Tom Duffy - Lorrha Veteran
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1981, pp 82-83
One of the few remaining members of the famous Tipperary team that toured America in 1926 is Tom Duffy of Lorrha. Tom is 86 years old since May 4 last and is still mentally and physically active. A favourite occupation of his during summer is sitting on a small tank at the end of the house with the gun on his knees, waiting for the occasional pigeon or crow. He follows the GAA games as avidly as ever and was in Thurles for the Tipperary-Cork match and for the Munster final. "It's not hurling at all now. You can't draw your breath or you're pulled. You can't knock a man down on the broad of his back anymore. These lady rules have ruined a man's game." According to Tom there is an awful shortage of skill. So many players today don't know how to rise the ball. "If you can't rise it the first time, hit it on the ground. There's a trade in rising a ball and, if you haven't got it, don't try it." Something else is necessary. "You need a head. Horgan's got a head. He's my kind of man, always knowing where the ball is going to be."
Tom's career with Tipperary was from 1924-26. He would have been on in 1923 but he was serving time in jail. Altogether, he spent 18 months behind the wire. He was a member of the Fourth Battalion, Offaly Brigade. His prison time was spent in Birr Castle, Templemore, eight months in Maryborough and three months in the Curragh. He thought he would be released for the 1923 championship which Tipperary lost to Limerick. Tom was in great form at the time as he hurled every day in the Curragh. He believes that had he been there that day Tipperary would have won.
He got his chance in 1924. Tipperary beat Kerry in the frist round by double scores, 6-2 to 3-1. They overwhelmed Cork in the semi-final and beat Limerick in the Munster final by two points. Tipperary played Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final in November 1924. Galway had played Limerick in the 1923 All-Ireland, played two months previously. According to the press "Tipp's display was a poor contribution to the traditions of a historic county. They never had such a bad defence and Galway might have won by fifteen points to one." In fact they won 3-1 to 2-3. To add salt to Tipperary wounds Galway were beaten by Dublin in the final.
Tom was born in Graigue, Rathcabbin on 4 May, 1894. He was one of two boys and went to school to a Mr Cahill in Rathcabbin N.S. He played hurling and football in school and hurled his first senior match for Lorrha in Borrisokane against Toomevara at the age of 17. Hurling was much tougher in those days. The hurleys were better also. "A rounded boss was great for ground hurling. There's no balance in a hurley now. The weight isn't in the boss. It's more top heavy than boss heavy."
Tom's favourite position was right half-back though he did play wing-forward in 1925. He won two North Tipperary divisional championships with Lorrha in 1914 and 1924.
I asked Tom did he ever get injured. "No. I never let anyone hit me." He did admit he got a belt on the left knee from Mooney of Cork and had to go off. "But I came back on later in the game." He suffers a slight pain in that knee in the winter. "Paddy Leahy hit me in the
eye in a trial in Nenagh. I was beating the socks off Paddy, especially in the second half with the wind. Off the ball he gave me a belt over the eye which necessitated five stitches. Ever after that day whenever I met Johnny Leahy he would say "I don't think Paddy struck you deliberately." "Ohl I used to say, maybe so, maybe so." This used to happen occasionally. Eventually, about two months before he died, I met Johnny in Thurles. "Do you know something, Tom. I think Paddy meant to get you that day in the trial." "Did it take you over forty years to find that out?" said I. And I walked out. Later he added. "But the Leahys were great lads to be with. And they never let me down. They used always come down for me."
1925 was the high point of Tom Duffy's hurling career. Tipperary accounted for Kerry in the first round and had their toughest encounter in the semi-final against Cork, eventually winning by 5-3 to 5-1. The Munster final was easy against Waterford and they eliminated Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final.
For the All-Ireland against Galway there was collective training for a fortnight at Mount St Joseph's, Roscrea. "1 trained at home. I couldn't afford to be away from here for two weeks. I used to hurl with someone in the evening or just puck the ball against the gable wall. Training isn't everything. If the stuff isn't in you no training will bring it out. I played with fellows who smelled a lot. But embrocation isn't enough. If you work hard and are young you don't need any training. In fact you should layoff the hurley for a week before a match. Put the hurl under the bed and when you get it in your hand you'd be mad for it."
All-Ireland day was September 6th. Tipperary won comfortably by 5-3 to 1-5. According to the report the following day in the 'Irish Indepentent' "Galway were outclassed in nearly all the strategy of hurling and the performances of the Tipp team were frequently bewildering in their brilliance." The band of the Artane Industrial School marched through the streets to the grounds about 2 o'clock and gave a display of physical drill. Thirty special trains brought 14,000 from the south and 10,000 from the west. Tipp supporters outshouted Galway which "was a testimony to the popularity of the Munster team but also to the immense proportion of the Tipperary players resident in Dublin." The Liam McCarthy cup was presented for the fifth time by Mr P. D. Breen, President of the GAA to Johnny Leahy, the Tipperary captain. The rest of the team was: Paddy Leahy, Arthur O'Donnell, Paddy Dwyer, Jack Power, Paddy Power, J. J. Hayes, Bill Ryan, Martin Mockler, Martin Kennedy, Stephen Hackett, Mick Darcy, Jack Darcy, Tom Duffy, Phil Cahill. Tom had a fine game scoring a total of 2-3.
Tom had a finepuck of a ball. He scored a couple of goals against Clare in Nenagh and Tommie Daly reported to his local curate after the match: "I'll tell you the truth, Father, I never saw them." For Tom, Martin Kennedy, Phil Cahill and Stephen Hackett were outstanding players, the last "the best corner forward of them all. They were all good or we wouldn't have won anything at all" Of his opponents he reckons Bob McConkey to be the smartest man of the lot. And Dinny Barry Murphy was a 'grand hurler.'
The Tipperary team went to America in May 1926 on an eleven weeks' tour, during which they played six games, two in New York, one at each end of the tour, and one each in Boston, San Francisco, Buffalo and Chicago. They were victorious in all and attendances were big with 30,000 in New York and 15,000 in San Francisco. The aim of the tour was to popularise Irish games in the U.S. and to try to internationalise the game of hurling. Tom doesn't remember much about the games but recalls prohibition and the speakeasies. He remembers fun and games with Jim O'Meara on Coney Island and a mystery tunnel tour with Stephen Kenny. "We nearly died from the heat. I remember us sitting on the verandas with our mouths open panting like dogs. 'Twas too hot to put our coats on our shoulders."
Tom Kenny wrote an account of the tour and Tom Duffy features more often in it than any other member of the party. There are about twenty references to him. He was the life and the soul of the party. In one place the party plan to take over the ship. In the plan Duffy is to be Captain. In another place "the wit and humour of most of them, especially Duffy, is most enjoyable." The entry for 7 June reads: "Tom Duffy is singing that song 'The next I met was a fairhaired lady, standing at a cottage door'." And on 9 June there is a discussion between Jack Power and Tom on the state of the country: "A crock of a country", says Duffy. "Sure we haven't seen a tram of hay, a ditch, nor a hedge since leaving the old country, but it is a fine country in other ways, Jack- they do everything the big way." Duffy thinks the Yanks made a mistake to set the country dry. "That hooch is rotten stuff, Jack, and if it continues as plentiful as it seems to be it will make mad men, blind men or dead men of all of them that drink it." On 19 June there is a party on the train and Duffy dances a jig. Later Paddy Leahy and Tom try to sing the last verse of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago. Later still we learn that five hurlers are found in Duffy's Chicago hotel room saying the rosary. On the ship home he is constantly playing his favourite deck game and won 'Chalking the Pig's Eye' in the ship's sports. Truly a man of many sides!
Tom was among the reserves for Tipperary in the 1926 championship. There were three games against Cork that year, the first in the Athletic Grounds and the others in Thurles. Cork finally won with a score of 3-6 to 2-4. His final apprearances were in the early league games that winter. He got ill and was dropped for the final games and so missed getting a medal. "Only one point was scored off me during my years with Tipperary." He continued to hurl for Lorrha. "I was going on for forty before I retired." Later he acted as a club officer and was on the selection committee when Lorrha won the North championship in 1948. A farmer by occupation Tom got married in 1924 and had nine children, six boys and three girls. One of the boys was killed in England. He's interested in cards, especially '25. "I won four turkeys last year in Birr Golf Club. If we hadn't turkeys I wouldn't have won at all." He has always enjoyed everything sporting. A serious fowler all his life he remarks how "everyone tells you what they shot, not what they missed." He kept greyhounds in his time and had some successes. He smokes and takes a pint."I never drank to do myself harm." He goes out for the pint still. In fact Tom is amazingly active and interested in life and time sits very lightly on his stout shoulders.