Former team-mate Len Gaynor has paid tribute to the memory of the late Tipperary hurling legend Mick Roche, whose death was announced yesterday at the age of 73.
Gaynor was shocked to hear the news of Roche’s passing, and described him as a “colossus” of a player, patrolling and controlling the middle third of the field.
Roche, who won three All-Ireland senior medals, five Munster titles and three National League crowns during the course of a glittering career, has become renowned for his exploits at centre back but Gaynor remembers him as a peerless midfielder.
Former Kilkenny star Eddie Keher also recalls Roche strutting his stuff in both positions, and he kept in touch with his old on-field adversary at golf outings in later years.
In defeat, Roche was still man-of-the-match in the 1968 All-Ireland senior final and his direct opponent for much of the first half of that game, Wexford’s Tony Doran, admits that it was a chastening experience.
Doran remembers the late Paul Lynch switching to mark Roche after half-time but the Tipperary man still hurled up a storm, even though Wexford ran out 5-8 to 3-12 winners.
It has been reported that Roche refused to accept the man-of-the-match award from that game, and unfortunately, it was the second successive year that he had captained Tipp to All-Ireland final defeat, following the 1967 loss to Kilkenny.
But Roche won Celtic Crosses in 1964, 1965, and 1971, and earlier in his career he won All-Ireland U21 and intermediate medals.
At club level, he was a two-time county SHC winner with Carrick Davins in 1966 and 1967.
Keher said last night: “First of all, Mick was an absolutely outstanding hurler at centre back or centerfield.
“We had great battles with Tipp in the ‘60s, when he was at the height of his prowess on the field.
“He was a gentleman, highly-respected among all hurling followers, particularly in Kilkenny where the word is spreading here and we’re all devastated to hear of his passing.”
Gaynor added: “He was one of the finest hurlers ever — centre field was his real domain.
“He played centre back but centre field was his real position.
“He ruled from one 45-yard line to the other and controlled the area there, like the colossus that he was.
“His hurling was immaculate — he never mis-hit a ball, he had it on the meat every time, scored points and goals.
“I saw him score goals from long distances out — he’d shock the goalie, he wouldn’t be expecting it come so hard from such a distance.
“To watch him in training, the way he could double on a ball with his left side, in the air, as high up as you like, there was a lot of overhead hurling at the time and he was the master of that.
“He had Theo English beside him as well, who was very good and very strong, but Mick Roche was the prince of midfield players.
“He could hurl any way you wanted it and he could beat the best. I’ll remember him as one of the best strikers I ever saw.”
Doran remembers his personal duel with Roche in the famous 1968 final, which he admits was particularly one-sided.
“He was very good in the first half anyway! I played directly on him for a good bit of the first half and didn’t get too much of a look-in, I’ll be quite honest.
“I would remember him as one of most stylish players that I would have ever seen. In that period with Tipp, he had very, very few on the same level.
“He had everything. He had great skill, he had speed, could read a game, he was left or right, completely two-sided, a very nice fella, a great sportsman.”
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