Through Memories Haze - by Gerry Slevin

The Nationalist, December 24th, 2009


Whenever Borris went low, Reddin responded, inspiring those around him with such confident control. He was simply unbeatable that afternoon. As his great friend and solid defender in front of him in the Tipp colours, Mickey 'Rattler' Byrne, recalled in Frank Burke's magnificent 'Blue and Gold' CD/video 'he'd (Reddin) stop caraway seeds.'

The score at half-time was 3-3 to 0-7 and at full time it was 4-8 to 0-18. It refers to the North final between Lorrha and Borrisoleigh in 1956 and it's taken from Gerry Slevin's latest book in a chapter entitled 'A Tale of Two Goalkeepers', the second being Pat McLoughney.

This book of G.A.A. memories started out as a series of articles for The Guardian in the early months of 2007. They were based on memories gleaned in over four decades of writing in G.A.A. journalism, mostly hurling, first in The Midland Tribune in Birr, then in The Offaly Independent in Tullamore, next in The Guardian, then on to The Clare Champion in Ennis and then back home to Nenagh as Editor of The Guardian in 1989, a position he retired from in 2004 but to which he continues to contribute articles and reports on a regular basis.

The 2007 articles stretched over twenty-one weeks and when he came to put them together in book form they were revised and extended, in fact many of them re-written. Indeed, the process managed to unearth several more memories not included in the original series but fleshed out for inclusion in the book.

Borrisokane Abú!

The first memory in chapter 1 deals with one of the finest hours in Borrisokane hurling, which is but right and fitting since it is Gerry's native place. Borrisokane hadn't much success at senior grade, a single North title in 1933, but a conjunction of outstanding talent in that year, that included Sonny Fogarty, Tom McGarry, Ronnie Slevin and Mackey McKenna, among others, got them to the county semi-final against the famed Thurles Sarsfields. It took a Larry Keane goal in the dying minutes to rescue a draw for the Thurles men. Gerry describes the scene:

'A stunned silence pervaded the arena and the relief on the faces of the Thurles men and their supporters could hardly have found a starker contrast in the bewilderment that the Borris players and those of us looking on experienced. So near and yet so far hardly summed it up. It was more, much more than that because even though the Borris performance was such as to raise the pride of all of us, deep down, and probably in the players most of all, was the nagging feeling that second chances against teams of Sarsfields' calibre seldon bear the desired fruit.' And so it turned out to be the case with Sarsfields winning the replay on a scoreline of 7-9 to 3-4, which did scant justice to the Borris performance.

He describes his first trip to Croke Park on September 4th, 1949 and 'no matter how often I have been there, the experience neither has nor will ever compare with that.'

'And what a day it was for Tipperary hurling! The minors, led by John O'Grady, who would later become a G.A.A. columnist with the Tipperary Star, a position he still holds, captained the side to victory over Kilkenny. Just as the day coincided with the first issue of The Sunday Press, so too was it the first time the Irish Press Cup was presented for the All-Ireland minor championship.

'Laois were captained in the senior final by Paddy Rustchitzko, son of a Polish father and a Kilkenny mother. Oddly enough, Rusty, as he was familiarly called was also a man I would come to know in later years in a different context. Paddy was a fine singer and he took the lead in musicals which I attended when staged in Mountrath and Portlaoise. The White Horse Inn with Paddy singing Goodbye, the number made famous by Josef Locke, is well remembered.'

A Family Divided!

There's a fascinating chapter entitled 'A Family Divided' and the family in question is his own and it was divided in its hurling loyalty. As a result of having worked in Offaly and Clare, members of his family grew up supporting teams other that Tipperary. He recalls his experience in 1997:

'With family members still residing in Clare, visits there were quite frequent. I remember the first day I headed into Madden's Terrace in Clarecastle as the All-Ireland final build-up was starting and seeing all the flags and bunting displayed. As the area from which Clare team captain, Anthony Daly, originated and whose mother still lived there it was only to be expected that the residents of Madden's Terrace would pull out all the stops in tribute to one of their own. Madden's Terrace was indeed a veritable sea of colour, saffron and blue favours billowing in the gentle late August breeze. Most impressive it was and a clear indication of how wound up its residents were and how they felt about the up-coming final.

'I reached No 15 and out of an upstairs window a Clare flag took its place amid all the others. My daughter Niamh's house!!!

'Right next door to Mrs. Daly she lived. I stopped, I stared, and I shook my head. What could I say or do! She was entitled to make up her own mind as to whom she should support. After all she had spent almost twenty years in Clare. Clare had become her home, her county and probably always would be. But, boy! Was it hard to take! I couldn't force her to support Tipp or even appeal to what I might consider to be her better judgement. If I did she could come back at me and tell me she wasn't a native of Tipp either. True, she was born in Offaly and reneged on her native county two years earlier!'

Camogie Success

Gerry has always supported camogie ˆ I think it was he made the statement: Hurling is a beautiful game when played by women ˆ and one of the chapters is devoted to Tipperary's belated breakthrough to All-Ireland honours in 1999: 'So many Tipp players became household names, their contribution to the camogie scene with their distinctive style of play being something of a catalyst for the leap forward the game has taken this century. They won over a huge audience and it was great to see coach loads of young, enthusiastic supporters ferried to Croke Park on All-Ireland final days from all over the county.

'Camogie success arrived late in Tipperary but when it did it came with trumpet blast.'

There is much more in this collection of memories and the book is a wonderful tribute to the author.

He is generous in his appreciation of all those who have played for club and county and each chapter is an entity in its own right while contributing to the overall enjoyment of the book.

While bringing us his memories he is supporting the Tipperary Supporters Club because the proceeds of the book will go to the club after publication costs.

The book ws launched in the Yanks Bar, Main Street, Borrisokane by Marty Morrissey on November 27, 2008 and retails for €20. It's available in most bookshops in the county.