How Tipperary’s close circle of friends kept the flame burning

Easy enough to take for granted the loop Google and Twitter and Whatsapp and SkyGo keeps us in.

“I don’t have Sky Sports. I was listening to Saturday Sport. They mentioned the score a couple of times. Five points to two and so on. But they never gave the result (The show finished before the match did). I put on the television news around half-six. And the sports results came up. Not a word. I got onto my daughter to see would she go on the internet. Then she had a text from a son of mine who is working in England. ‘Up Tipp’. So I got the result from England.”

Michael Kennedy was hanging on word from Breffni Park last Saturday evening. Earlier, his daughter had landed to bring him from his home in Clonskeagh in Dublin, but he’s 87 now, and on this afternoon, he didn’t feel able.

He was missed.

“You’d see him anywhere. If he wasn’t there, you’d wonder if he wasn’t well,” says that great servant of Tipperary football Seamus McCarthy. “I remember we played in Fermoy once, he got the train from Dublin to Cork and the bus out to Fermoy.”

Some people were born into Tipperary football, Michael retired into it. As an electrician working on the Rural Electrification Scheme, he switched on swathes of Cork — Aghada, Barryroe, Conna, Ovens, Cloughduv, Carrignavar — before he was needed in Dublin. He’d always kept an interest, but when he left the ESB, Tipp football lit up his Sundays.

“I had the free travel. It was an interest and a pastime. I love going to the league matches. To see how the new fellows are developing. If nobody had belief in them and there was no following, it would be very hard for players to show any dedication.”

He can recite chunks of the Tipperary Star match report from the footballers’ last win over Cork in 1944. And does. And he was in Semple in June for the sequel. Wonder lodges in his voice. “Three goals and 15 points scored against Cork!”

Declan Browne saw him around Thurles and wound down the window. “Are you still following them?”

He has a Hogan ticket for Sunday, and he had one in 2011 too, when the minors beat Dublin in the All-Ireland final, which he mentions to explain how a tight family looks out for each other.

“The phone rang on the Saturday night. It was Michael Power, who organises the bus to every football match.

“‘You don’t know me, but I know you,’ said Michael. ‘I see you at the matches’.

“He knew I was from Clonakenny parish originally and he rang some fella from Clonakenny. And that fellow rang a nephew of mine, who gave him my number.

“So Michael rang me. ‘Are you going to the All-Ireland,’ he asked. ‘Where would I get a ticket?’ ‘If you had a ticket would you go?’”

Michael sat in beside Tipperary football board chairman Joe Hannigan on that proud day. When Michael recites his litany of saints, Michael Power makes it. As does Joe.

“Don’t bother writing about me. I’m a nobody. I gave you a list of names. These are men who kept Tipp football alive when it was on its deathbed.”

Some names: Michael Frawley, “Lord rest him”; Michael Power; the other Michael Power, David’s father; Seamus McCarthy; Babs Keating; Joe Hannigan, “I’m forgetting people now”; Petey Savage.

“Petey, when he was a selector long ago, would stop the bus when he’d see me walking out from Sligo Town to Markievicz Park.”

Pete Savage — Petey to everyone — is not right yet after last Saturday evening.

“That was a great feeling out on the field after. The fella on the gate was saying ‘you can’t go in’. ‘By God,’ I said, ‘I’m waiting 50 years, I’m going in anyway’. I went in over the wire. A wonder I didn’t get killed. I saw men following us with years and years crying in Breffni Park. That’s what it meant. On the bus home, we sang every song in the book. We didn’t feel the four hours.”

When any tight family gathers at a time of great joy, there is nearly always a nag of sadness. You can almost turn and see the missing faces.

“There was one big disappointment,” Petey says. “I had a great friend, Freddie Quinn, we went everywhere together to matches. He loved Tipperary football. He died two years ago. And he would have really enjoyed all of this.

“And Dom Browne, I’ll never forget, who died at the U21 All-Ireland final, died at half-time. Himself and his wife used travel everywhere on the bus. A grand man. You think of all these lads.”

Winner of five county football titles with the great Ardfinnan teams of the 60s and 70s, on which Michael ‘Babs’ Keating starred, Petey has been involved with Tipp long enough to have picked Seamus McCarthy as a county minor. He calls McCarthy ‘the bossman’, having served as selector with Seamus when Tipp won the Junior All-Ireland in 1998. McCarthy returns the deference, having managed Tipp to the Tommy Murphy Cup when Savage was football board chairman.

Petey is still involved with the football board and Friends of Tipperary Football. And is a selector on the Ardfinnan U14 team again this year. A burst appendix nearly killed him and kept him away from a couple of Tipp matches not too long ago, but not much else has. “The very essence and soul of Tipperary football,” is how McCarthy describes him. “He’s been at the coalface and been burnt more often than not.”

Petey Savage pokes a few embers. “A Monday morning, I’ll never forget it, they gave the ratings on the Sunday, we were 31 out of 32 in Ireland. Only Kilkenny behind us.”

Could have been worse. “I was a selector when we played a league match against Kilkenny and they went four points up with five minutes to go. Peter Lambert scored two goals.

“But football people are resilient in Tipperary. They just stick with it. It’s not easy at times. When we were bottom of Division 4.

“But they’re terrible genuine people. Terrible loyal. You have to be loyal. There’s a core of a couple of hundred.”

There was 52 on Michael Power’s Friends bus to Breffni Park. “We might have 30 one day, 20 the next. Whatever you’d muster.”

As journeys unwind in football talk, Petey is well placed. “I’m in a strong position. I saw the two best footballers we ever had. I played with one of them, Babs, and was involved with Tipp with the other, Declan Browne.”

Well placed everywhere except maybe at home, where wife Kitty holds a crucial edge. “She was captain of the Tipperary ladies football team who won the first All-Ireland in 1974. I’ve only a county medal. She has an All-Ireland medal.”

Lately, the talk, at home and everywhere, has been of new heroes. “I’m getting a great kick out of the last few years. They owe us nothing. They’re in the habit of winning, And they deserve great credit. And I’m hoping and hoping we could cause another upset. If we don’t, they’ll still mean the same to me.”

  • The annual Mr. Mister-sponsored Friends of Tipperary Football golf classic takes place August 5-6 at Thurles Golf Club. To enter, contact Martin O’Dwyer at 086 2549154.


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