Liam Griffin has led the tributes to Wexford hurling great Ned Wheeler after his passing yesterday at the age of 87.
Known as one of the great first-time hurlers and for his formidable midfield partnership with Jim Morrissey, the three-time All-Ireland winner (1955, ’56 and ’60) won every possible honour in the game, including six Leinster medals and three Division 1 titles.
As well as hailing his impact for Leinster in wrestling back the Railway Cup from Munster in the early 1950s, Griffin spoke of his “iconic” friend Wheeler’s reputation as a tough but clean hurler who made Wexford hurling’s first breakthrough in the 1950s.
“At Billy Rackard’s funeral, one of the old Tipp hurlers said they didn’t play at a time when hurlers were known to be gentlemen but Ned was. He was 6ft 4in, he could have done what he wanted but I never saw him pull a dirty stroke.
“It’s mentioned in Brendan Fullam’s book about the 1956 League final against Tipperary and Wexford were 14 points behind at half-time. Nicky Rackard gave a rousing speech and what really ignited the fire was Ned doubling on a ball over the bar into the Railway End of Croke Park.
“We had been the nearly men for so long as a county but it was the likes of Ned who truly made us all believe we could win. He came straight out of minor into senior, which was uncommon at the time because it was such a robust, tough game.