Floppy Hats and Fierce Determination
Munster Final S.H. Program 1996
The memories Tipperary supporters have of Thurles on July 29,1973 are in many cases confined to Richie Bennis' last puck from a seventy and whether or not it was a point. And the argument will continue on that it shouldn't have been a seventy in the first place!
If you ask the score not many will remember, it was a high-scoring game with Limerick 6-7 to Tipperary's 2-18. The scoreline tells its own tale, some fine goalkeeping by Limerick's Horgan and good defensive work by Limerick's backs. At the other end was a rampant Rea, giving an outstanding display at full-forward, flicking and placing balls for his fellow-forwards while drawing defensive attention on himself. According to Culbaire (Tipperary Star) 'no Tipperary defence has been in greater trouble against Limerick since John Mackey upset them in Cork in 1946. Six goals is a total, way above a Tipperary defence's par for the course in any game'.
What a contrast from the wet Killarney of two years previously! There was brilliant sunshine to warm a shirt-sleeved crowd. How easy it was to get in! The official attendance was forty-two thousand odd but there was no limit to how many might go in. It was the old fashioned first come, first served kind of game.
A couple of friends and I arrived at 3.25 and no difficulty getting through the turnstiles and made our way on to the grassy bank — Yes! we stood on grass and sat on it at half-time. In order to protect my head from the sun I had brought with me a wide-brimmed, floppy hat belonging to my wife. You know the kind women buy for weddings, which cost a fortune, and are worn once! Well, this particular one had further use. But not for long. Soon I began to get messages from behind that it was impeding someone's vision and I had better get rid of it. I suppose the heat, working on the few pre-match pints, made me compliant rather than aggressive so I removed it and got a good burning as a result. Like so many games between the sides during this period, this one produced hurling and excitement to please even the most discerning of followers.
Pat Hartigan is of the opinion that Limerick were built up to such a pitch of determination on the day, there was no way they were going to lose. For him and many other members of the team the defeat in Killarney had been shattering and they were all looking for some token of compensation. Their fierce determination to win was reflected in the breakneck speed with which they opened the proceedings and left Tipperary gasping. 'We were so fired up', according to Pat, 'that we would have gone through stonewalls. And, it's significant that most of our goals were rushed over the line rather than put away from a distance'.
Recalling rushed goals it is worth remembering that 1973 was the last year of charging the goalkeeper. The rule changes were to make him a protected species from 1974 onwards. This final was one of the first occasions on which the referee made use of his linesmen to place the sliotar for seventies. Clarecastle referee, Mike Slattery, who was in charge of the game, is proud to recall his contribution to this piece of common-sense to refereeing, which became a resounding success.
His abiding memory of 1973 is of the climax to the game. He told Bennis he had to score direct and waited near the goal for the shot to be taken. He didn't see the ball go over the bar but saw his umpire, Mickey Keane, raise the flag for the point. The game was over, Limerick jubilant and, as he walked to the dressing-room, Babs Keating caught up with him and protested it wasn't a point and shouldn't have been a seventy. Mike remembers it as an almost gentlemanly protestation.
One Tipperary back, Len Gaynor, was particularly annoyed about the point. He gave expression to his feelings in a heated argument with Mickey Keane. Years later, when the anger had subsided and Len was preparing Clare for their road to Damascus, he became good friends with Anthony Daly, who happens to be a nephew of the same Mickey Keane. As a result of drinking tea in Anthony's house, Len renewed acquaintance with Mickey and today they're the best of friends.
Let Len have the final word on that famous Munster final. According to him the seeds of Limerick's success were sown in earlier league games between the sides that year, particularly in the semi-final replay at Birr. This game went to extra time during which Tipperary went five points in front. But Limerick came back with a flourish to score three goals and snatch victory. Len believes that victory was vital for Limerick, making them realise their worth and that Tipperary were beatable. Len also disputes an opinion, current among some, that Limerick would never have won the All-Ireland had Kilkenny had their full team. Instead, he is convinced Limerick were good enough to beat any team in 1973. A fine tribute indeed