John Kelly - Cappawhite Player of the Past

West Senior Hurling Final Program, July 31, 2011


John Kelly recalls when growing up in Cappawhite in the fifties and sixties the belief that the only players from the West Division who made the county senior team were goalkeepers! Terry Moloney, Donal O'Brien, John O'Donoghue and Peter O'Sullivan immediately spring to mind but there were underage examples also. When he and Dinny Ryan were picked for Tipperary they showed that the division could produce backs and forwards as well.

John made his debut with the county minors as a panel member in 1964 and as a team member in 1965 and 1966. He was captain his last year. There was no success in any of the years, defeat in the Munster final in 1964 and 1965, and in the semi-final against Galway at Ballinasloe in 1966. This was a shock result, according to John, as Tipperary believed all they had to do was turn up!

John had revealed his hurling talent some years earlier with Cappawhite when he won two under-15 juvenile titles in 1962 and 1963. The former victory qualified the team for a trip, sponsored by John Player cigarette company, to the All-Ireland hurling final. Based on this rich vein of talent in the parish Cappawhite went on to become the first West team to win a county minor title in 1965 and John was unlucky not to win a second county minor title the following year when Cappawhite were defeated by Roscrea in a replayed final.

Cappawhite, fielding eleven of the victorious county minor team, won the county under-21 championship title in 1965 also, becoming the first West club to do so as well as being the first club in the county to do the double in the same year.

John had very respectable G.A.A. antecedents even though most of them were of the football inclination. He is a grandson of Dick Ryan (George), who was captain of Cappawhite 'White Caps' football team in the 1900s and also of John Kelly, who was a noted footballer from Donohill. Tradition has it that he helped Bohercrowe to their All-Ireland success in 1889. John is also a grand-nephew of Pat Furlong, who was a member of the Tipperary junior team the year of the Triple Crown victory in 1930.

John attributes the failure of the club to progress to senior achievement in the late 1960s to emigration. This is substantiated by a couple of sentences from his account of 1968 in the Cappawhite Club history: 'Since 1965, nineteen players, all promising ones, have left the parish. Five, it is interesting to record, became clerical students. Had they stayed in the parish Cappawhite would certainly have been a force in county hurling.' In a recent conversation John adds that the smallness of the farming community in the parish was a major contributory factor to emigration at the period.

Four Years at Under-21

If John didn't achieve much in the line of club under-21 honours, he enjoyed a long innings with the county team. He was involved for four years, in 1966 as a sub, in 1967, when he won All-Ireland honours, in 1968 and in 1969, when he captained the team. In the last two years Tipperary were beaten in the Munster finals.

It came as no great surprise in 1967 when John graduated to county senior status, making his debut in an Oireachtas semi-final game against Clare at Ennis on September 24, which was lost. He played during the league but wasn't retained in the 1968 championship and may have been lucky as there was a big clean-out of the team after the 1968 All-Ireland defeat. He was back for the Oireachtas and won the first of three Oireachtas medals, when Tipperary defeated Cork in the final on October 27. The other two medals were won in 1970 and 1972.

As a result of John's involvement with the team in the 1967/68 National League, which Tipperary won, when they defeated Kilkenny in the 'Home' final in May 1968, there was a trip to New York in June. It was an eventful trip. The first leg of the two-leg final was cancelled because of torrential rain. The postponed leg was called off again because of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the two legs played on successive days, 15th and 16th of June. Tipperary won by an aggregate score of 6-27 to 4-22. The Tippeary party paid their respects to the remains of Robert Kennedy, who was lying in state in St. Patrick's Cathedral. When they arrived at the Cathedral they found a queue several blocks long and didn't have the time to wait. During consultation s about what to do Babs Keating recognised a New York cop, who came to their aid. He got them in a side-door of the Cathedral so that they avoided the queue and paid their rspects without undue delay!

The highlight of John's senior intercounty career was winning the All-Ireland title against Kilkenny in 1971 in the first 80-minute final. He still has the sliotar from that game, being the last man to catch it after the final whistle. He enjoyed the trip to San Francisco with the team the following March, as he did trips to Wembley in 1969, 1971, 1972 and 1973, with success on two occasions. He was also a Railway Cup medal holder in 1970..

Played with Three Senior Clubs

He continued to play with Tipperary until 1975, all the time in the full-back position, except in the latter year when he played left corner-back. He also played at full-back during his underage years and the only time he played in a different position was as a junior hurler with Cappawhite, when he turned out at centreback in 1982.

John played his early club senior hurling with University College, Cork rather than Cappawhite, turning out with the college for three years, 1968-70. In the first year they met Glen Rovers in the county quarter-final and the game ended up as a free-for-all. The inevitable investigation took place as a result of which the Glen Rovers full-forward was suspended for life and eleven players were given suspensions for from one to six months. Both teams were thrown out of the championship. Following this game Dr. Paddy Crowley, who was playing on the occasion, introduced helmets to Ireland for the first time.

The two sides met in the final in 1969 and the Glen won. U.C.C. revenged the defeat in 1970 when they defeated Glen Rovers on the way to the final. This is John's only county senior medal. Incidentally the trainer of the Cappawhite team today. Conor Ryan (Hanna) was later to win one with St. Finbarr's.

John returned to Cappawhite in 1971 and played at centre-back against Clonoulty-Rossmore in the West championship and lost the replay. They lost to Burgess in the Open Draw county championship and to Cashel in the Crosco Cup.

By now John was teaching at Borrisokane and living in Kilruane and he threw in his lot with the latter for two years, 1972 and 1973. He had no success, losing a North final and a county final, during his time with the club.

John was back with Cappawhite in 1974 and enjoyed no success at senior level. The club lost four senior division finals during these years, in 1976, 1978, 1979 and 1981, as well as four Crosco Cup finals, in 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1982. He was regraded junior for the 1982 championship and won the West championship. Cappawhite qualified for the county final only to lose to Roscrea by 1-5 to 0-5, the same club as had beaten him almost twenty years earlier in the replayed minor final.

Before John's hurling career came to an end he was already involved as a selector and in club administration. At the county level he was a minor selector in 1979 and a senior selector at two different periods, firstly for a year in 1978 and then from 1983-85. At the club level he was chairman of the club from 1981-84 and also a senior selector at different periods. Currently he is a Life President. His is the author of the History of Cappawhite G.A.A. Club 1887-1989, which appeared in 1989. He is working on a Cappawhite Parish History at present.

Married to Mary Regan from Moycarkey the couple have five children, two boys & three girls. The older boy Denis is playing today and his other son Daniel played minor football against Kerry in the Munster final some years ago. Catherine, the youngest of the girls, has played underage camogie and football for the county. She also had success in the athletic world being successful at underage at team and individual All Ireland level.

John Kelly was a tough, uncompromising hurler, who strove to give his best on every occasion. His hurling was very much a reflection of the man, straightforward and committed to whatever task was to hand. His commitment could be seen in a constant desire to improve his game. He was one of the most dedicated of players when it came to training. There is a story told that he was going so strongly at one training session in Thurles that Mick Roche, lacking some of his fervour, shouted at Tommy Barrett to give him a ball and send him to the outside field! The same dedication is probably reflected in his decision to throw in his lot with Kilruane for two years, regarding North hurling to be on a higher level than that in the West. Overwhelming every other consideration was a determination to improve his ability and be at his best whether playing for Cappawhite or Tipperary.