By Jim O’Sullivan
NIALL McINERNEY, the former Sixmilebridge, Clare and Galway hurler who died yesterday, aged 55, was one of the most accomplished players of his generation.
He played on the losing side with Galway in the All-Ireland finals of 1975 and 1979 and was a member of the team which, in 1980, won the championship after a lapse of 57 years.
GAA President Sean Kelly said he was an outstanding hurler who excelled at the highest level, as well as being a gentleman and teacher of the game.
"His passing is a source of sadness to all in hurling and to his many friends and colleagues,’’ he said.
Sean Silke, who played with him in the three All-Ireland finals, remembered him as "one in a million."
"He was the one guy with so much talent and enthusiasm. He had tremendous skill.
"Niall always brought this glow of invincibility to his play. You knew that he would always hurl well, even when fellows around him weren’t.
"I will always remember the 1975 League semi-final against Kilkenny in Thurles. He was marking Eddie Keher, who was then in his heyday. Keher would get the ball, but Niall would take it off him.’’
McInerney, who was a teacher in Moneenageesha prior to being taken ill recently, was a native of Sixmilebridge and played in all grades from under-age up to senior.
In 1963, he won an U-16 ‘B’ championship playing at corner-forward, a year later he was in goal on a successful Junior team and in 1971 was corner-back on the team which won the intermediate championship.
An Allstar award winner in 1975 and 1980, his first Allstar jersey is proudly displayed in the Sixmilebridge clubhouse, alongside those of their other Allstars - Noel Casey, Davy Fitzgerald and Niall Gilligan.
Before joining Galway after moving there to take up a teaching appointment, McInerney represented Clare with distinction at senior hurling level. He played at right half-back on the team which lost to Limerick in the 1973 Munster semi-final. Two years later, he played with Galway in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.
Earlier that season, they had beaten Cork in the League quarter-final, followed by a win over Kilkenny and then beat Limerick in the final.
Following his retirement, he was actively involved with Galway Vocational Schools teams and also served as a Galway minor selector.