RIVERS had been hushed and the countryside burnt brown by the three-week heatwave that showed no sign of easing its fiery grip.
Limerick City’s concrete arteries were choked with a dry dust and tarmac ran like warm treacle where it wasn’t shielded by shade.
Even the mighty Shannon seemed cowed by the blazing sun, the stench that rose up from its exposed bed and banks hanging over the city like a sour shawl.
By 11am, thousands of tightly packed Tipperary and Cork fans stood waiting for the Gaelic Grounds to open, their impatient mood salved little by the high-pitched notes of the two blind fiddlers who busked for coppers before the stadium’s locked gates.
Three hours before throw-in the ground was already wedged and red-faced stewards struggled manfully, but unsuccessfully, to prevent the banks of swaying masses from bursting out onto the sidelines.
Respite from the sun was sourced however possible. Handkerchiefs were knotted atop ever reddening heads, and umbrellas more used to rain were opened against the rays.
One canny entrepreneur ahead of his time made a killing with the novel idea of bottling water and selling it, but a rival flogging ice-cream didn’t fare so successfully, much of his stock turning to curdled milk before he could offload it.
The Tipperary dressing-room was a temporary structure that amounted to little more than a wooden hut, and inside its thin walls Doyle was sweating as much as the hottest supporter on the terrace.
One man dominated his thoughts — Cork corner-forward Mossie O’Riordan. Six foot tall and powerfully built, O’Riordan was also uncommonly skilful for such a big man.
He’d be no easy customer to deal with, and as Leahy gave the order to leave the dressing room, Mickey ‘The Rattler’ Byrne leaned across to offer his tuppence-worth of advice to the 19-year-old.
“Doyle, don’t ever tell him you’re going to hit him,” said The Rattler, with his eyes already narrowed for the battle ahead.
Leaving the dressing room was like running from an oven into a furnace, and as the teams paraded around the scorched pitch together, dust rose in their wake like talc from beneath the dead grass.
The drawn match had been open and free-flowing, but like many replays the second encounter was anything but.
There were scores to be settled on both sides, and Christy Ring took less than a minute to ink his.
Tommy Doyle had held him scoreless from play in the drawn match, and under the first high ball that came down between the pair Ring let it be known he wouldn’t be so easily tamed this time.
Doyle staggered from the exchange with blood gushing freely from a gaping head-wound, but ‘The Rubber Man’ quickly returned to the fray shrouded by a hastily wrapped bandage that turned red and then brown as the blood dried quickly under the blazing sun.
He was the first casualty, but there were many more to come. It seemed as though the suffocating heat had risen the dander of both teams like mercury, because all over the pitch, fiery exchanges were breaking out.
Three other Tipperary players — Tony Brennan, Sean Kenny and Seamus Bannon — would also finish the match with their heads bound by bloody bandages, and with ever increasing frequency the game had to be halted while the overworked Order of Malta attended to injuries on both sides.
Whenever the referee did call a time-out, players on both sides would fall to the ground, eager to make the most of the temporary reprieve.
The mood on the field of play wasn’t long spreading to the crowd. Stewards struggled to hold back fans on the sideline keen to administer justice for the crimes on the pitch, while many supporters on the terraces chose to turn on one another with fists raised.
Amidst all the madness, Doyle’s debut didn’t get off to the most ideal start as O’Riordan slipped him for the very first point of the match, but with every passing minute, he grew with the game.
Cork were dominating play for long stretches, but they were finding out the hard way that the newly-cast Tipperary full-back line of Doyle, Brennan and Byrne was a formidable obstacle.
The Rattler in particular was revelling in the lawless mood that gripped the game, displaying an ability to finish something before it had even started that would become his hallmark.
Further out the field the bloodied Tommy Doyle was continuing to stifle Ring, while in midfield, Pat Stakelum and Sean Kenny, were also hurling up a storm.
Kenny was known as ‘The Iron Man from Borrisoleigh’ and it was an apt moniker. Lean and muscular, he liked to show off these attributes by rolling up his jersey sleeves high past his bulging biceps.
Those guns weren’t just for show either — there were few better practiced in the art of delivering a sickening shoulder-charge than Kenny.
His other talent was for taking the fight to the opposition by driving down the middle of the field on a solo-run, a tactic that was rare for the times because its exponents tended to come to unfortunate ends.
That was Kenny’s fate on two occasions against Cork, as twice his charge was halted by challenges that left him bleeding from the temple.
After he’d been bandaged up for the second time, he proved his spirit was unquenched by ripping off his boots and socks and casting them aside before tearing back into the fray again.
The Tipp backs and midfield might have been giving as good as they were getting, but everything they hit was being returned with interest because only Jimmy Kennedy was making any impact in the forwards Leading by 1-2 to 0-2 at half-time, Cork were convinced they’d scored another goal in the second half when O’Riordan briefly escaped from Doyle’s clutches and unleashed a pile-driver of a ground-stroke.
The sliotar fizzed through the air and appeared to hit the stanchion supporting the net at the back of the goal before rebounding a full 20 yards back down the field.
The Cork forwards roared ‘Goal’ as one, but the referee ignored their pleas and waved play on, despite getting an earful from an increasingly frustrated Christy Ring, who was still failing to escape from the web Tommy Doyle was weaving.
His mood wasn’t helped when Tony Reddin made a couple of spectacular second-half saves, and the Cork star unloaded his frustrations by slashing the unfortunate Tipp custodian across the legs in the midst of yet another goal-mouth tear-up that ended without reward for the Rebels.
Cork kept attacking in wave after wave, and but the full-back line of Byrne, Brennan and Doyle hurled like men possessed to keep back the tide.
Even their desperate resistance didn’t look like it would be enough to save Tipperary though, because with time almost up, they trailed by 1-5 to 0-5.
Jimmy Kennedy had accounted for all five of Tipp’s points, but he wasn’t done yet. In the final minute of normal time he lanced through the Cork defence one more time and smashed the ball to the back of the net for a dramatic equalising goal.
A minute later the final whistle blew, and hundreds of relieved Tipperary fans rushed onto the field to celebrate their team’s unlikely salvation.
Confusion now reigned as to whether there would be extra-time or a second replay. Both sets of exhausted players were in no humour for another 30 minutes action in the broiling conditions, but agreement had to be reached between both team managements.
Leahy strolled towards the middle of the field where he and his captain Stakelum met Cork trainer Jim ‘Tough’ Barry and the Rebels’ captain Jack Lynch for a parlay.
“Begod lads,” said Leahy, “tis wonderful stuff, we can’t be separated. What’s going to happen at all?”
“I don’t know,” replied Lynch, “but I’ve had enough of it anyway.”
“Arragh,” said Leahy as he nudged Stakelum in the back, “shur we might as well sort it once and for all and play the extra-time I suppose.”
Agreement reached, Leahy strolled over to the rest of his players who lay scattered and broken on the battlefield, looking like they’d nothing more to give to the cause.
“Right lads, everyone on their feet and into the dressing room,” he ordered. “C’mon now, look lively.”
They looked anything but as they limped their way back to the dubious sanctuary of their rickety dressing room, the Cork players choosing to continue resting their weary bones by lying out under the sun.
Almost everyone in the Tipperary dressing room was nursing some sort of war-wound, but none were in as much pain as Tony Reddin. The belt he’d suffered from Ring had left one of his knees grotesquely swollen and he could hardly put his weight on it.
“Paddy, I can’t play the extra-time,” said the goalkeeper as he held his leg out in front of him, his face drawn with pain.
Leahy examined the patient through narrowed eyes and delivered his verdict. “Listen to me young lad, you’re playing the rest of this match and that’s that, do ya hear me? And whatever you do, don’t let them see you limping.”
Reddin mumbled in doubtful agreement, and as Leahy looked around the dressing room all he could see were more sorrowful expressions.
With a hurley in his hand he stepped onto the low table in the middle of the room and hit it an almighty clatter that instantly quieted the room.
“All of ye listen up,” said Leahy, his jaw set and his eyes burning. “Anyone who feels he cannot fight on for the blue and gold can go to that corner of the dressing room.”
Every gaze followed the direction his outstretched finger pointed to, but none took up the invite.
“Now,” said Leahy, his tone more even, “I want all of ye to take of yer shirts and come over here to Mick for a tonic.”
Mick Blake from Coolquill was the team masseur and the most famous cross-country runner in the county.
As well as his usual bottles of wintergreen and other ointments, he’d also had the foresight to bring a milk-churn full of cold water with him to Limerick that day.
One by one the Tipperary players were doused in the blessedly cooling waters by Blake while outside their opponents lay baking under the hot sun.
Blake and his fellow helpers from Coolquill Athletic Club also rubbed new life into aching muscles and fresh bandages were applied to the walking wounded as repeated requests from Munster Council officials for the Tipperary team to return to fray were ignored.
“Let them wait,” growled Leahy.
20 minutes passed without any sign of the Tipp team emerging from their conclave. Hundreds of fans were camped outside the dressing room, some occasionally trying to burst their way through to see what was going on.
Someone shouted out that Tipp had thrown in the towel, and the rumour was swiftly relayed around to ground to great cheers from the Cork fans.
It was the Tipperary supporters turn to roar when their team suddenly burst on to the field in a blur of blue and gold, bearing little resemblance to the men who’d wearily hauled themselves away 30 minutes earlier.
Now it was they who were pinning a weary Cork team back into their own half, and a goal from centre-forward Mick Ryan just four minutes after the resumption propelled them to 2-8 to 1-9 victory.
Cork fought grimly right to the death, but they simply couldn’t overcome Tipperary’s new effervescence.
Even when Christy Ring flung away his boots and socks to signify a renewed effort, he was unable to inspire his team like he had so often in the past.
“Christy, you can leave them on. You’re not going to get any points today,” said Tommy Doyle chirpily into the Corkman’s ear.
The Rubber Man was true to his word, his famous feat of holding Ring scoreless for 90 minutes over two matches franking his status as a Tipperary great.
The veteran had played his part, but the day really belonged to the new generation. John Doyle, Pat Stakelum, Jimmy Kennedy, Tony Reddin, Mickey Byrne and Sean Kenny had won their first ever Championship match in the blue and gold, and they were only getting started.
A new dawn for Tipperary hurling had broken on the hottest day of the year.
* Doyle: The Greatest Hurling Story Ever Told’ by John Harrington, and published by Irish Sports Publishing, retails at €15.99 and is available in all good bookshops, or can be bought online at www.johndoylebook.com, or easons.com or amazon.com.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved