Mention the name in the company of hurling folk and nearly everybody of a certain vintage will know who is being spoken about.
We’re talking about Mickey Byrne, who has long enjoyed legendary status among the greats of the game — winning five All-Ireland and seven national league medals, as well as a record 14 Tipperary senior champions with Thurles Sarsfields. And, he is almost as well known for his sense of humour and his wit.
Without question, he is one of the greatest characters involved in the GAA. And, that’s not just my opinion. Anyone who tuned in for the ‘Up for the Match’ on RTÉ on the eve of last year’s All-Ireland hurling final would have appreciated his ability as a raconteur.
Appropriately, it’s highlighted in the foreword to the book written by the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly (and Patron of the GAA), Dr Dermot Clifford.
The response from the public to the television show was so positive that it encouraged the family to have a book written about him. A committee was formed to help with its publication and retired Tipperary Star editor Michael Dundon, who hurled with Mickey at club level, was a natural choice to write it.
I interviewed Mickey at his home 10 years ago, prior to the All-Ireland final between Tipp and Galway and this is what I wrote:
“If you’re acquainted with the Rattler you know what to expect from him.
“Mickey Byrne, to give him his proper name, talks the way I’m told he hurled. He’s very direct! In addition, he’s a known wit.
“To visit his home in Thurles is like walking into a mini museum because of his trophy collection and a mini collection of photographs — with the like of Christy Ring and Mick O’Connell — and with Mick Mackey at Ring’s funeral proudly displayed on the wall of his dining-room.”
Typical of his generation, he was critical of certain aspects of the game.
“They tell you the game is faster, but no way,” he commented.
“You can’t run as fast as the ball. I can go back to 1940, a Munster final between Cork and Limerick. It’s the longest memory in my head and if I live to be a hundred, I won’t forget it. Paddy Scanlan pucked out the ball for Limerick and big Timmy Ryan — who’d never stop a ball — took it in the air and over the bar for a point. That was two pucks. Now, could you have anything faster than that.”
The book is titled ‘The Rattler — Mickey Byrne — Tipperary Hurling Legend’ and Dundon writes about him as a “wonderful man, whose story had to be told”. With the backing of the Byrne family and others, he does that excellently in a book liberally illustrated with some historic photographs and in the process recounts the social as well as the sporting history of the time.
It was launched recently in the Anner Hotel before a huge attendance which featured a number of his former inter-county rivals — among them ex-GAA President and All-Ireland winner Paddy Buggy from Kilkenny, long-time friend Willie John Daly of Cork fame and Galway’s Seanie Duggan, along with another of the game’s greats Eddie Keher.
A great admirer of Christy Ring, the Rattler often marked him during a magical era for Munster hurling, when some epic Cork/Tipp contests in the ‘50s elevated the status of the championship to the level it enjoys today.
The Cloyne maestro’s son Christy, along with the legendary Jimmy Doyle, guided his wheelchair through the hotel’s packed function room when he made a grand entrance at the book launch. Not unexpectedly, he contributes to the long-running debate about who was the greatest hurler of all time, insisting that Christy Ring was the greatest.
“There’s no question in my mind about it. He had everything. He was a powerful man, extraordinarily strong for his size. He was quick and had an incredible touch on the ball, instant control, no matter how many were around him. He was deadly accurate — when he got the ball, he always had only one thing in mind – scoring.”
*In his foreword, Archbishop Clifford recalls how he became acquainted with the Rattler’s wit when first introduced to him after his appointment to the diocese, writing: “If I had been told 25 years ago that Mickey Byrne would one day take to the pen and write a book, I would have said it would have been entitled ‘The Rattler’s Book of Humorous Quotations’.”
You’d never know, there might be a second book in him.