Mick Flannelly sits forward in the armchair. “It’s a long time ago now. Sixty-five years. We were only young fellas. I was serving my time as a printer with the Munster Express down on the quay — jobbing work, but regular hours. You could make training easily enough. We hadn’t interest in much apart from the hurling.”
Flannelly is talking about Waterford’s last All-Ireland minor hurling title. He captained the side to victory over Kilkenny in 1948, and his recall of that season, played a pensioner’s lifetime ago, is pin-sharp.
“I thought we had an exceptional team, for one reason in particular. There were five from Mount Sion, four from Dungarvan and four from Cappoquin. So most of the team was from three clubs, and the players knew each other very well, we understood each other and that was a big help all that year.”
The players from Flannelly’s Mount Sion came from an even more compressed area. From the front room of his home, off Morrison’s Road, he can point out the house where corner-back Martin Morrissey came from, while full-back Sean Hayden grew up around the corner. Larry Guinan and Seamus Power, who starred in later years for Waterford, were other neighbours, as were the Hales, famous in another code.
“It was a great area for producing good hurlers — and good soccer players. Always was.”
Flannelly was one of the good ones. He wasn’t brawny at a time when strength decided a lot of individual battles, but he knew how to use what he had: speed.
“I wasn’t a big man, and I was playing centre-forward on the minor team, but my father used to advise me, and he always said to spread the play, that you’d have the winning of the game that way.
“And that’s how we played — there wasn’t any barging through fellas, we moved the ball fast through the lines, and we had plenty of speed on the team. It suited us to move the ball, so we did.”
It certainly paid off in the Munster final, when they enjoyed a big win over Tipperary in Thurles, 3-6 to 0-3.
“Vincent O’Donoghue was chairman of the county board, he became President of the GAA afterwards,” says Flannelly.
“He spoke to us before we played in Thurles: ‘Remember, lads, this field is as big as a prairie — use it.’ That’s all he said, but it was enough. We played fast hurling, ground hurling, but the game was different back then. You could do that.
“And he was right about Thurles — to us at the time it was the biggest field you could think of, but the difference was that at the time you had people in sideline seats, almost in on the field. It added to the whole thing.”
They were too strong for Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, so they’d played in Croke Park at least once before the final, which stood to them.
“We knew we were good. Kilkenny had a few players on that minor team who would have gone on to play senior, but we were confident enough. We played a good brand of hurling and we trusted in it.
“We didn’t see much of Dublin the night before the game. They kept us outside in Naas on the Saturday night, near Punchestown. For entertainment, we walked the racecourse the night beforehand.”
What stays in his memory? There were unexpected sights, like the buses parked along the streets outside Croke Park. There were expected sights, like the huge crowd, the biggest they’d ever played in front of. But their confidence held up.
At half-time Waterford were four points up — “which was nothing, really,” — but it gave them the platform. At the end of the hour they had three points to spare, 3-8 to 4-2.
“We won handy enough. It was only three points but we were the better team over the hour alright.
“I didn’t get a cup after the game, mind you. There was a pitch invasion because Waterford were in the senior game as well, and there was a big crowd there from the county. There was no presentation, though we were carried off the field afterwards, which was great.”
They returned to Waterford in triumph — but in cars rather than the traditional train.
“It was the handiest for collecting fellas from around the county, I suppose. We had a reception down on the quay and then onto a celebration meal in the Granville Hotel.”
Not a lot of the lads went on to hurl for Waterford at senior level, he recalls. Mickey O’Connor from Cappoquin, Joe Condon, Tom Cunningham, and Flannelly himself. He soldiered for over a decade with the seniors and came up against the best.
Hell’s Kitchen. The Rackards. The maestro.
“Christy Ring was the man. Marvellous. No-one was as good as him. Any time he played against Kilkenny he came off in bits, though he was well able to dish it out himself as well; he was a hardy man, but a nice person. Very shy.”
Eleven years after winning his minor medal Flannelly added a senior All-Ireland medal. The sideboard was pretty crowded when he finally hung up his boots: he collected 15 senior championship medals in hurling with Mount Sion. And three senior football medals, not to mention a minor football county. Add in four minor county hurling medals.
That didn’t make him a market leader in his own house, though: “Joe, my brother, won six minor county hurling medals with Mount Sion. It was different then, of course, there were no distractions. The club had a great pick that time.”
They did. And he was one of their jewels.