The Genius of Tony Reddin
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1984, pp. 61-63
To write about Tony Reddin is no easy task. Not because his exploits are few - they are indeed many- but because of the difficulty of describing adequately the greatness of the man and the multitudes he inspired. I have a friend from Westmeath for whom Tony Reddin was a childhood hero who blazed across the horizon of his young years
and left an impression that is still indelible thirty years later. He is one of many whom Tony inspired by his goal-keeping brilliance inside and outside Tipperary and far and wide in the world.
Who was this man who made the name of Lorrha a household word the length and breadth of Ireland? The parish of Lorrha became the kingdom of Tony and to say one was from there was sure to bring the response: "Oh! Tony Reddin's country." But Tony wasn't from Lorrha but was born on the other side of the Shannon in Mullagh, Co. Galway about fifteen miles as the crow flies from the parish of his adoption. It was in February 1947 that Tony cycled across the bridge of Portuma to start a new chapter in his life.
A Galway Career
Some people are of the impression that Tony had no pre-1947 hurling existence. This is to miss a chapter of his life that is important. He has many hurling medals in his possession but one that he cherishes and has a special place for is a county juvenile medal he won h Mullagh in 1933. It is the only county medal he won and he is immensely proud of it. He played centrefield. He won a divisional junior medal with Mullagh in the late thirties and found his place on the Galway junior team of 1940. They beat Roscommon in the Connaght final but went down narrowly to Cork 3-3 to 3-1 in the All-Ireland at Limerick. In 1941 he was promoted to senior ranks and played with Galway against Dublin at Roscrea. On that day Lorrha man, Christy Forde, played a blinder in the Dublin goal. IIn the same year Tony made the Connaght Railway Cup team that was trounced by Munster.
An impressive if not spectacular record. For the next few years he lost interest in the game and doesn't appear again until 1946 when he played full-forward with Galway in the Monaghan Cup game at London against Tipperary. Tony scored a point and Galway lost by a narrow margin. At the opposite end of the field for Tipperary
that day was Tony Brennan, who was later to form such a harmonious partnership with Reddin. Later that year we find Tony sub-goalie on the Galway team that went down to Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final at Birr.
The man who crossed the Shannon the following year has been variously known. Programmes and newspapers have called him Tony or Anthony and Reddan, Reddin and even Redden. Probably, the most common usage has been Tony Reddan. How did a man, who was christened Martin Charles Reddington end up with the name of Tony Reddan? Despite what his birth certificate states the family were always known as Reddins. Tony's father, Mick, was never known as anything except Mick Reddin. Tony had a pet name, 'Thaudy', and when he came to Lorrha people thought it was "Tony" and they began to call him by that name. As Tony himself says: 'Nobody ever asked me what I was called: they just called me "Tony Reddan" and the name stuck'. Tony is known by his birth certificate name on his first passport, got in 1950. On his current one he signs himself 'Tony Reddin', the name by which everybody knows him. And this clarifies the second point: his name is Reddin, nothing else. It's the name of his wife and children.
First Games in Tipperary
Tony's reputation as a goalkeeper had preceded him and he got his first opportunity to show his prowess when Fr O'Meara went to him in Holy Week and asked him to play on Easter Sunday. St Vincents of Dublin were coming to Rathcabbin to play Lorrha in a challenge game that was to be the beginning of a long friendship between the two clubs. Tony turned up, had a good game and Lorrha were beaten by a point. It is interesting to record that this was his first match in Tipperary, in the quiet backwater of Rathcabbin. His last match for Tipperary was to be in the bustling city of New York in October ten years later.
Tony won his first medal in Tipperary when Lorrha won a tournament against Kilruane in May of that year. The Lorrha team had just gone senior, having been intermediate for the previous six years. Tony played in the championship, had some fine saves in the first round against Borrisokane and against Roscrea 'brought off some wonderfuI close clearances'. In the semi-final against Borrisileigh, Reddin had a poor game and was taken out to centre-field in the second-half. Lorrha lost and that put an end to activity for that year.
1948 was a memorable year for Lorrha. After twenty-one years they won the North final and the man who led the revival was none other than Tony Reddin. They beat Borrisokane, Roscrea and Kiladangan on the way to the final. Against Kiladangan Reddin was 'man of the match.'
However, it was in the North final against Borrisileigh on 22 August at Nenagh that Reddin became famous. With a gale force wind in the first-half Lorrha ran up a lead of 4-3 to 0-4. I n the second-half Borrisileigh had a downpour behind them and they attacked the Lorrha goal with everything in their arsenal in an attempt to get back on top. They tried for goals again and again, when points went abegging, and Reddin stopped the ball with mechanical ease and flung it back in their face. Borrisileigh scored twice, early and late in the half, but it wasn't enough. Lorrha had won, scoring 1-1 on top of their half-time tally, and the parish and further afield sung the praises of a new goalkeeping star. Lorrha won the semi-final against Cashel but went down heavily to Holycross in the final. In both games Reddin's contribution was way above that of average men.
Why was Reddin so brilliant? It may be a good place to analyse the quality of his greatness. Many people remember Reddin as a big man going high for the ball, catching it securely and bursting out amid a welter of hurleys, to clear well up the field. It will come as a surprise to learn that Tony is not a big man. He stands 5'9" and, at the height of his career in the early fifties he never weighed more than eleven and a half stone! He was a very fit man. He trained for the position as keenly as another might train for centre-field. Running crosscountry, jumping over hedges and ditches and building up his arms made him the strong player he was. He had the eye of a hawk, some might even say of compensatory quality, for defects in his oral and aural senses. Neighbours have commented on how sharp that eyesight was and is in spotting someone at a distance. He was no mere ball stopper but a player who completed the act by clearing the ball down the field. He was equally good on the right or the left side and this again came from constant practice. He sharpened his reflexes by belting a ball against a rough stone wall from short distances and catching the ball in his hand as it rebounded in different directions. Probably his greatest ability was a sensitive touch allied with the tilting of the hurley's face at an angle which enabled him to kill even the fastest ball dead so that it rolled down the hurley into his hand as if by the genius of a master magician. Finally, Tony used no 'halfdoor' of a hurley to stop the ball. His was of ordinary size and he had the same stick for most of his hurling career, a heavy, many hooped, ugly-looking affair.
Promotion to County
Reddin's proven ability in the championship won him his place on the county team. His first appearance was at Birr (significantly the last place he played with Galway) against Offaly in the league. He had a fine debut. He played the delayed 1947-48 league final against Cork on 31 October and Tipperary lost but one of the redeeming features of the game was 'the splendid goalkeeping of Reddin'. The report on his next match against Clare stated that 'Reddin has a quick eye, a keen sense of anticipation and he is very lively on his feet'. Tipperary played Limerick on 21 November and we read: "Very soon they (Limerick) got a taste of the excellence of Tony Reddin in our goal. A loose forward picked up a ball fifteen yards out and let fly. Believe it or not Reddin trapped down the ball and cleared it to the left. Not since a historic day in Thurles long ago when Pat Scanlan saved point blank from Tommie Treacy had I seen a save like that'. The last match of the year was against his native Galway and again the reports sang his praises. 'Reddin has certainly captured the popular imagination. His saves are all of a colourful variety. It was not an uncommon thing to see the Lorrha man emerge from a crowded goalmouth to clear well outfield or to stop a point blank shot that seemed to be going all the way for the back of the net'. And, in his column in the 'Tipperary Star' Winter Green wrote: 'In Tony Reddin we have a smashing goalie. On Sunday he lived up to all the nice things I have been writing about him of late. He is coolness personified, has the eye of a hawk and has a hefty clearance'. Opposite him Sean Duggan looked moderate by comparison and Duggan was the best goalie in the game until now! The League final was on 27 February and it was Tony's first outing at Croke Park. It was also the first day that Tony Brennan played in front of him at full-back, the beginning of a great partnership. Tipperary won by two points and Tony won his first medal for Tipperary. The victory ended Tipperary's four years in the hurling wilderness.
Reddin was to win five more league medals with Tipperary plus two in the American series against New York. He travelled to the U.S. in 1950 and, to play his last match, in October 1957. On both occasions mechanical troubles interrupted their take-off from Shannon. He won three Munster and three All-Ireland medals. And, they might have been six but for Cork! He was picked for Ireland on five occasions, which was the equivalent of Carroll's All-Stars and won four cups. He won two divisional medals. In the context of the present barren period of Tipperary hurling a veritable treasure trove of achievement.
Reddin's first championship match with Tipperary was against Cork at Limerick on 29 May 1948. Tony was then thirty years of age and many another sportsman would be retiring. It is interesting to mention that Mick Roche retired at twenty-nine! In Tony's case the most brilliant chapter in his career was just beginning. The game was barely started when Tony was awakened to the realities of Munster championship hurling when Gerry Murphy found the net from a Christy Ring centre. He recovered as did Tipperary and went on to draw the game. The replay was a month later and 'Winter Green' reported: "It was the roughest and toughest exhibition of unclean hurling that has been seen for many a long day'. It has been referred to as the 'Match of the Bandages', so many were wrapped in white headgear by the end of the game. And, at that end, it was another draw! Extra time had to be played and it was the only time that Tipperary outwitted Cork! Paddy Leahy ushered the Tipperary players into the dressingroom to await the resumption. There they were washed, refreshed, redressed and rebandaged and returned to the field after twenty minutes reasonably refreshed men. In contrast the Cork players had remained on the field in the blazing sunshine and were now wilting from exhaustion. One Tipperary man was also wilting: Reddin. He got a knee injury at the end of the first-half and was barely able to walk. He spent the half-time trying to keep the knee from stiffening up. He wanted a substitute to replace him but he was persuaded to resume and had the satisfaction of helping Tipperary to win by a mere two points. In that replay John Doyle made his senior debut for Tipperary and completed the last line of defence which was to be such a solid phalanx for a number of years.
It is not the intention of this article to trace the fortunes of Tony over the next seven years but to mention a few of the high points. He remembers the Munster final on 23 July 1950 against Cork at Killarney as the toughest match he ever played. The last ten minutes are vivid in his memory when the game hung in the balance. The overflow crowd of 55,000 had encroached on to the pitch so much that referee, Bill O'Donoghue of Limerick, had to stop the game for ten minutes until the pitch was cleared. No sooner had the game restarted than the encroachment resumed around Tony's goal and became so bad that, as he looked left and right, he found himself in the horn of a half moon. Bottles, cans and sods were raining on his goals. Anytime a ball came in he was teased, barracked and even pushed. He remembers in particular one spectator, whom he refers to as 'Black Coat', catching him by the jersey as he ran out to clear a ball. He drew back with his hurley and contacted. He got away from the grip and cleared up the field. Ring appealed to the crowd to relent but they ignored him. He flattened Lynch during one clearance and a little later, as Tony was clearing, Lynch ran at him. At the final moment before contact Tony swerved and saw Lynch crashing into the goalpost.
Still another time as he was saving a ball a topcoat was thrown at him. He cleared the ball and then began to belt the coat on the ground with his hurley in an attempt to cut it to ribbons He regrets that the instrument wasn't sharp enough for the job and the coat escaped. The final attack on him was to collapse the net from which Tony escaped in the nick of time. Tony had one satisfaction during the whole unruly period. A Cork forward sent in a high ball. It was close to the post. As a result of pressure from the crowd the goalpost had been loosened. Tony swung on the post and in pulling it towards himself made the ball wide. When the final whistle sounded to a Tipperary victory, Tony found himself under the protection of a number of priests. Fr O'Meara gave him a hat and a short coat and covered him up as best he could but he was unable to leave the field until well after the game. As fitting a tribute as there could be to the quality of his play!
It is at the end of his career that the next match was played, 6 May 1956 at Dublin and the opponents Wexford. Tipperary were leading by 2-10 to 0-2 at half-time with a gale in their backs. Nobody believed Wexford could get back into the game but they did and crashed home five goals in the second-half, the first from Nicky Rackard within three minutes of resumption. Tony remembers the day only too well. He wasn't in good shape, his back was at him. He didn't have the power or the agility that were usual for him. The newspapers said he was gone. In the 'Tipperary Star', the reporter said: 'Now the sad fact must be faced that Reddin is not as good as he was. ,In his best form he would have saved at least three, if not the whole five, of the shots that beat him on Sunday. He was at fault for two of the goals and the second miss proved disastrous'. A big change from the glowing notices he had been accustomed to! However, everyone did not agree. In the same paper 'Winter Green' was of this opinion: 'Others blame Tony Reddin. True he was beaten five times in the second half but what goalie could have saved any of the five balls which beat him'. Regardless of this defence the selectors believed that Tony had gone over the top and gave expression to that belief when they dropped him for the Monaghan Cup two weeks later in favour of Blackie Keane. The latter had a good game and was chosen for the championship match against Cork. Tipperary lost this>game in which Keane wasn't really tested.
However, Tony was not gone. In that Summer of 1956 he played some of the finest hurling of his career and confounded his critics. Toomevara and Borrisileigh in the semi-final and final respectively. The scores in these games are revealing. Against Toomevara it was 5-1 to 1-10 and against Borrisileigh it was 4.-8 to 0-18. Both games were a tribute to Tony's brilliance and they have become part of the folklore of the parish.
This Indian Summer brilliance was enough to get Reddin back on the Tipperary team. He played in the league against Galway on 14 October but wasn't tested. The only shot that beat him was doubled on overhead from close range. In the next match against Antrim he had a mediocre game and let in one easy shot. He was adequate against Westmeath the following February but was dropped again, in favour of Blackie Keane, for the match against Clare on 31 March. Tipperary won the league in May 1957 with Keane in goal. It was Tony's sixth league medal and won him a trip to New York the following October. He played one game in the U.S. and this was his last match with Tipperary. In the Munster championship the previous Summer Tony wasn't even a substitute on the Tipperary team that was beaten 5-2 to 1-11. Blackie Keane let in three goals in the first-half and was replaced by Eddie Moloughney at half-time. I n the course of his account on the Tipperary Star the reporter stated: "
How the Tipperary supporters longed on Sunday for a goalkeeper of Tony Reddin's calibre."
1957 was the last year that Tony appeared in a hurling jersey. He was already a legend. The previous year, after the North final, he had married Maura Smyth of Lelagh, Rathcabbin, and had settled down to live at the Pike, where he farmed a little, continued to make hurleys and provided a hackney service in a car, ARI 791, that was known far and wide. In 1960 he got a job with Bord na Móna and he was with the company until he retired.
In 1963 the Reddins moved to Banagher and built a house in Cuba Street where they live to this day. I n the early seventies Tony offered his services to the local St Rynagh's club and under his tutelage the club has had tremendous success. Since his involvement began the club has won eight county finals and is a household name in the club championship competition.
Tony is still a fresh man and has worn his years well. He is an enthusiastic talker on hurling and can recall with vividness highlights of his career. He is an unassuming man who hasn't been changed by his high place in the pantheon of great hurlers. Was he the greatest goalkeeper of all time? Without a doubt he towered above all others in his own time and it is difficult to imagine anyone better at any other time. His natural ability allied to his professional preparedness made him unique. It is probably this memory of his own training habits that makes him put coaching first in his priorities for building up a team. But, whether he was the greatest or not doesn't matter. What does matter is the entertainment he gave people, the magic he flashed before their eyes as he stopped impossible shots ,and charged like a whirlwind through backs and forwards to send the ball back into enemy territory. We were all immensely proud of Reddin. He put our remote parish firmly on the map of hurling. He helped us to win two divisional finals. He gave us a pride in where we belong. I n the wider arena he was foremost in the long battle with Cork for supremacy in Munster hurling. It is difficult to leave the man because memories keep flashing and they are the most brilliant we have known.