Waterford at Clonmel on September 21, which was won by 3-19 to 3-11. The team on that occasion was Ken Hogan, Michael Corcoran, Conor O'Donovan, John Ryan, Pa Fitzelle, J. Walsh, John Heffernan, Joe Hayes, Noel Sheehy, Nicholas English, Paudie Everard, Michael Cleary, J. Quinn, Donie O'Connell and Michael Scully. Interestingly, eight of that lineout were to contribute to the All-Ireland victory on September 3. The other warm-ups followed, against Clare at Newmarket and Kilkenny at Cloughjordan.


The League 

Tipperary were in Division II and their opening game was against Antrim at Dunloy, on October 12. They were well beaten, 3-15 to 3-7, and the team, revealed problems in the full-back line, at centrefield, where Aidan Ryan and Donie O'Connell didn't gell, and in the forwards. There were drastic changes for the next game away to Kerry which saw the introduction of Tony Sheppard for Hogan in goals; Conor O'Donovan and Peter Brennan in the full-back line, Paul Delaney at half-back, Philip Kennedy and Liam Stokes at centrefield and Philip Kenny, Gerry Williams and Michael Nolan to the forwards. They beat Kerry by 3-15 to 0-5, followed up with a win over Meath by 5-14 to 0-9 and defeated Dublin by 1-12 to 1-4 on December 7. They went into the winter recess with 8 points out of a possible 10. 

February 15 was a crunch game for Tipperary. They played Waterford at Walsh Park and victory was essential for promotion to Division 1. This was a fiercely competitive game because Waterford, unbeaten to date, had a similar mission. The final score was 3-11 to 1-7 in Tipperary's favour and left them with only lowly Mayo to overcome in their final game. In fact they trounced Mayo by 5-18 to 0-2, at Thurles, on March 1, and qualified to play Limerick in the quarter­final on April 5. 

This game was postponed for a week because of the state of Semple Stadium and was eventually won by Tipperary (3-15 to 3-14), after an epic encounter that went on for 90 minutes. In the course of that time Tipperary lost a seven-point interval lead and needed an English point in injury time to square the match. Similarly, it took a Pat Fox point in the final minute of extra time to grasp the winner. Pat Fox and John McGrath, who hadn't participated in earlier league games, came in as subs. 

Tipperary had to turn out in the league semi-final the following Sunday in Cork and gave a jaded performance before going down to Clare by 2-11 to 1-11. They lined out without the services of Richard Stakelum and Nicholas English, both sidelined by injuries from the previous Sunday. 

The team for the occasion, with the numbers in brackets indicating the number of league games, (9 in all), they played, was as follows: 

Tony Sheppard (6), J. Heffernan (2), C. O'Donovan (6), S. Gibson (6), C. Bonnar (5), J. McGrath (-), D. O'Connell (8), M. Nolan (4), P. Fox (-), P. Kenny (2), A. Ryan (2). Other players used during the league included K. Hogan (2), M. Corcoran (4), J. Ryan (3), J. Hayes (1), N. Sheehy (2), P. Everard (2), J. Quinn (5), M. Scully (4), P. Delaney (2), L. Stokes (5), G. Williams (4), M. Doyle (8), R. Stakelum (8), P. Brennan (2), F. Collins (1), N. English (7), R. Stakelum (7).


The Championship

There were five challenge games before the first round ofthe championship against Kerry at Killarney, on May 24. There were eight changes in personnel from the team that lost to Clare in the league semi-final. Sheppard, Heffernan, Fitzell, Stapleton, McGrath, Nolan and Philip Kenny were omitted and Bobby Ryan was still in the States with the All-Stars. Nolan and McGrath were, in fact, dropped from the panel. In their places were named Ken Hogan, Peter Brennan, Richard Stapleton, Noel Sheehy, newcomer John Kennedy from Clonoulty, Michael Doyle, Liam Stokes and Michael Scully. 

The game was expected to be no more than a warm-up but at half-time Tipperary were in the embarrassing position of having only four points to spare. In the end, however, they won by 1-21 to 2·5, to everyone's relief. 

There were a number of surprise changes for the semi-final game with Clare. Bobby Ryan was a shock choice at full-forward and John Kennedy was given the number 6 spot. John McGrath, dropped from the panel for the Kerry game, was now brought in at centrefield to the exclusion of Philip Kennedy. Jerry Williams and Nicholas English replaced Liam Stokes and Michael Scully in the forwards. The game, a mediocre contest, was redeemed by the closeness of the exchanges and ended in a draw (1-13 all). There were a few changes for the replay. Joe Hayes came in at centrefield to partner Colm Bonnar, and John Heffernan, who had replaced Peter Brennan in the drawn game, retained the corner back position. There were no mistakes in the replay and Tipperary destroyed any Clare aspirations to Munster supremacy in a score of 4-17 to 0-8. 

An estimated 60,000 people saw the final against Cork, at Thurles. There was one change, John McGrath replacing the injured Jerry Williams at wing-forward. The match ended in a draw with Pat Fox pointing twice in the last minute, but Tipperary should have put Cork away before that. The final score was 1-18 all and the replay was in Killarney. 

This memorable game ended in a draw and there were scenes of incredible delight when, at the final whistle of extra time, Tipperary were ahead by 4-22 to 1-22 and became the holders of the Munster Cup for the first time in sixteen years. There were two changes from the drawn game with Pa Fritzelle replacing the injured Joe Hayes at midfield and Jerry Williams returning at wing forward. The full team was: K. Hogan, J. Heffernan, C. O'Donovan, S. Gibson, R. Stakelum, J. Kennedy, P. Delaney, C. Bonnar, P. Fitzelle, J. Williams, D. O'Connell, A. Ryan, P. Fox, N. English, B. Ryan. Subs. introduced were Martin McGrath, Michael Doyle and Gerry Stapleton.



The hopes and expectations of Tipperary followers were dashed in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway at Croke Park on August 9. A series of mistakes led to a Galway victory by 3-20 to 2-17. A slackness in defence in the opening twenty minutes, a failure to take opportunities during the third quarter and some doubtful decisions by the team mentors contributed to a very disappointing defeat. For the game Joe Hayes was declared fit and chosen in preference to Pat Fitzelle and Martin McGrath, who had come on in the Munster final, was chosen in place of Gerry Williams.


The 1987-88 League

Tipperary played ten games to win the 1987-88 league. The campaign opened with an encouraging victory over Limerick, at Thurles, on October 11, but was followed by defeat at the hands of Wexford two weeks later. The third game was a repeat of the All-Ireland semi-final and ended in a 0-7 each draw in Thurles. 

There was a good victory over Cork at Pairc U'Chaoimh and another over Waterford before the winter recess. After Christmas there was a heavy defeat of Clare at Ennis and then over 30,000 went to Kilkenny for the final game against the home side. Tipperary suffered a comprehensive defeat from Kilkenny on a day when the forwards were well and truly spancelled by a determined Kilkenny backline. 

Nine points from seven games was good enough for a place in the quarter finals in which Antrim were overcome by 2-20 to 2-9 at Croke Park, on March 20. Three weeks later at the same venue, Tipperary had a comprehensive victory over Waterford, 4-19 to 1-8, in the semi-final and on April 24 they defeated Offaly in the final by 3-15 to 2-9 to win their first league title since 1979.

The winning side, with the number of league appearances in brackets - total 10, was as follows: Ken Hogan (10), J. Heffernan (8), C. O'Donovan (9), S. Gibson (10), R. Stakelum, capt. (7), J. Kennedy (4), P. Delaney (10), C. Bonnar (10), J. Hayes (6), M. McGrath (1), D. O'Connell (9), A. Ryan (8), P. Fox (10), N. English (9), B. Ryan (6). Subs: J. McGrath (-), M. Dovle (-). Other players used during the league: ;P. Fitzelle (6), N. Sheehy (8), C. Maher (1), P. Hayes (1), P. O'Neill (3), C. Ryan (5), D. Ryan (7), C. Stakelum (2), J. Leahy (1). 

The 1988 Championship

The first game in the 1988 championship was a Munster semi-final encounter with Limerick, at Cork, on June 5. A number of players were excluded because of injuries - English, Gibson, Heffernan and Fitzelle. There was a cautionary approach to the game but the team weren't flattered with their win of 0-15 to 0-8. The team lined out as follows: K. Hogan, C.O'Donovan, N. Sheehy, P. Delaney, R. Stakelum, J. Kennedy, B. Ryan, C. Bonnar, J. Hayes, J. Leahy, D. O'Connell, P. O'Neill, P. Fox, D. Ryan, A. Ryan. Ger O'Neill and Michael Cleary were introduced as subs.

For the Munster final against Cork, in Pairc U'Chaoimh, on July 17, English and Gibson returned to the exclusion of Leahy and Stakelum, English going to full­forward and Declan Ryan reverting to the wing. Conor O'Donovan moved to full­back in a switch with Sheehy and Bobby Ryan and Paul Delaney reverted to their initial half-back positions. Tipperary confirmed their Munster mastery, despite a second-half slide, and won by 2-19 to 1-13. The game saw the introduction of Cormac Bonnar, and John Leahy was also brought on as a sub. 

The All-Ireland semi-final saw one change from the Munster final. John Heffernan, out because of suspension, was brought in in place of Seamus Gibson. The other decision taken by the selectors was the omission of Michael Corcoran and Michael O'Meara from the panel of twenty-three. Tipperary had the edge all the way through but they weren't released from the grip of the underdogs, Antrim, until Pat Fox scored a decisive goal in the twenty-first minute of the second-half. The final score was 3-15 to 2-10. Three subs were introduced - Leahy, Cormac Bonnar and Austin Buckley. 

The big bombshell for the final was the dropping of captain Pa O'Neill and his replacement with John Leahy. English took over the captaincy. The back line was reshuffled with O'Donovan going full-back and Noel Sheehy to centre-back. Delaney went back right -corner and John Kennedy moved out to his position. A third Bonnar, Conal, was drafted into the subs.

The final on September 4 ended frustratingly. Playing against the breeze in the first half, Tipperary held Galway to four points (0-10 to 0-6) at half-time, chiefly due to good back work, and looked good for the second half. But the Galway backs were equally effective against the Tipperary backs after the interval and the All-Ireland champions were ahead by 1-15 to 0-14 at the final whistle. In the end, with only a point between the sides, Tipperary tried desperately for a goal but it came at the opposite end in the dying moments. The losing lineout was: K. Hogan, P. Delaney, C. O'Donovan, J. Heffernan, B. Ryan, N. Sheehy, J. Kennedy, C. Bonnar, J. Hayes, D. Ryan, D. O'Connell, J. Leahy, P. Fox, N. English, A. Ryan. Sub: Cormac Bonnar for Hayes.


The 1988-89 League

The first round was at Dungarvan ori October 30 and Tipperary beat the home side by 1-12 to 0-11. Seven of the defeated All-Ireland side were missing and many new faces were introduced. The side was: K. Hogan, Colm Bonnar, C. O'Donovan, N. Sheehy, Pat McGrath, Jim Maher, B. Ryan, J. Kennedy, Jim Cormack, D. Ryan, D. O'Connell, David Fogarty, P. Fox, Cormac Bonnar, Michael Cleary. 

Three more victories followed before Christmas. Against Offaly, at Thurles, on November 6, the score was 1-19 to 0-10. A week later at the same venue there was a comprehensive defeat of Wexford, 2-20 to 1-4. Two weeks later, at Limerick, in an exciting game, the result was 4-14 to 3-11 in our favour. 

The good work continued after Christmas against Antrim, at Thurles, when the result was 2-15 to 0-7. However, only one point was got from the final two games. At Ballinasloe, on March 5, the result was 0-12 to 1-7 in Galway's favour and a week later at Thurles the result was a draw: Tipperary 1-11, Kilkenny 2-8. Eleven points secured a semi-final place against Kilkenny at Croke Park, on April 16, and the result was a narrow win: Tipperary 0-15, Kilkenny 1-11. Two weeks later Galway proved the bogey once again when, after a thrilling game, they were ahead by 2-16 to 4-8 at the final whistle. The losing side showed some changes from the 'opening game and from the previous year's All-Ireland: K. Hogan, B. Ryan, C. O'Donovan, P. Delaney, R. Stakelum, N. Sheehy, Conal Bonnar, Colm Bonnar, Declan Carr, D. Ryan, J. Hayes, J. Leahy, Michael Cleary, Cormac Bonnar, Pat McGrath. 

The number of players used in the nine league games, plus the number of games each player playes in brackets, is as follows: K. Hogan (8), C. O'Donovan (9), N. Sheehy (9), R. Stakelum (3), J. Kennedy (5), P. Delaney (3), B. Ryan (9), Colm Bonnar (9), J. Hayes (4), J. Leahy (6), D. O'Connell (1), P. Fox (3), D. Ryan (8), N. English (4), J. Heffernan (3), P. McGrath (8), Jim Maher (1), John Cormack (8), Declan Can (8), John Leamy (1).


An All-Ireland at Last!

The first game in the Munster Championship was a repeat of 1988, with Limerick the opponents and the venue Cork on June 11. It was a close game in the first half with the sides level at 1-7 at the interval. But Tipperary took over in the second-half and won comfortably by 4-18 to 2-11. The side showed changes from the league final. R. Stakelum was out and J. Heffernan was back and Bobby Ryan was the new centre-back. The reshuffled backline read: Heffernan, O'Donovan, Sheehy, Conal Bonnar, B. Ryan, P. Delaney. In the forwards, Fox and English replaced Cleary and Cormac Bonnar. 

The Munster final was against surprise packets, Waterford, and Tipperary were red-hot favourites, and proved it, despite getting a battering from an excessively physical opposition, two of whom were sidelined in the course of the game. Tipperary failed to score a goal but won by 0-26 to 2-8. There were a few changes from the side that won the semi-final. Declan Carr was replaced at centrefield by Declan Ryan, who made way for the introduction of Michael Cleary at wing-forward. Pat McGrath was excluded from the corner­forward position and his place was taken by Nicholas English, with Cormac Bonnar coming in at full-forward. 

In a semi-final of high drama and controversy, devoid of quality hurling, Tipperary eventually beat Galway at Croke Park on August 6. However, there were only three points between the sides in the end, 1-17 to 2-11, despite the fact that Galway had only thirteen men for the final ten minutes. The only change in the lineout was the return of Declan Carr in place of Colm Bonnar at centrefield. 

Tipperary put an end to the eighteen year famine on September 3 when they beat a disappointing Antrim team by 4-24 to 3-9 in the final. It was really one-way traffic for the duration and Nicholas English gave a superb display to get a personal tally of 2-12 and set up a new record. The side showed two changes from the semi-final. Paul Delaney was omitted because of doubt on his legality and was replaced by John Kennedy. Colm Bonnar returned at centrefield with Declan Ryan moving to centrefield and replacing Joe Hayes. 

The winning side, with championship appearances in brackets, was as follows: K. Hogan (4), J. Heffernan (4), C. O'Donovan (4), N. Sheehy (4), Conal Bonnar (4), B. Ryan (4), M. Cleary (3), P. Fox (4), Cormac Bonnar (3), N. English (4). Subs: D. O'Connell (-), J. Hayes (3), A. Ryan (-). Others: R. Stakelum (-), J. Leamy (-), J. Cormack (-), P. McGrath (l), J. Madden (-), P. Delaney (3).



Since the new management took over Tipperary played 42 competitive games in league and championship over three years. The result was 30 wins, 4 draws and 8 losses. Two of the draws were in the 1987 championship, against Clare and Cork. The other two were against Galway in'the 1987-88 league and against Kilkenny in the 1988-89 league. Galway beat us four times - twice in the championship 1987 and 1988, and twice in the 1988-89 league. The other defeats were at the hands of Laois and Clare in the 1986-87 league and by Kilkenny and Wexford in the 1987-88 league. 

Of the players who have been involved over the period the most impressive per­formancce is that of Conor O'Donovan. Of the 42 games, Conor played in 38! He is Ifollowed by Colm Bonnar with 36. Colm has another record, an uninterrupted sequence of 31 games until he was dropped for the All-Ireland semi-final. Next in line comes Ken Hogan with 34 games, Bobby Ryan with 33, Nicholas English with 31, Donie O'Connell with 29, Noel Sheehy with 28, Paul Delaney with 27 and Pat Fox with 26. 

Finally, Tipperary's scoring perform­ance has been impressive. In the 1986-87 league they played nine games and were beaten in the semi-final. The team scored 25 goals 128 points and conceded 11 goals 66 points. In the 1987 championship they were beaten in the semi-final. They scored 13 goals 108 points and conceded 8 goals an 87 points. They won the 1987-88 league with ten games and scored 23 goals 131 points while conceding 12 goals 79 points. In the 1988 championship they played four games and scored 5 goals 63 points while conceding 4 goals 46 points. There were nine games in the 1988-89 league and the tally was 16 goals and 121 points for and 9 goals 90 against. The 1989 championship was the only time the opposition scored as many goals. The combined total was 9 goals 85 points for and 9 goals 39 points against.