'I caught you into the ribs with the hurl. It was an awful belt.'

AS legends go, this pair definitely fit the bill.

'I caught you into the ribs with the hurl. It was an awful belt.'

To captain an All-Ireland-winning team is a massive honour. To do it twice, well, only a very select few know the feeling. This week, with their two counties meeting in tomorrow’s All-Ireland senior hurling final, Conor Hayes (Galway ’87 and ’88) and Liam Fennelly (Kilkenny ’83 and ’92) went head to head but, unlike in the All-Ireland final of 1987, this time there were no incidents.

Liam Fennelly: “We were on each other twenty five years ago, I missed an open goal, he got man of the match!”

Conor Hayes: “He claimed afterwards he had sore ribs, I think I connected with him…”

LF: “Connected? God I was winded, you got me in that certain spot, the wind totally went out of my body!”

CH: “There was an awful photograph of it that appeared afterwards. You kind of turned your body into me. You used to throw the ball out from you, I saw it and let fly and whatever way it happened — I don’t know if I slipped or if you slipped — but I caught you into the ribs with the hurl. Oh it was an awful belt. Terence Murray [referee] came straight for me and I said to myself, ‘I’m definitely going to be sent off here!’ But fair dues to him, he must have seen the concern on my face because he only took my name and let me off with a warning. But I was certain your ribs were gone.”

Diarmuid O’Flynn: “Did he apologise at least?”

LF: “I don’t know, I couldn’t hear anything, I was too busy trying to get my breath back!”

DO’F: “What was it like for Galway when ye finally made that breakthrough, in ’87?”

CH: “After ’86 I thought it wasn’t going to happen at all, to be honest with you.”

LF: “Ye gave away an easy All-Ireland that year.”

CH: “Ah we did. Cyril Farrell had done this thing against Kilkenny in the semi-final in Thurles, bringing out a corner-forward and using a third midfielder. It codded Kilkenny, worked for us.”

LF: “That game was very similar to this year’s Leinster final, it was all over after 15 minutes.”

CH: “It was, yes, but our thoughts [the players] were that you couldn’t try that tactic again, especially not against Cork. The best way to play them was go man-on-man. I had played corner-back against Kilkenny, Sylvie [Linnane, regular corner-back] was at full-back. I was certain I’d be back at full-back for the All-Ireland final, Sylvie back in the corner. Just put Ollie Kilkenny on Tomás Mulcahy in the other corner and let them belt away for the day! We were all thinking along those lines but even on the Tuesday night of the All-Ireland final week Farrell was still saying nothing. We were certain he’d change it then at the last minute. But it never happened. I remember going out onto Croke Park for that final to play at corner-back and it felt like I’d been dropped, that was the feeling I had. I was wondering, ‘When am I going be moved back in there, where I should be playing, and Sylvie moved back over here?’ I even thought about changing it myself, but something happened and I didn’t bother. Got to half-time then and we were more or less demoralised at that stage. I couldn’t get my head around it. I actually met Barry-Murphy [Cork full-forward] the night before the game and he said to me, ‘Galway would surely never be stupid enough to put Sylvie full-back on me, would they? If they do I’ll clean him out!’ – ‘No, no, no, not a hope of that,’ I said. But they did. It felt like being dropped. I mean I was there, I was playing in an All-Ireland final but the mind wasn’t right. It was the same for the forwards. They had thought there would be six forwards lining out in the usual way, on six backs, but he went with the third midfielder again. It was a surreal kind of experience really.”

LF: “The mind will do that to you, if things aren’t right.”

DO’F: “How would you have handled Sylvie if he’d been full-back in ’87, Liam?”

LF: “Ah Sylvie was tough, no doubt about that, but he was genuine too. I played on him many times in the corner and even though he had a terrible bad name I could never say anything against him. There was respect there.”

CH: “He was actually a very skilful player but you had to keep an eye on him all the time. He pulled one day, a wild kind of a pull, and his hurley shattered, broke in two. Here he was running out towards the sideline with a piece of broken hurley in each hand, over his head, shouting for a new hurley, while at the same time the ref was running in to sort out what had happened. Bad enough the wild pull, your man lying on the ground — it could even have been you Liam! — the crowd behind the goal baying for him to be sent off. ‘You fucking tinker Linnane!’ But here he was running out like a gladiator with the two bits of hurl over his head, shouting for a new hurl. I had to shout at him to stop and lower his arms.

“We played Wexford in Gorey one day and the sun was just peeping over the top of the stand, a low winter sun. Sylvie was left-corner-back, blinded by the sun, complaining he couldn’t see the ball. Farrell had this auld speck cap, threw it into him. Well if you saw him, he looked like something from the ’30s! The crowd were roaring but Sylvie didn’t give a damn. Then he got a shoulder, a real heavy shoulder and whatever way he was hit the cap flew into the air and Sylvie was flattened. It got the biggest cheer of the day!”

LF: “It wouldn’t be the first time Sylvie was pulling when he couldn’t see the ball. I remember one day the whistle was blown, I think for an earlier free or something. He knew and I knew the whistle was gone but the ball was still there, we both still pulled, our living best. He left me with about eight inches of the handle of my hurl, that was it. It broke just below the hands. He went to do me, I went to do him. He was very strong in the pull.”

CH: “Offaly beat us well in Thurles in 1984, Horan [Padraic] and Sylvie were going at it hammer-and-tongs. Eventually Horan turned to Sylvie ‘Looks like ye’re going to lose another big All-Ireland championship match!’; ‘At least I didn’t lose another election!’ Sylvie shouted right back at him. Horan had stood for Fine Gael in the by-election shortly before that. He was fast as lightning.”

DO’F: “Ye had some great characters in hurling in those days?”

LF: We had, and you’d meet them on the trips abroad. Those were a real highlight. The hurlers always got on great but I don’t think the same thing applied to the footballers. We want to San Francisco and the footballers would be looking at myself and Sylvie having a few pints together and wondering what the hell was going on!”

CH: “I always felt that too. I had to break up an argument between a few Meath lads and the Dublin lads one night, a few of them were attacking Mick Kennedy. And it was the Meath lads. They were getting bauld with him and I was watching. I went down and stood in between them, asked them what was going on ‘Stay out of it now you’, the Meath fellas said to me. ‘I won’t’ I said, ‘We’re all out here to enjoy ourselves together, cop yerselves on’. I think Ciarán Duff was with him as well but it was going to end up in a row.”

CH: “Nicky English tells the story of the first year he went on an All Star trip, he was only about 19 or 20, and he was put in a room with Leonard Enright. The first thing Nicky said happened, when Leonard opened the case a couple of cartons of Major shot into the air and that was the start. He used to smoke from morning to night, the room always in a fog. And what harm but he was a fit man, Enright, very fast. English was saying the first thing every morning Enright would say to him, ‘Come on, we’ll go down to Fisherman’s Wharf for the breakfast.’ ‘God this is great’ English thought. In the four days they were there they never made it to Fisherman’s Wharf. Poor Nicky would have to be carted back to bed at about six, Leonard still in full swing. And he’d wake up again the next morning, the room full of smoke again, and Leonard would say to him again – ‘Come on, we’ll go down to Fisherman’s Wharf for the breakfast!’”

LF: “Would you believe Richie Power got caught the very same way, into a room with Leonard? Power came back from that trip completely wrecked.”

CH: “Tommy Keane from Clare was another hardy man. I don’t know if ye remember Pat McCarthy from Limerick, a fine hurler?”

LF: “I saw him getting the dirtiest belt I ever saw on a hurling field, ever. In Portlaoise, against Wexford. I’ve never seen a belt like it. Pat had caught the first two balls, a right good hurler, had his hand up to catch the third and your man pulled. I think I saw teeth flying. That finished him.”

CH: “Anyway, Keane was another hardy man, in the Leonard Enright mould, could hold his drink but sure poor auld Pat was only a young fella, not a drinker at all. You’d see the pair of them early in the evening, Pat being carted upstairs, Keane only getting going! I was talking to Keane though and I asked him, ‘Is there a motive behind this?’ ‘There is of course’ he said, ‘We’ll be playing them in the championship in three weeks and I want to have this lad well softened up!’ Gerry Mac [McInerney, Galway] was another great character. He used to eat a full steak on the morning of a match.”

DO’F: “Ye met each other before the ’87 final as well, didn’t ye?”

CH: “Yeah, the ’82 semi-final, they put me out centre-back and I was lost there, useless. They put me back in on Christy Heffernan at half-time. He was a bigger man than me and in fairness to him, when he got a ball in his hand he knew what to do with it. Ye beat us, I was working in Cork at the time and when I went back down and they were giving out to me. I was playing with Glen Rovers at the time, alongside Martin O’Doherty, whom Cork had brought back from San Francisco to play in the championship. They were going to meet ye in the final and I said to them, ‘Lads, someone would want to have a word with Doherty because this Heffernan fella is not too bad at all’. They laughed at me. Doherty was in Dublin the day before the All-Ireland final and he said to Mick Dunne, ‘When are ye ever going to give man-of the match to a back? Ye’re always giving it to a forward?’ He was probably thinking he could win it himself! But I think everyone was totally underestimating Christy — two goals later…”

LF: “They were actually going to take him off. Pat Henderson was three-quarter ways up the line, they were going to put me in full-forward and take Christy off, but as he was walking up Christy got the first goal. Then, while the tv was still showing the replay, he was after hand-passing a second goal into the net. After that he took off, but he was a fair hurler. I remember one day, a league game, you were on him and I won the ball, went for goal. You should have come for me and that’s what I was expecting, but you never came. I didn’t know what you were playing at.”

CH: “I had decided that whatever happened Christy wasn’t going to score a goal on me. If you got it fine, but if I had gone to you, you were going to pass it to Christy over my head and a goal from him was nearly worth two to Kilkenny. The goal was coming but he wasn’t going to get it. I did the same with Nicky English in the All-Ireland semi-final of ’87. [Pat] Fox was coming straight through, English was roaring for the ball but I only half-went for Fox. Fox stuck it in the net and he said to me afterwards, ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ – I said, ‘And have you pass the ball to English and his goal would have been worth six points to ye!’ But I had a ferocious rivalry with Christy. You’d be marking him in a Railway Cup, where the game wasn’t as serious, maybe Joachim Kelly in midfield and Christy would be roaring for ball. Joachim said to him one day – ‘Ah come on now Christy would you ever shake yourself up in there!’ and Christy shouts back – ‘Hit me in the fucking ball and I will!’. I’d be on to him then – ‘Jaysus Christy those Offaly lads are awful selfish, won’t pass you any auld ball at all!’ and he’d be getting thicker and thicker.”

DO’F: “Lads, who was the best man you played on, present company excluded?”

LF: “Leonard Enright. He was the fastest man on two feet and along with that he never left the ball around long enough for me to take it off him, got rid of it first time. He was fierce strong on the ground, he’d get out fast, let fly, ball gone. Even if wasn’t ahead of you he was so strong that he’d be able to pull from behind and still get the ball away. I always liked the kind of back who’d keep the ball for a second or two and give you that chance to get it back off him. You never got that chance with Leonard. He rarely put the ball in his hand on the ground or off the hurl, that was his way.”

CH: “Well now, I have some choice. I started off on Ray Cummins, Tony Doran, Eamon Cregan, Joe McKenna, then Liam Fennelly, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Nicky English. I say to the young lads nowadays at full-back, ‘Jesus ye have it easy!’ The fella I found most difficult was probably Joe McKenna. He was an unusual kind of a player in that he’d do the same thing every time but you still couldn’t get the better of him. He’d catch the ball over his head out in front but he’d turn then and hit it almost at his right knee.”

LF: “He had a very short hurl. I was in at Raymie Dowling’s one day and he said to me ‘this is Joe McKenna’s hurl’. It was like a child’s hurl, and it was cut asunder. Most of his hitting was done from one side but he’d be very hard to hook or block with that hurl.”

CH: “He was big and awkward, and very strong. Even if you got in front of him you still couldn’t beat him. Jimmy Barry-Murphy was probably the fastest and the most skilful. You never knew what he was going to do and he was capable of doing almost anything. He could catch it, double on it in the air, control it out in front, hit it on the ground. And he was lightning fast. Cregan was very good as well. I never marked him at full-forward but it marked him in the corner. He was coming to the end of his career. Tony Doran was another very strong man, a very nice fella. Big hand, once he got the ball you couldn’t stop him. You could be swinging out of him, made no difference. But he was a fierce nice fella, you couldn’t rise a row with him. He’d be giving out mad to his own fellas. Ned Buggy would be corner-forward, a wonderful skilful hurler but bone lazy. Doran would say ‘Ned, go out and take that free.’ — ‘Naw, I won’t bother’ Ned would say. ‘Would you go out and take the fucking free and put it over the bar!’ — ‘Naw, it’s too far out, go and take it yourself!’ Ned was pure lazy, wouldn’t go out.

DO’F: “Who’s going to win this one?”

LF: “My fear with Kilkenny would be the mental thing. If they’re right upstairs they’ll be hard to beat. The Dublin game they really focused on that and we know what happened; came out then in the Leinster final a couple of weeks later and probably weren’t as prepared mentally as they should have been. They were back again to their best though against Tipperary, really focused — everyone was saying ‘Tipperary will beat us, Tipperary will beat us’ but the players were tuned in and again we all know what happened. Now it’s Galway again and people are starting to say, well we beat them in the U21 semi-final when Galway had all those lads from the senior panel. If they can put their minds to it they’ll win, and I think they will win, but that would be my only concern, that their minds must be fully focused.”

CH: “I believe that Galway, the way they are and the way they’re playing, look like a team that could beat Kilkenny again. The mistake people in Galway could be making is to think this Kilkenny team is the same team we played in the Leinster final. Apart from the big players they were missing, that team was very flat. I’d like to see us go back to straight 15 against 15, I think they have a better chance of matching Kilkenny that way. What Galway are doing, the way they set up, is a defensive system but we tried it in the U21s and conceded 4-16 in a 60-minute game. When it fails, it fails badly. This team is surprising a lot of people though. The first 15 minutes will be crucial — if Kilkenny get any kind of lead on us they won’t be caught easily.”

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