Jack Gleeson - An Extraordinary Memory
West Tipperary Senior Hurling Final program, July 15, 2007
When one talks to Jack Gleeson about hurling one is humbled by the breadth of his knowledge. He can name the actual team that started for Tipperary in the 1991 All-Ireland, the team that played for Limerick in the 1934 All-Ireland, the lineout for Waterford in the 1959 All-Ireland, or any other team for that matter, and he can tell you the names of the three Cork players who won twenty-one senior All-Irelands between them.
A man with an extraordinary memory of matters G.A.A., indeed, and even more so when one realises that Jack was eighty-six years old last Sunday. In fact he doesn't look a bit of it, moving agilely about the house, trimming hedges and ditches not only for himself, but for neighbours as well, and as fresh faced as a much younger man. And, he has a fine looking crop of potatoes growing the garden, just waiting to be dug!
He's still living in the house in which he was born, at Moyaliffe, Ballycahill, an important border area, between the parishes of Holycross-Ballycahill and Clonoulty-Rossmore, between the Mid and West G.AA. divisions, and between the North and South Ridings of Tipperary. His land straddles the border also.
This border location is reflected in his hurling history. He went to school in Cloneyharp where his teacher was the famous Tim Gleeson of Thurles Blues fame. He went on to Templemore C.B.S. for secondary school, staying with an aunt in the town until he did his Leaving Certificate. After that he served some time in a garage, went to work in Dwans for a while and eventually ended up in the Sugar Factory, where he worked for thirty-five years.
He didn't play underage hurling as he was living at Templemore during those years, where the game was football. His first team was Holycross-Ballycahill and his first success was a county junior championship with them in 1941, when he was twenty years of age. There's a blurred photograph of most of the team in the Holycross-Ballycahill G.A.A. history and the team includes such notables as Dinny O'Gorman and Dan Mackey.
Promoted to senior ranks the following year, Holycross-Ballycahill hadn't much success until 1947, when they defeated the great Thurles Sarsfields team to take their first divisional senior title. According to the report of the game, Jack Gleeson gave a 'sparkling display' in goal. The winners were defeated by Carrick Swans in the county semi-final.
Jack wasn't involved the following year when Holycross-Ballycahill went all the way to win their first county senior final. He had a blood-poisoned hand and was out of commission.
The following year he came to play with Clonoulty-Rossmore. According to himself he wasn't transferred but simply started playing with his new team. Maybe Clonoulty-Rossmore were looking for a goalkeeper because he played in that position when beaten by Kickhams in 1950.
Success came in 1951 when Clonoulty defeated the kingpins of senior hurling in the West Division at the time, Kickhams, in the final at Cashel's new sportsfield, with Tony Brennan starring, by 3-2 to 0-3. It was the club's first West senior title since they completed four-in-a-row in 1933. Clonoulty upset the county champions, Borrisoleigh, in the county semi-final but the bubble burst in the final when Jack's old team Holycross, defeated them by 5-15 to 1-4. In the same year he won a Munster final with the Sugar Factory team.
Jack continued to play without success until 1954, when the parish split into two teams, Clonoulty and Rossmore. Playing with the former they were beaten by a Rossmore side that included four of his cousins.
Jack was already following the fortunes of Tipperary and other inter-county sides before the end of his playing days arrived. He cycled to Cork in 1942 and 1946 to see Tipperary defeated by Cork and Limerick respectively. He also cycled to Dublin in 1942 - it took him ten hours - to see Cork win one of their four-in-a-row. From these journeys he got to know a lot of players and teams. He first saw Phil Cahill play against Cork at Thurles in 1931 and regards him as one of Ireland's greatest hurlers. He reckons the best game he ever saw was the 1947 All-Ireland final in which Kilkenny defeated Cork by 0-14 to 2-7: 'It was a show to the world!'. The best club game was between Ahane and Sarsfields at Newport sometime in the early forties. He believes that John Doyle was the best player he saw in a long life.
All the memories of those years have been firmly etched in a photographic memory. He has never really forgotten anything and the names of players and teams trip lightly from his tongue. He has known a large number of top intercounty players, including the famous Christy Ring, and has revelled in talking to them about games and incidences in their playing careers.
Almost as impressive is a giant scrapbook compiled by his brother, Matthew, and himself with information on G.A.A. personalities and teams going back to the late forties. It could be called the Book of Moyaliffe and will take on similar historical significance to the Annals of the Four Masters in the course of time, containing as it does so much information on hurlers and footballers from all the counties of Ireland for over half-a-century. Both Matthew and Jack deserve our thanks for the collection.
Thurles Sugar Factory Team - Munster Champtions 1951
Back row, left to right: T. Ryan, D. Loughnane, E. Leahy, L. Keane, M. McElgun, M. Maher, P. Ferncombe, C. Keane.
Front row: left to right: Jack Gleeson, M. Byrne, T. Doyle (capt.), P. Ryan, F. Jordan, T. Barrett, M. Butler.