Eddie Keher’s all-time selection dilemma

Speaking at the History of Hurling one-day seminar held at The Schoolhouse venue at Muckross House in Killarney last Saturday, one of the most stylish forwards of his era reflected on a 19-year senior inter-county career.

Eddie Keher’s all-time selection dilemma

Eddie Keher’s stretch in the Kilkenny jersey was bookended by disappointment; he was still a minor when he featured as a sub in the 1959 All-Ireland final replay — which Kilkenny lost to Waterford. He departed the scene after the defeat by Wexford in the 1977 Leinster final.

In between, Keher gained renown and regard as one of the most accurate attackers and meticulous free-takers in the game. He also won six All-Ireland senior medals — one as captain in 1969 — and a Texaco Hurler of the Year award in 1972. As part of his presentation, Keher picked his standout Kilkenny 15 of that era and also assembled a Best-Of-The-Rest selection featuring the championship opponents that most impressed him.

CREAM OF THE CATS

Goalkeeper: Noel Skehan

“Many might consider this a slightly surprising selection. The debate still rumbles on in Kilkenny about Ollie Walsh and Noel Skehan, right. They were cousins and, between them, played for nearly 30 years, while it is still debated as to who was the best. I came down on the side of Skehan, however. He was there for almost 10 years and won nine All-Irelands.”

Full-back line: 2. Fan Larkin; 3. Pa Dillon; 4. Brian Cody

“Fan Larkin was a small man, about 5’4”, but was made of steel and a brilliant hurler. He knew no fear and always seemed to be marking fellows bigger than him. I was in his company one day, when someone asked him how he marked fellows like Ray Cummins. Fan, in typical fashion, replied with a question: ‘Did you ever remember the Colt 45 revolver, which was the first six-shooter? Well Samuel Colt said that a Colt 45 makes all men equal. I have a hurl and that makes all men equal!’”

Full-back was an easy choice for Eddie. “Pa Dillon was robust and feared by every full-forward he marked, so there will be no debate there.”

The number four shirt went to Brian Cody. “He is now, of course, a fantastic manager, but in his playing days, he was a fantastic corner-back and full-back.”

Half-back line: 5. Seamus Cleere; 6. Pat Henderson; 7. Martin Coogan

“Seamus Cleere from the ’60s, gets right-half back, because he was a very stylish player, and an attacking half-back. Pat Henderson is my centre-back and one of the best ever, so no need to elaborate while Martin Coogan gets left-half back, because he was a great defender and a very good sweeper.”

Midfield: 8. Frank Cummins; 9. Liam O’Brien

Keher is sure his midfielder pairing would match any combination in the modern day. “Frank Cummins could not be left out of any team, whether Kilkenny or from all of Ireland. One of the greatest midfielders of all time and probably the only man to win seven All-Irelands from the same position. Chunky O’Brien is his partner. He was a fantastic stylist, and he had a great engine.

Half-forwards: 10. Mick Crotty; 11. Pat Delaney; 12. Billy Fitzpatrick

Keher wanted a mix of industry and finishing ability in this division. “Mick Crotty gets the nod at right-half forward, because he was a great worker, never stopped during a game and made many scores for others. Pat Delaney is my choice on the 40. He battled cancer for 10 years before he died last year and those battling qualities were the same as he displayed on the field. Billy Fitzpatrick was a wonderfully stylish type of player.”

Full-forward line: 13. Tom Walsh; 14, Kieran Purcell; 15. Sean Clohessy

One of the finest inside forwards himself, Keher was better placed than most to assess Kilkenny’s score-getters. “Tom Walsh in the right corner was a fantastic player. He came on the team at 19 and in an unfortunate accident in the 1967 final, he lost an eye and that finished his career. Kieran Purcell, who is now better known as racehorse trainer, is my full forward. He had fantastic hands, was as brave as they come and had great vision.” In his own favourite berth, where Keher made the Team of the Millennium; Eddie placed Sean Clohessy. “My boyhood hero won two All-Irelands from 1953 to 1963.”

BEST OF THE REST

Goalkeeper: Pat Nolan (Wexford)

He was unspectacular, but a great reader of the game and shot-stopper.

Full-back line: 2. John Doyle (Tipperary); 3. Nick O Donnell (Wexford); 4. Pat Hartigan (Limerick)

“I had many battles on the field with the legendary John Doyle, but great friendships afterwards. I am very proud, if it’s right to say that, that I was one of the people outside of family who was allowed visit John in hospital before he died.” Keher found a place for one Kilkenny man in this team too. “Nick O’Donnell was originally from Kilkenny, before he moved to Wexford and became such a wonderful full-back. He won three All-Irelands with Wexford and six Leinsters and captained them twice.” Every team picked uses a shoehorn in some position and Eddie’s tight squeeze is here: “I had to place Pat Hartigan from Limerick at left-full, because I simply could not leave him out. He was a full-back really and an inspirational one, opening up a new role for the full-back in the 70s.”

Half-back line: 5. Mick Burns (Tipperary); 6. Mick Roche (Tipperary); 7. Willie Murphy (Wexford).

“Burns was a beautiful hurler, a great stickman and won four All-Irelands and seven Munsters. I was unfortunate to have to mark him a few times and he was never easy. Mick Roche from Tipp is the centre-back. He was a stylish and superb defender, who always appeared to be in the right place. At left-half back, it’s Willie Murphy from Wexford. I had ferocious battles with him and though he was as tough as nails, he is a great friend of mine now.”

Midfield: 8. Phil Grimes (Waterford); 9. John Connolly (Galway).

Keher stoked his engine room with two men players from non-traditional powers. “Phil Grimes was part of that great Waterford team that won the All-Ireland against us in 1959. We beat them in ’63, but they changed the way hurling was played and Grimes was one of the great players of that era. I was delighted that John Connolly eventually won his All-Ireland medal, because he more than anyone else brought that Galway team up to where it was able to make the breakthrough.”

Half-forward line: 10. Jimmy Doyle (Tipperary); 11. Tom Cheasty (Waterford); 12. Eamonn Cregan (Limerick).

Keher’s attack reads like a who’s-who. “Jimmy Doyle gets the number 10 shirt and he was the player I looked up to most. He was two years older than me, beautiful stylist, wonderful hurler, sweet striker. Just a great hurler. Tom Cheasty from Waterford gets the nod on the 40. He was a great hurler and known as the Iron Man. Just like our own Pat Delaney, he would go through a brick wall for you. Eamonn Cregan from Limerick gets the nod at left half forward. Another stylish hurler but also very versatile. He switched to centre back in the ’73 final to curb Pat Delaney and that is why Limerick won.”

Full-forward line: 13. Ray Cummins, left, (Cork); 14. Tony Doran (Wexford); 15. Michael Keating (Tipperary).

Another slight shuffle of his deck from Eddie close to goal. “Ray Cummins gets the number 13 shirt, although he was a full-forward. He could not be left out. He added a new dimension to full-forward play, opened up the play, great hands, great vision and knew where the goals were. Tony Doran is my full-forward — a great-hearted player and as strong as an ox. If Cummins was the stylist, Doran was the enforcer. My final selection is a rogue; Babs Keating from Tipperary, who was gifted at both hurling and football. I remember we were four points down to Tipp in the 1971 final and near the end I was hauled down near goal. As I was eyeing a pot at goals, who should come down the field from attack, but the barefoot wonder himself trying to put me off. For the record, my attempt for goal was deflected over the bar, and we lost by three points.”

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