Thousands say goodbye to true hurling legend

ON the last day of a year in which Tipperary re-asserted itself as a powerhouse of hurling, thousands gathered in a historic corner of the county to say goodbye to one of its greatest ever practitioners.

Former team-mates, old foes on the field, club colleagues, senior GAA officials, politicians and clergy, joined with family and friends of the late John Doyle, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80.

Yesterday, he was buried in his beloved Holycross, the place he called home for all of his much-decorated and celebrated life, as memories were revived from the past and stories were told of Tipperary hurling’s halcyon days in the 1950s and 1960s.

His record-equalling eight All-Ireland senior medals, the jerseys of Tipperary and Holycross-Ballycahill, a photograph of John Doyle with rivals and friends Christy Ring (Cork) and Jimmy Smyth (Clare), and, of course, a hurley and sliotar were among the items brought to the altar at the beginning of the funeral Mass in Holycross Abbey to symbolise his life and achievements.

As lifelong friend and long-serving GAA administrator Tommy Barrett put it during his graveside oration, John Doyle was “immovable — like Slievenamon” — and played during an era which is now seen as a golden age for Tipperary hurling. Famously, the mahogany-tough corner-back was a constant in the Tipperary full-back line which came to be known as “Hell’s Kitchen” or, in the words of Mr Barrett, “the most formidable rearguard in the country”.

From the time he first represented his Holycross-Ballycahill club, John was fired with “a burning ambition to represent Tipperary,” his friend said, and his single-minded dedication along with his fierce will-to-win and renowned skill allowed him do that for many years.

Reminders of that era were dotted throughout the famous church and graveyard for the funeral, including old team-mates like Mick Maher, Jimmy Finn, Jimmy Doyle, Mick Roche, Liam King, Mickey “the Rattler” Byrne, John Kelly, John O’Donoghue, Len Gaynor and Donie Nealon.

Also, there were Kilkenny star of that era Eddie Keher, who became close to John Doyle in latter years, as well as broadcasters Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and Brian Carthy, GAA president Christy Cooney, former presidents Nickey Brennan, Sean Kelly, Sean McCague and Joe McDonagh, along with presidential candidate Con Hogan, former Tipperary PRO and camogie president Liz Howard, former Munster Council chairman Sean Fogarty, publican and close friend Gerry Chawke, cathaoirleach of the Seanad Pat Moylan, and President McAleese’s aide-de-camp Cmdt Mick Walsh. Taoiseach Brian Cowen attended Thursday night’s removal ceremony.

Chief celebrant was John Doyle’s brother-in-law, Fr Ray Reidy — himself a former Tipperary hurler — who said the star was loved for his sense of place, sense of pride in where he came from, as well as his achievements and his humour.

A great family man, as his wife Ann and children Michael, Johnny, Margaret, Colette, Liz, Sandra and Anne Marie could testify, his other family was his GAA family, Fr Reidy said. “There were bonds formed and friends made that last for life.”

Known locally as “the legend,” before the term became over-used in sport, the nickname became a type of cult phenomenon in Holycross, according to Fr Reidy, when people in the area became used to seeing one of their own described in such fashion. “The legend will live on, it will be remembered in song and story and ballad and will probably be added to over the years.”

Picture: Con Hogan; Nicky Brennan; GAA president Christy Cooney and RTÉ’s Brian Carthy at John Doyle’s funeral at Holycross Abbey, Co Tipperary, yesterday. Picture: Emma Jervis / Press 22

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