Seán Power on Waterford and Wexford's rivalry

Seán Power emulated his more famous brother Seamus when he won an All-Ireland hurling medal in 1960. Though Seán’s came with Wexford rather than his native Waterford. The switch of loyalties gave him a unique perspective on one of hurling’s rivalries...

Fran Whelan, terrific Dublin hurler of the 1950s and ’60s, had an unusual habit.

Accomplished enough to win two Railway Cups with Leinster, Whelan became a noted exponent, in the phrase, of solo running. But this trait was not the habit.

“He was a whistler,” says Seán Power. “I’m not codding… He used to feckin’ whistle when he went off on a solo.” Here Power launches into a high tuneless note, thin but insistent, holding out his right arm as if it were steadying a hurl with a sliotar on its bás, as if he were back in 1960, watching Fran Whelan initiate an attack from midfield. Dublin and Wexford are at it in a Leinster semi-final.

“I suppose it was for focus, the whistling,” Power continues. “But I didn’t care what it was for. I wasn’t having a lad run past me whistling

“So I went in hard. I kept close and left him no room for this soloing and whistling. I believed in going in fair but hard. I wasn’t the very best hurler around but I was alright. And I was always very fit.”

He gives a look, sets his chin. Then a wide enveloping laugh.

Seán Power? Another story altogether. He is a younger brother of Séamus Power of Mount Sion and Waterford, the man who passed away less than four weeks ago at 86, one of hurling’s fiercest stars in the 1950s and ’60s. While aficionados know that Séamus Power was an All-Ireland winner in 1959, hardly anyone realises that Seán Power took the same distinction in 1960.

Waterford and Wexford is not one of the code’s sterling rivalries. Yes, there has always been plenty of interaction around the New Ross area, through business and families holidaying in Tramore. There is a strong fishing heritage on the coast of both places.

But a hurling rivalry? Not really and not then and not now.

This Sunday, the two counties meet in an All-Ireland quarter-final. The encounter will be but their fourth championship clash, with Wexford ahead on two wins to one. The first meeting transpired in a 2003 qualifier tie. So there is little on which to patch a grip. But Seán Power…? He came to a unique perspective.

An Irish Press van is on its way to Wexford town. A young man, 19 going on 20, has hitched a lift to a job interview with the Wexford Free Press. “I had become friendly with some of their van drivers in the office of The Star,” Seán recalls. “So one of them said he’d bring me over and drop me back afterwards.”

A Mount Sion CBS product, the young Seán Power left Waterford in a lot of senses. The moment is 1952, when 40,000 or more people emigrated from Ireland. Seán Power of Griffith Place, son of Tommy and Helen Power, is moving to a neighbouring county.

“Brother Keane came to me after the Leaving Cert in 1949,” Power relates. “Said he might have something for me with The Star newspaper. So I went in as a cub reporter. Brother Keane was one of the main influences on my life. The Brothers gave every youngster a bit of confidence, no matter where they were from or what their parents did.”

While the first couple of years went well, Seán Power had already learned to look forward.

“There was another reporter my age there,” he elaborates. “Which of us was going to be kept on, down the line? A friend of mine, Pat Dargan, was moving to another post from a job in Wexford. He rang me and said I should look into it.

“I made the phone call and got an interview. Afterwards, they appointed me with immediate effect. I was able to tell the van driver on the way back.”

Here he was, de facto Enniscorthy Correspondent of the Wexford Free Press. He got digs in the town and got on with things. “I had to cover absolutely everything,” he says. “Talk to me about marts… I could have talked for Ireland about marts!”

The move sharpened comparisons: “Enniscorthy was a town of shopkeepers. There was no real industry there. Enniscorthy was a town. Waterford was a city. Or so it liked to think…

“There was none of the push from outside that you had in Waterford, the summer rush. You had a steady amount of people arriving in Enniscorthy to visit Vinegar Hill, fair enough. But you’d never be run down with the crowd coming…

“Anyway, Waterford was around five times bigger population wise than Enniscorthy. So you couldn’t really compare the two.”

Seán Power had been a fine schoolboy hurler, strong enough to make the Munster Colleges team. Likewise he hurled Minor and Junior with Waterford and even kicked a bit of Senior football with the county. But hurling was drifting into the background.

“After school, I was focused on learning the journalism trade,” he insists. “I felt I had a lot of learning to do, as a reporter. It was a daunting time for a green young lad…

“Nobody came running after me when I left for Wexford, saying: ‘Come back and hurl for Mount Sion and Waterford.’ Why would they have? I’d gone completely off the radar.”

Not entirely, as he found out. Word had gone round Enniscorthy about this new young lad from Mount Sion. Having covered his first Urban District Council Meeting, he was taken aside by luminaries from the local club, St Aidan’s. “I was brought off on a long walk,” he says. “Hour and a half… But I didn’t mind. I had time to kill.

“The gist of their question was: would I hurl with Aidan’s? I turned them down, because I wanted to concentrate on my job. I felt I had even more to learn than was the case back in Waterford.”

Over the next year, Power became friendly with the Floods of Cloughbawn, Martin and Tim, farmers outside the town. He met them through socialising in a hotel owned by their cousins. Friendship established, the Floods enquired whether he might throw in his lot with their club. Seán Power surprised himself by agreeing to the suggestion. He began staying with the Floods on the weekend so as to establish residency.

Nigh inevitably, Cloughbawn met St Aidan’s in the 1956 senior final. Power was corner-forward and the boys of Enniscorthy triumphed by four goals. Power did not hurl with St Aidan’s until the 1959 season (“The residency rules had been tightened up”), when they defeated Faythe Harriers in the senior final.

As a Cloughbawn clubman, he was given a trial with the Wexford seniors. Naturally enough, Waterford were the opposition. “I was at corner-forward,” he recalls. “John Barron was marking me, and I knew John from Street League days in Waterford, how to get the better of him. So I did well.”

A buzz started around his name. Then it died. As Power recounts: “There was a split vote in the Selection Committee, 4-3 against me or something. Had I been in as an Aidan’s candidate, there’d have been no problem, because they controlled that committee.”

Still, Seán Power must have been a highly regarded young man. He was in demand as a referee. To a 21st century GAA perspective, it will seem odd that this man, domiciled in Enniscorthy, was asked to referee the 1957 Senior final between Rathnure and St Aidan’s. But he did officiate, repeating the trick three years later in 1960 for Faythe Harriers and Oylegate-Glenbrien.

“There might have been a bit of showmanship going on with me and the refereeing,” he laughs. “But maybe you need that a bit, so as to take control…! I always tried to be fair and to keep the hurling moving. There weren’t too many complaints…”

A hurling career bubbled away. Yet his roots never slipped. Séamus Power was becoming a star, winning a Railway Cup with Munster in 1955. His younger brother saw straight: “It was way more important for Séamus to win an All-Ireland with Waterford than it was for me to get one with Wexford. I never had any doubt about that aspect. But not to say I didn’t want to win one too…”

That wondrous day in 1959 arrived, Kilkenny beaten by eight points. Séamus Power offered a crucial hour at midfield on Tullaroan’s Seán Clohosey, a supreme stylist. His brother went out to him on the pitch afterwards and embraced.

“It was everything,” he says. “Our mother had travelled up. A sister came home from England. We had lost our father the year before.

“I said to Séamus: ‘You managed Clohosey.’ He just nodded: ‘I had to…’ That was a crucial battle on the day.”

As Seán Power relates these stories, I can see that young man in the 1950s. He worked hard because he enjoyed mastering a discipline. A lifelong teetotaller but always a good mixer, he made friends and found mentors wherever he went. Easy with himself, he was easy with others.

We met in Cork this week, when the day was a belter if you like swelter. Seán Power is quite remarkably hale for 84. Despite the heat, he insists on collecting me in his car from the city centre. The same insistence applies, nearly three hours later, when I am going back.

As we arrive at his estate in Montenotte, there are children carrying blankets down the road. They have hunted out a sunspot on a little green across from the Powers’ house. “There is a lovely French family up the way,” he says. “I think the kids’ cousins are over from France. They have been bringing a lovely bit of life to the place.”

Only meeting someone like Seán Power can take us back beyond hindsight, to that place where the future is not set. Back in 1952, as a young journalist changed counties, Wexford had yet to win the 1955 and 1956 All-Ireland finals. Who was to say they would ever win one? Waterford had yet to make the 1957 and 1959 All-Ireland finals.

1960 was Seán Power’s year of years. “I started playing the best hurling of my career,” Power reflects. “Couldn’t tell you why but I just did.”

He scored a goal from midfield in both the drawn and replayed Leinster semi-final. Fran Whelan’s whistle got softened.

Similar form was produced in the Leinster final against Kilkenny, when Wexford spun through by two points. A preview of the 1960 All-Ireland final in Gaelic Sport, leading GAA magazine of the time, noted that Ned Wheeler and Seán Power “may well be a surprise packet in midfield”.

A calf injury flared and he could not start against Tipperary. “It was handled badly,” Power reflects. “The team was announced, without telling me beforehand I wasn’t to start. I accepted the injury factor but I thought someone could have taken me aside.”

On the day, Tipperary were roundly beaten in a shock of shocks. But Seán Power came on for Séamus Quaid. The deed had been done and from play.

Drama, of unpleasant kind, lay in front. Exactly five weeks later, Wexford took on Cork in an Oireachtas semi-final in New Ross. This match, quickly notorious, was abandoned by the referee after both players and supporters fought.

At a remove, Seán Power can be sanguine: “The panel was announced for the Oireachtas game against Cork, and I was gone. My name simply wasn’t there. Nobody had said a word to me about it.” Then the trademark humour: “I was demoted down the ranks, back to being a reporter…!” Wearing his Wexford Free Press hat, he wrote a piece on the match, acknowledging a terrible day for Wexford GAA. His frankness sat ill in certain quarters: “I was told that some people were referring to me as only an effin’ Munster man.” Meanwhile a new life beckoned. Weeks later, he was gone from Enniscorthy. Through the good offices of Mick Dunne, later of RTÉ fame, Bill Redmond, an influential editor in the Irish Press Group, got in touch. Seán Power became News Correspondent, working across the Group’s three titles.

An accomplished career was in train. Later he chaired the Oireachtas Press Gallery. Ned Murphy, the Irish Independent’s renowned Political Correspondent proposed him for the post. Murphy was a War of Independence and Civil War veteran, someone who kept a loaded pistol in his desk. “Ned was a Kilkenny man to his finger tips,” his friend says. “Totally passionate about hurling. He couldn’t go to the matches, though, because of a bad heart. The hurling connection did me no harm with Ned…”

Seán Power came to Cork in the mid 1960s as Independent Newspapers’ Southern Editor. He married Mary Bourke, a native of Limerick City. There was a daughter, Michelle, and a son, John. “They are both living hardly more than five minutes away, here in Cork,” their father says. “So we are close, whenever they want us.”

Photographs hanging in the room reflect a life fully lived, Griffith Place to Montenotte and all else in between. There he is, crew cut and hardy with the champion 1959 St Aidan’s team. There he is with brother Séamus in the 2000s, receiving an award from the GAA for being part of the select group that is brothers who won a Senior All-Ireland. There he is, quite another life, chatting to Liam Cosgrave, chatting to Garret FitzGerald. There is John, receiving cricket awards; Michelle, on graduation. Another photo sees Seve Ballesteros, almost too handsome to be dead, standing between Mr and Mrs Jim and Mary Power. “I looked after Seve when he came to Cork in 1983,” he says.

Nothing is lost on or to a bright man. Seán Power is distinctly bright.

Neither were the machinations of those 1950s Wexford selection committees void. Experiencing those machinations up close, twice over, player and reporter, must have been apt preparation for life in and around Dáil Éireann. “I could tell you things about politics and political journalism that would make your blood run cold,” he says.

Seán Power is sitting in pleasant shade, at a window. “I’m not normally one to dwell on things,” he says. “I suppose a lot was just lying there, dormant. When you’re a journalist, you constantly rushing from one thing to another, never standing still.

“That’s your day as a journalist. Now I have all the time in the world.” He allows himself a last bit of latitude: “Would I do things differently? People generally say they have no regrets and that they’d do it all again. I don’t know about that, even though I’ve had a good life and a lucky life.

“But with the callousness of old age, looking at it from that perspective, I’d have taken Enniscorthy different. I’d have said yes during that walk and hurled with Aidan’s, and won two more All-Ireland medals. But…” He spreads his hands and smiles.

Outside I can see those children across the road, delighted in the heat, still about their camp.


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