Jim Devitt, Cashel
West Tipperary G.A.A. by J.J. Kennedy. Pub. by the West Tipp G.A.A. Board, 2001, pp 400-401
For one fan Jim Devitt's anticipation on the field of play was one of the most striking aspects of his remarkable hurling ability. He illustrated this aspect from an incident in the Tippperary-Cork Munster championship clash at Thurles in 1945. A low ball came down the wing and Jim was behind his man. At exactly the right moment he stepped around him, caught the ball about two inches off the ground and cleared it up the field. It was a daring and successful move born out of brilliant anticipation.
Another quality many people admired was his fluent stickmanship. He could pull on a ball on either side and never miss. This ability he perfected in a ball alley and he achieved such a level of skill that he was always sure of connecting. Seamus Leahy ruefully remembers a match he played against Devitt in the mid-fifties. It was Boherlahan versus Nenagh and a Nenagh mentor said to Seamus, who was playing on Jim Devitt that day: 'Stand behind him. He's sure to miss a couple in the hour and you can stick them in the net.' Jim Devitt didn't miss that day and there was no glory for Leahy.
Some admirers remember that he used a light-looking hurley. Jim admits it was on the light side, especially in the handle, but it always had a good pull. Old Nicholas Gleeson of Shanballa, the father of Jack who played centrefield on the All Ireland team of 1937, used to make the hurleys for him. He recalls Nicholas coming to him a couple of weeks before the 1945 All Ireland with a new hurley. 'He wanted me to have time to get used to it'. He asked to have it back after the match so that he could have two All Ireland hurleys in his possession. His son's, Jack's, was the second one. However, the hurley was stolen on the train coming homw from the match. Jim knows who took it also but could never get it back.
At the height of his hurling career Jim Devitt scaled at 9-8 to 9-10, not that terribly much above Barry McGuigan! But his size never worried him because his speed, anticipation and hurling skills proved adequate compensations. He tells a story of how people viewed his size. One day he was on his way to a match in Galway. The car stopped to pick up John Maher, Killinan. Mrs. Maher invited them all in for tea. Whe:she was introduced to Jim as one of the selection for the day, she exclaimed: 'Oh God! You're not going to pIay this child'.
Jim's inter-county career began in 1944 when he played in the four-county league against Waterford. (The national league had been suspended for the duration of the war). Prior to this he had made a name for h.i.m- self in the army, which he joined in 1940. Based mostly in Limerick, Jimmy Cooney was his O.C. and the outstanding man in the ranks was Mick Mackey. He wanted Devitt to play with Ahane but he declined. He recalls that Paddy Shea of Kilfeacle accepted a similar invitation at the time and won five county medals with the Limerick club between 1941 and 1945. The high point of Jim's army career was the winning of the All-army final in 1943 with the 7th. Brigade of the Southern Command. The final was played in the Phoenix Pank and the medals presented by General M.J. Costello.
Born in 1921 Jim recalls his first game with Cashel in 1938. The minor team cycled to Annacarty to play Eire Og. During the the game the hurleys ran out and one of the team had to leave the field for a time until Denis Tuohy came to the rescue. In the same year he was called to a county minor trial but didn't attend. Dan Cantwell did and was selected. In the following year he went with Jackie Corcoran for trial. Jackie was picked but Jim wasn't taken off the benches. At thisstage Batt Hickey was his God among hurlers and he sought to model his game on him.
Hurling in Tipperary at this time was dominated by the Mid and it was difficult for anyone outside the division to get on the senior team. It was even more difficult if you came from the West .. Bill O'Donnell made the grade and Tony Brennan but they were the exceptions. Jim admits he had a bit of luck. At the 'there was only one player, Michael Murphy, a Clare man going for the position of wing back. As well Jim himself had an important 'friend', Joby Callanan, in the Thurles 'camp'. Joby had spotted Jim as early as 1943 when Cashel held Eire Og, the eventual county champions, to two points in the West championship and hada high opinion of his ability.
Jim's rise to county senior status was meteoric. Having played in the Millar Shield competition in 1944 he came on for the four-county league. He was picked for the championship the following May and, within months he had won All Ireland and Railway Cup medals. He was to win two more Railway Cup medals in 1948 and 1949 and a second All Ireland medal in the latter year. His selection on three Railway Cup teams is an indication of his outstanding ability. 1949 was also the end of his inter-county career, even though he was only twenty seven years of age. Ill health was the reason.
Jim's club days continued for another thirteen years until he called it a day in 1962 when he finished playing junior hurling at full forward for Boherlahan. He also played in goal. While he played corner and wing for the county, his usual position for the club was centreback or centre field. From 1953 onwards when he bought a house in Boherlahan, Jim played with the club. While he was with Cashel he won two : West medals in 1945 and 1948. He believes that the club should have won more at that time and reckons that the half back line of Mickey Murphy, Donal Ryan and himself was one of the best in the county. The split with the Abbey Rangers divided the hurling in the parish at the time. When one realises that four of the Abbey Ranges players, Mick Cody, Rodney Parsons, Paddy O'Brien and Billy Hickey, played county junior, one realises how great their loss was to Cashe1.
One of the greatest games ever played by Devitt was in the Munster championship clash with Limerick in 1948. The wind played havoc with the game and Limerick, with its help, were well ahead at half time. Tipperary were unable to make up the leeway in the second-half. This wasn't because of want of trying on the part of one man. According to the 'TIpperary Star' reporter "Jim Devitt played the game of his life - he was the outstanding player on the field. Right from the throw-in he hurled magnificently and tirelessly. Threeof Tipperary's goals were direct results of his accuracy from seventies. Attacking and defending Devitt was superb and Tipperary supporters were sighing for half a dozen n of his calibre."
The final word on Jim's ability rests with Raymond Smith. Writing about the 1945 All Ireland in the 1972 edition of 'The Clash of the Ash', Smith had this to say: 'I have always thought that if Devitt had come in a later era he would have been more widely acclaimed for his defensive qualities. But he was a delight to watch and if you looked for class in the corner or at wingback he had it certainly".