Michael Dundon remembers Tipperary All-Ireland winner Liam Devaney.
The neighbour who set all Ireland cheering,
In old Croke Park with his brilliance he,
The quiet lad who walks among us,
In the little streets of Borrisoleigh.
The words of the ballad composed in 1961 to salute his Hurler of the Year award aptly capture the person of recently deceased Liam Devaney, the versatile Tipperary and Borrisoleigh forward of that golden era in Tipperary’s hurling story, the fifties and sixties, during which he won five senior All-Ireland, two minor All-Ireland, eight National League, Railway Cup and Oireachtas medals, with his Texaco Trophy as Hurler of the Year his crowning glory in 1961.
“Billy” as he was best known, was the complete hurler who could play anywhere, generally in attack, but equally effective at midfield and famously at centre half-back in the 1961 All-Ireland final against Dublin as an emergency measure when injury forced Tony Wall out of the game. His years in the blue and gold stretched from 1952 when he won the first of his two All-Ireland minor medals to 1968 when Tipperary lost to Wexford in the All-Ireland senior final – an inter-county career that reaped a rich harvest of awards.
One of his most cherished however, was the county senior championship medal he won with Borrisoleigh in 1953 when Borris beat Boherlahan in the final and he was still donning the club’s maroon jersey when they lost to Roscrea in the 1972 final. The curtain came down on his hurling journey the following year as Borris lost to Drom-Inch in the county quarter-final.
Indicative of the place he enjoyed in the hearts of Tipperary hurling people was his selection on the Tipperary team of the Millennium — a distinction that gave immense satisfaction to this most modest of men who rarely spoke of his own achievements but who was most effusive when extolling the deeds of others. He was also honoured with the Munster Council’s Hall of Fame award.
An integral part of one of the most accomplished attacking units ever in hurling, he had all the skills of the game and equally important, had a hurling brain that was second to none. Tom Neville, the great Wexford captain and defender of the sixties who frequently found himself facing this scoring machine, said in Jimmy Doyle’s book — The Boy Wonder of Hurling — ‘The way he (Doyle), linked up with Liam Devaney when they played for Tipperary was uncanny. Instinctively, each seemed to know where the other was and what they were going to do. They were some combination.
Hugely popular with players and public alike, Liam was “a character” whose droll humour lightened the tension of big games but he was very much his own man and never wavered in his opinions if he felt a principle was at issue.
The story is told that in the run-up to the ‘64 All-Ireland final his absence from a training session prompted Tipperary supremo Paddy Leahy to drive to Borrisoleigh to find out why. Liam’s mother led him to a shed at the back of the family home where a sow was giving birth to bonhams. Asked if he was coming in to training, Liam explained — “Every time this one gives a grunt, it is worth a fiver to me. I’m not going to leave her.” Leahy warned that he was putting his place on the All-Ireland team at risk, but Devaney stuck to his guns. He did not start that final, but came on to play his part in Tipperary’s victory over Kilkenny.’
Among his own in Borris, he holds a special place. When he moved to live in Thurles he politely declined all invitations to throw in his lot with the all-conquering Sarsfields team of that period, a move that would have added considerably to his trophy collection. However, his loyalty, first and always, was to Borrisoleigh.
Clubmate Timmy Delaney, in a wonderful graveside oration, reflected on what Devaney meant to Borris and what he did for the club. “His loyalty to the place of his upbringing, to the honour and glory of this little village, stands out above all else. He was never a medal hunter despite ample opportunities at the height of his powers. He wanted to do the heavy lifting for Borris. To stay with Borris through thick and thin, even when logic and logistics suggested otherwise, was what endeared him so much here. Even over and above his phenomenal hurling talent, his loyalty and sense of place stood out and will always be remembered in Borris,” he said.
John O’Grady was goalkeeper on the Tipperary team in 1958 when Devaney won this first senior All-Ireland medal, having made his senior championship debut in ‘55. He said of his team-mate: “Liam Devaney was not only a hurler of great longevity, he was one of the most popular. Never one for conflict with rival players, he was skilful, versatile and of sporting easy temperament.”
Nationally known for his ‘Culbaire’ GAA column in the Tipperary Star, John recalled a club game when a major row broke out. As the fracas went on, Deveney was seen to be sitting down placidly, waiting for sanity to prevail — an object lesson without a word said.
He added: “Devaney will always get honourable mention as one of the elite. He will be missed on a personal level as an unfailing source of humour and friendly chat. His on-field judgment and ball-playing talent were beyond question.”
As former team-mates at club and county level, and from all the hurling counties, turned out in strength to say their farewell, chief concelebrant of his Requiem Mass, Fr Denis Kennedy, a neighbour whose father had played with Liam, said: “He hurled, not for medals but for the love of the game.
“The friendships he made with opposing teams and players were more important than the medals. He was one of the all-time greats, but we are not going to canonise him today — we will leave that to the Lord.”
Aged 82, Liam is mourned by his wife of 53 years, Hannie, son Seamus, daughters Siobhan, Louise, Carolanne, Valerie, and Claire, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, to whom sincere sympathy is extended.
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