VIDEO: They wept for a departed friend: Farewell Jimmy Doyle

THURLES, but not as we know it.

VIDEO: They wept for a departed friend: Farewell Jimmy Doyle

All roads in the Tipperary town yesterday led in the general direction of the sportsground, a trip the car makes with the easy familiarity of Barry Fitzgerald’s horse in The Quiet Man.

However, at the last minute, we veered not into Semple Stadium but into the Church of St Joseph and St Brigid, across the road from it, to say goodbye to Jimmy Doyle.

There were other differences: No groups of children in their county jerseys, bouncing with excitement before a game, or older men in their shirt sleeves, a jumper held in one hand as they bore down on the Kinane Stand. The men present were in their suits, as they made their way into the packed church, because, for that generation, a suit is the only appropriate clothing when you pay your respects.

The man they came to salute lived out his life in a small zone nearby with clear markers — the stadium gates he belted a ball against, the back field where he perfected his free-taking; the clubhouse of Thurles Sarsfields and the stadium playing field, which he lit up so often; his own house, just around the corner.

Contrast that with the reach of his name. The President and the Taoiseach were represented yesterday in the church by their aides-de-camp. Politicians of all persuasions were in the congregation, and the president of the GAA was also present, as were GAA officials from all over the country.

You could have started any number of arguments in the Thurles Sarsfields social centre over the road by simply asking to select a best 15 from the hurlers, past and present, who were in the church.

Outside the church, the talent wasn’t diluted either: In the car park there was a man from the Hurling Team of the Millennium, Brian Whelahan of Offaly.

The chief celebrant, Fr Tom Fogarty, paid a full and fitting tribute to Jimmy Doyle, touching on his life on and off the field. He and others fleshed out the player with other aspects of his personality and life. His daughter, Janet, recalled the man who couldn’t help but give away the plots of the films he was exhorting her to watch; his son Walter remembered the detail-oriented father who soothed him on a trip to hospital.

However, Fr Fogarty made a telling intervention when he recalled the immense joy that Jimmy Doyle had given to people everywhere with his skills. That seemed a key point: True, there was the thrill of victory for Tipperary and Thurles Sarsfields — in one county championship game against Roscrea we heard that Doyle, who else, was entrusted with the last-second 70 that would win the game: As soon as the ball left his stick his hands were in the air because he knew his aim was true.

However, the sheer pleasure of seeing someone show how a game can be played, the unalloyed joy Fr Fogarty referred to? Last year, this writer met the poet Ciaran Carson, who idolised Jimmy Doyle, even though he only saw him play once: “He was heavy then, and he’d slowed up. It was pouring rain and the pitch was terrible, but, still, he did some beautiful, elegant things, despite all of that. He still had the space and time to get the ball and put it over the bar and that’s the skill, to create that time and space for themselves.”

Yesterday, more than one middle-aged man stepped outside during the funeral Mass to wipe away a tear.

Weeping for a departed friend? Yes. Weeping for a time and a place when that friend’s wrists could send a county into ecstasy? Maybe that also.

After the Mass in Thurles yesterday, Jimmy Doyle’s remains were to be brought south to Cork, to the Island Crematorium. If there was surprise at the great Tipperary man going to Cork, there shouldn’t have been.

There can be few hurling fans now who aren’t aware that Doyle’s hero was Cork icon Christy Ring. Yesterday, we heard of the young Doyle meeting the Cork team train at the station when the Rebels played in Thurles, following Ring to the team hotel and observing how and what the Corkman ate. Later, they became opponents, when Doyle became a Tipperary senior, and friends, when both played Railway Cup for Munster.

When Doyle passed away last week, his family opened his wallet. The first thing they found was a memorial card for Christy Ring.

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