ichie Sr hurled for Kilkenny between 1980 and 1992, winning three senior titles: 1982-83 and 1992. He was named an All Star in 1982 and 1986. He managed the Kilkenny U21 side to All-Ireland victory in 1999. His youngest son, John, is part of the current Kilkenny senior panel.
Richie Jr hurled for Kilkenny between 2005 and 2015, before being forced last January to retire due to a chronic knee injury. He took a senior title eight times: 2006-09, 2011-12 and 2014-15. He was named an All Star in 2010 and 2011. Clubwise, both men played with Carrickshock United in South Kilkenny.
Condonstown, where my parents’ farm was outside Hugginstown, is only about six miles from Tipperary. We would have been in Carrick on Suir as often as we were in Kilkenny City or Waterford City.
More often than not, my mother would have gone into Carrick on Suir, for groceries or shoes or whatever. We would have known South Tipperary really well in those times. I remember going to the Mart in Carrick with my father, in the 1960s, when Tipperary hurling was very strong. You could kind of sense it at the Mart. Coming into the late 1960s, into the early 1970s, Tipperary had it over Kilkenny, except for that one win in 1967.
My first time playing against Tipperary would have been in an U14 match in 1971, in a mini All-Ireland Final in Carrick on Suir, and we beat them. The likes of Dick O’Hara and Paddy Prendergast [father of Shane, current Kilkenny captain] were on that team with me. We were all the same year of birth, 1957.
I played minor in 1974 and ’75. But we never came up against Tipperary. I won a minor and an U21 All-Ireland, and we beat Cork in both finals. Tipp weren’t making the breakthrough out of Munster at the time. I went onto the Kilkenny senior panel properly in 1980. My first adult game against Tipperary was a National League tie. The Pat Foxes and the Nicky Englishs were coming then, and they were putting together a good side. But the only time I hurled championship against them, at any grade, was in the 1991 All-Ireland Final, when I was midfield with Michael Phelan from Glenmore. It’s amazing I could have gone all the way from that U14 game in 1971 to 1991 without anything in between. But that’s the way it worked out…
I would have been one of the older guys in that panel, coming near the end of my time, and I would have said it to Ollie, said we were good enough to beat Tipperary in that final. I said it to Ollie often when we were training, after the All-Ireland semi-final. Maybe I was saying it because I sensed something… Stephen’s Night of that year, after losing to Tipperary, I accidentally bumped into Ollie, in Malzard’s pub in Stoneyford. He came in for a pint, having been playing golf in Mount Juliet. Ollie came straight over to me and said: “What you said to me about Tipp, you were right.” My belief was Ollie was building for 1992, for 1993. And maybe 1991 got left behind a small bit. Maybe Ollie had a plan in his head: ‘This will be my team in ’92 and ’93. This is the squad that I want.’
Look it, it’s a small thing that would have beaten Tipp in 1991. I always felt, looking back, the selectors were fierce undecided about who should play centre forward. I was tried myself, in training, at 11. Liam Fennelly was tried in it. John Power was tried. It looked like one of the three of us would be the centre-forward. But then, the Monday night training before the All-Ireland, the selectors put Christy [Heffernan] into 11, and he was started there against Tipp, six days later.
If we’d had the good luck of Christy playing at centre-forward for the serious fortnight’s training beforehand, we would have been much better served on the day in that position. I have no doubt about that. Christy was naturally an edge of the square guy, because of his size. If he’d had four or five nights of serious training out at 11, he could have adapted. Around four or five of us ended up doing very little training in the positions where we ended up lining out against Tipp. Training in your own position, serious training, would have been a massive boost.
Christy won ball after ball, at centre forward, off Bobby Ryan. But he didn’t really know what to do out there, pass or travel. With a few training sessions under Christy’s belt at centre-forward, he’d have known to lay off to DJ [Carey] or whatever. It’s tough to go into an All-Ireland Final any day of asking, but it’s particularly tough to go into one cold in a totally new position.
Anyway, we gave it everything on the day, but we couldn’t get over the line. A great first-half, but we didn’t shove enough onto the scoreboard. We should have been in a great position, going in at half-time, but we weren’t, and that factor killed us in the end. That was my only day out against Tipp, and you’d still be regretful…
Yes, we beat Tipperary that day comprehensively. To be honest, I wouldn’t have known much about the Kilkenny-Tipperary rivalry, when I was growing up, because the counties just wouldn’t have met that often. I was born in 1985. So 1991 was the only time they did meet until 2002.
Going back to the father for a minute: I do vaguely remember him coming home after 1991, and the sheer disappointment. Even as a child, you could sense it, in the body language and so on. As I got a bit older, I got to know about the whole Cork-Kilkenny rivalry. I used to sit down and watchon TnaG. I used to watch all of those games, and record them. And not just the hurling, either: Dublin and Kerry in the football I loved. I would have got a good handle, from those programmes, on the ’82 and ’83 All-Ireland Finals, when Dad was playing.
Going back to Kilkenny and Tipperary: I do recollect 2002 well, that All-Ireland semi-final, because I was on the Kilkenny minor team that took on Galway in the curtain-raiser. The same day, I was lucky enough to run in with a ball from midfield, and goal it, and we won that game, barely. So we ended up having a great win over the Tipperary Minors that year, even though they went into that All-Ireland Final roaring hot favourites. But we had a great minor team. I’d say 70 to 75% of that panel went on to feature senior with Kilkenny at some stage. Kilkenny beat Tipperary comprehensively as well in the 2004 U21 All Ireland Final. We hammered them in Nowlan Park.
Yes, that’s spot on. We’d built up a massive lead at half-time, around 17 points, and we’d hurled with a gale at our back in the first-half. So I was put sitting between the full back and the half back lines, just as insurance, sweeping across.
That was huge for us, I suppose. We got two massive wins over Tipperary right at the start of our careers, in a short period of time. So maybe Tipperary meant something different to us, at that point, than it meant to older generations. What happens out on the field, in your own career, is really how you personally judge a rivalry with another county.
Yes, that’s right. We should have lost the first day, but got away with a draw through Richie Hogan managing a goal with the last puck of the game.
We absolutely robbed Tipp that day… I can remember leaving Croke Park, feeling pure disgusted with myself, because I was very bad the same day. I know people say it’s a really short turnaround, senior to U21, but you still would be disgusted with yourself. We managed to win the replay, which was down in Thurles, which made it even bigger.
At least with a draw you’ve the chance of redemption. The 2005 U21 All-Ireland Final, when Galway beat us by a point, still sticks out in my mind, and sticks out sore. We’d a savage team that year, but the bigger names didn’t perform on the day, including myself. It’s that kind of day, rather than the occasion you might have gone well, that stays in your mind.
As I say, a draw gives you a shot at redemption. Brian Cody told me later on that I came very near being dropped for the 2012 senior replay against Galway. And deservedly so, because I was so bad in the draw. Thankfully, I went far better in the replay. I suppose my career could look a bit different only for Kilkenny getting a few of those draws...
It’s a massive week, going into your first All-Ireland. Maybe the biggest week of your life. I always say nobody gets out of bed, the morning of the All-Ireland, and decides to perform badly. You’re doing everything possible to get yourself right every way, mentally and physically. And even then, with everything right, you need luck on the day.
I remember 1982. For 20 minutes or so, I mightn’t have touched a single ball. Then I went for a puckout that seemed to be hanging there. I went up for it, caught it, turned onto what was probably my weaker side, my left hand, and struck it right over the bar. What it does for you, a point like that, the jolt of confidence… All of a sudden, you’ve a new energy. From there on, that game went well for me.
You do. Tipperary will have four of them, next Sunday, which will be a factor. Okay, lads might previously have hurled in an All-Ireland Minor or an U21 All-Ireland. But it’s a fierce step up to senior, and you don’t really understand how much of a step up until you’ve actually experienced it.
I think the day of an All-Ireland Senior is the day when the real pressure comes. It’s how someone handles that, the enormity of it. Some lads can handle the pressure and some lads can’t. That 70 minutes can go so fast that it’s frightening… How many times do you hear people saying ‘I’d love to play that match again tomorrow’?
It was great, in fact. Everything was really familiar. It was the same any time we’d a big game coming up with the club. You could always bounce ideas off Dad, because he always knew where you were coming from with anything to do with hurling. Kind of, if you needed advice, you didn’t need to go any further than your own home. Why would you?
It was good in All-Ireland week because the familiarity kept everything normal. Tickets and stuff was always Dad’s department. He took complete control of tickets. So all I had to concentrate on was getting myself right for the Sunday. The more All-Ireland build ups I was involved in (and there were 11, I think), the more I appreciated having Dad around.
Anyway, there was never that much talk in our house about hurling. When I’d come in from training, we might chat about how it’d gone for five or 10 minutes. But that’d be the extent of it. There’d be nothing more about it, because that’s the last thing you’d want to be doing. You need to switch off from hurling as well. Otherwise you’re wasting energy…
I meet a lot of hurling people outside Kilkenny. Great genuine GAA people all over Carlow, Laois, Wexford. Their view seems to be the workrate and the endeavour of the two teams in Thurles, for the Kilkenny-Waterford replay, was ahead of anything we’ve seen from any other team this summer. That game in Thurles was phenomenal.
If Kilkenny, this Sunday, can get back up to that level, can Tipperary match it? Tipperary are talking about this angle for several years now, matching Kilkenny’s intensity levels. But to get a team to buy into this and do it for 65 or 70 minutes is not simple. It might take Tipp a year or two to get things square in this area, so that workrate comes naturally to them. They might do it for 30 or 35 minutes. But what about the full 70 minutes, if you haven’t been doing it all the time? Working hard is second nature to these Kilkenny players under Brian Cody. Is it second nature to these Tipperary hurlers?
Sunday could go either way, to be honest, but Kilkenny will fancy having a right go at Tipp. They know how to take them on. And you’d have to say Kilkenny and Tipperary bring out the best in each other. There have been some matches… Even in 2010, after they beat us, we started looking forward immediately to getting back at them again. I’d say if we had stayed in Croke Park until midnight that day in 2010 we’d never have got ahead of Tipp.
But we had a few words in the dressing room, before we showered. We could hear Pat Kerwick singing that Tipperary song, ‘The Galtee Mountain Boy’ or whatever. Brian [Cody] said a few words. A few players said some more words. The gist of it was that we were in a loser’s dressing room after playing Tipp, and that we’d back in a winning one the year after against Tipp, and we were.