Eugene O'Meara(Lorrha) - A Fine Hurling Forward
Probably the first game I ever attended at St. Cronan's Park, Roscrea was on May 16, 1948 for the first round of the North Tipperary senior hurling championship between Lorrha and Borrisokane. On a bright sunny day Lorrha had the wind in their favour in the first half and led by 2-3 to 1-1 at the interval. My father and I rambled on to the field for the break and got into conversation with Eugene O'Meara, who was playing centrefield with Hubie Hogan and had scored a couple of points. The talk was 'Would Lorrha hold out?' Eugene thought the lead was a bit precarious as they were facing the wind in the second-half. But hold out they did and won by double scores, on a scoreline of 4-4 to 2-2.
The victory impressed 'Line-Out', who saw further victories ahead for Lorrha, when he wrote about the game in the 'Midland Tribune'. He anticipated that they would make the final stages of the championship and his words were prophetic. They went on to win the North title and qualified for the county final in which they went down to a rampant Holycross-Ballycahill side.
Eugene O'Meara was a key player in Lorrha'a progress. Although he played at centrefield during the campaign he was a forward of note. At a time when it was possible to cut a back in any ditch in the parish, Eugene had a rare talent, a natural forward, completely at home in an attacking position.
In 1948 he was in his prime at twenty-six years of age, having been born to Patrick O'Meara and Alice Fogarty at Curraghgloss, Lorrha on October 20, 1922. He was the second oldest of four boys and his younger brother, Dan, was captain of the team.
Lorrha National School
Eugene was about five and a half years old when he went to Lorrha National School in May 1928. His brother Michael, who was a year older, went on the same day The two-storey building, owned today by Paddy O'Meara, was divided into a boys' and girls' school. It was built in 1835 and the toilet was a hole in the ground at the back of the school. The boys were downstairs and their teachers were Mick Cronin and Nora Flynn. Mick Cronin was a notable hurler and was on the Tipperary senior team at the time. He went on to win an All-Ireland in 1930 and was on the famous trip to the U.S. in 1931.
Eugene and his brothers used to walk across the fields to school, some of the journey taking place along the famous 'Stolen Railway' that used to connect Birr with the Ferry. During his first year he broke his arm in an accident and had his tonsils removed. He was out of school for some time and was held back a year.
It was an Irish-speaking school and all subjects were done through Irish. He recalls that many of the terms he learned in arithmetic, history and geography, were never clear to him in English. He got his First Holy Communion from Canon Maloney (d. 1954) and was confirmed by the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr. Michael Fogarty (1859-1955), who was bishop for all of fifty-one years. According to Eugene you needed to be a theologian to get through the catechism examination in connection with the Sacrament of Confirmation. He did the Primary Certificate before he left school in 1937 at the age of fourteen and a half years.
There was no hurling or football in the school. This may appear unusual today especially in the light of the Principal in charge. So, what did they do during lunch hour? They rushed down to the nearby ball alley, which was built into the ruins of the Church of the Augustinian Abbey. The left side wall had been plastered during the nineteen twenties but there wasn't sufficient money to do the right side until the forties. The result was a rough wall but that didn't deter the boys as the place gave them on outlet for their energy.
Eugene must have been a bright boy because he was brought back some time after leaving for a school inspection. This was a three-day inspection by an inspector, Connolly, and Mick Cronin wanted to make an impression. Eugene answered a couple of important question during the examination and justified his recall.
Birr Day Vocational School
He continued his education at Birr Day Vocational School. A number of boys travelled to this school from the parish. Others, including his brothers, went to the Presentation Brothers.
Eugene was to spend three and a half years in the school, during which he pursued a commercial course and well as studying academic subjects. He was to leave it at eighteen years with individual certificates in book-keeping, shorthand, etc.
There was plenty of hurling in the school and Eugene revealed his ability early on. He was spotted by the Birr minor mentors, picked on the team and won three Offaly county championships in 1938, 1939 and 1940. He could play with Birr because there was no minor team in Lorrha at the time. He got his place on the Offaly minor team in 1940 but they were defeated by Laois, who won the Leinster championship that year.
Having left school with certs in different subjects there was no job to be had. He went back to work on the family farm and he remained there until July 1943 when he got a job with D.E. Williams at Belmont, looking after accounts for £3 per month and a forty-eight hour week. The money was 'all found' as he had accommodation in a dormitory on the premises. He worked from 9.30 am to 8 pm, with two breaks of one hour and a half-hour.
He stayed at Belmont until 1951 when he went to Naas to work in accounts at Mulvey and Sons. He didn't stay long there, getting a job late in the same year with Irish Tanners Ltd. as senior book-keeper on £8 per week. He stayed until August 1962.
His next move was to Tyresoles Ireland Ltd where he was appointed accounts and credit manager. This company was taken over by Dunlop in 1963 and Eugene stayed with them until 1987, when he retired. During his time with them he was elected vice-president of the Irish Institute of Credit Managers.
Playing With Lorrha
Eugene started playing with Lorrha in 1941, when he played junior hurling and football, playing in goal for the latter. The following year he played intermediate with the club and also with the Redwood juniors. He was a member of the LDF from 1941-43, as were many others from the parish, and he played hurling with them. He continued playing intermediate until they won the county championship in 1946. They used to practise in Blakefield. Fr. Jim Clune was the curate to Canon Maloney, P.P. and he had some interest in hurling. He used also play golf.
The intermediate victory over Moycarkey-Borris in 1946 – the final wasn't played until 1947 – was a major victory for the club, the first adult county final to be won. To beat a Mid team made it special. Eugene likes to point out that when he played with Lorrha they were never beaten on Mid soil. As well as beating Moycarkey - and the venue was the old Boherlahan pitch at Gaile, which was as near as it was possible to get to the parish of Moycarkey-Borris, without actually being in it -Lorrha defeated Cashel at Thurles in the county semi-final in 1948, Galtee Rovers-St. Peacauns in the 1946 intermediate semi-final at Thurles and Wild Rovers of Cahir in the 1948 senior semi-final at Thurles.
For some reason – perhaps the lateness of the fixture which was played on the first Sunday in December – there was no report of the match published in any of the local papers. Lorrha won by a goal, 4-4 to 3-4, and there were no celebrations in the parish. Paddy O'Sullivan, who played centreback on the occasion, claimed that there were people in the parish who didn't know for years afterwards that Lorrha had won a county final! Eugene played centrefield with Hubie Hogan.
Going senior in 1947 Lorrha went down to Borrisoleigh in the North semi-final on a day they were short Mick Donoghue, who was suspended and Mick Brophy, who was ill. As well their famous goalkeeper, Tony Reddin, had an off day, conceding five goals. The final score was 5-4 to to 2-3. Eugene was centrefield with Hubie Hogan. Eugene featured regularly on Lorrha seven-a-side teams that played in many tournaments during these years.
North Senior Victory
Lorrha had their revenge on Borrisoleigh the following year when the sides met in the North final. It was played before 8,000 spectators in appalling weather. Lorrha were well up for the game but it was Reddin's goalkeeping that clinched the issue. His display will go down in the annals of the parish as the greatest ever of any man to appear in a Lorrha jersey. Also important was an outstanding display by Eugene, who dazzled the opponents with fine solo-running and superb striking. Lorrha led by 4-3 to 0-4 at the interval and held out in the second half to win by 5-4 to 2-5. The Borrisilegh forwards insisted on going for goals against a superb Reddin.
Having beaten Cashel in the county semi-final, Lorrha came up against an outstanding Holycross-Ballycahill in the final but had no answer against a superior team, going down by 4-10 to 2-4. Eugene partnered Paddy Guinan at centrefield.
Eugene was to win another senior divisional medal with Lorrha in 1956. Before that he played hurling in County Waterford. His job with Irish Tanners Ltd. took him to Portlaw from 1951-1962.
He transferred to the local club and played junior hurling with them from 1952-55. During the same period he played with the divisional senior team, Thomas Frances Meagher's, but was unsuccessful with either.
He was back with Lorrha in 1956. The team still had a residue of players from 1948 such as Tony Reddin, Billy Hogan, Hubie Hogan, Mick Brophy, Dan O'Meara, Paddy Guinan and Eugene, as well as a new crop of players. Having come through the loser's group Lorrha defeated Toomevara and qualified to play Borrisileigh in the final. They led by five points at the interval but Borrisileigh scored seven points without reply to go two ahead. Lorrha came back to draw, Borrisileigh went ahead again and in the closing minutes the sides were level. Eugene and Paddy Madden scored twice in the final minutes to give Lorrha victory by 4-8 to 0-18. Lorrha won the county semi-final against South champions, Pearse's, but lost the final to Thurles Sarsfields by 3-5 to 1-4, with Lorrha scoring only a point to 3-2 for Thurles in the second half.
No Further Success
Eugene continued to play with the club until 1963 finishing up on goals. He was then over forty years of age. They played Borrisileigh in the first round that year and won by a point on a scoreline of 2-5 to 2-4. However, they went down badly to Toomevara in the next round, losing by 10-6 to 5-7. Eugene decided to hang up his boots. He turned to baseball for a while and eventually played a bit of soccer in the Phoenix Park.
During most of his playing career Eugene lived away from the parish. Belmont was twenty miles from Lorrha, Portlaw was farther and Dublin was more distanced still. These distances made it impossible for him to come training with the other members of the team but being a conscientious club member he did his own training and kept himself well, neither drinking or smoking. He made his own way to games and never claimed for expenses.
Eugene married Grace O'Donnell, the daughter of an Irish Army Commandant stationed in the Curragh Camp, in 1970 and they have two children, a boy and a girl.
He had a brief intercounty career. Following the success of the intermediate team in 1946, Mick Brophy and himself were selected on the county junior team in 1947. They played Clare in the first round of the Munster championship at Nenagh on May 25 but went down by 4-7 to 4-3. Eugene was 25 years old at that stage, in his prime, and it is interesting to speculate had Tipperary progresses would he have made an impact at county level. Having gone senior the same year Lorrha would have needed to be successful in the 1948 county final for him to make a claim at senior level.
Eugene continues to take a great interest in Lorrha and Tipperary hurling. His memory of games is phenomenal and he can list lineouts at will. He may have lived away from Lorrha for most of his life but his interest in the parish remains undimmed.