In the dressing room immediately after the 1988 All-Ireland final, Tony Keady wrapped his arms around Pearse Piggott.
“Thank you Horsheen,” Keady said to Piggott. “Thank you for getting me ready. Now, will you come with me and (Brendan) Lynskey for a drink?”
Every night at training, Cyril Farrell would put Piggott on Keady. It was all out war.
The two men went at each other like stags in a Glen. When Piggott would see Keady using his favourite hurley, tanned with linseed oil, his mission was to try and smash it.
He did everything to try and break Keady. Piggott never did.
Keady was never more prepared and battle-hardened for that 1988 final. He wanted to celebrate the victory afterwards in his own way.
Keady and Lynskey left the dressing room and headed home to their house in Phibsboro.
They had a cup of tea, threw on their suits and went straight to their local, the Hut. The owner, Bob McGowan, had promised a champagne reception if they beat Tipperary. The corks were popped. The entire staff dressed for the occasion in maroon and white. Farrell rang to tell Keady and Lynskey to head straight to the Burlington Hotel. They never did.
They watched The Sunday Game in the Hut. When Keady was named man-of-the-match, the place erupted. Farrell accepted the award. Keady eventually arrived back at the hotel later that night. When Ger Canning finally collared him, he asked him why he wasn’t around to accept his award. “Sure,” said Keady, “didn’t everyone already know that they gave it to me at half-time.”
That short story encapsulated so much about the late Tony Keady; loyal, appreciative, confident, great fun, someone who did things his way. Keady didn’t follow convention because he was such a unique character.
Before that final, Keady was asked in an interview what was his favourite food. “A mug of tea and lasagne,” was his reply. When the players read the line, they jumped on it at training the next evening like lions.
“Nobody in Killimordaly had ever heard of lasagne,” said Keady. “I read it somewhere and just said it for the craic.”
The Galway players loved Keady. He lit up the place with his wit. When a raft of them got married around that time, they all wanted to be at Keady’s table. He loved to sing. When he went up on stage to sing one song though, Keady invariably sang three.
Keady loved music. Around 25 years ago, Keady and his former teacher, the late Eugene Kelly, loosely co-wrote a song called ‘Galway’s Heroes’. Years later, Keady mentioned it to Ollie Turner in Galway Bay FM, who recorded it before the 2012 All-Ireland final. Keady rejigged the players’ names and gave it another spin before the 2015 All-Ireland final.
The depth of his character, the sheer weight of his personality endeared him to the Galway public but Keady was loved everywhere for his class and iron hardness.
A steel fist in a velvet glove. The first time Keady pricked the national consciousness was the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, played in a monsoon on what resembled a paddy-field.
Keady, the young pretender, faced off that day with Cork’s grizzly old warrior, Tim Crowley. The second ball that came between them got stuck in the muck and Keady and Crowley pulled repeatedly, like they were threshing. That game launched the Galway crusade in the latter half of the 1980s. With Pete Finnerty beside Keady, that day was also the first showing of Galway’s greatest half-back line, which was later completed by Gerry McInerney.
They bestrode the game like giants, bristling with attitude, class, and power. They hoovered up individual awards but their status was so high that their names bled into each other like a phrase; Finnerty, Keady, McInerney.
As Galway contested five All-Ireland finals in six years, Keady was hurling’s dominant centre-back. His last championship match in Croke Park was in 1991.
His inter-county career was over by 29, but Keady was such a colossus that he was probably the first modern centre-back. He tended to mark space rather than his man but he was so strong under a dropping ball that few centre-forwards could beat him.
His long-range free-taking was exceptional but his mindset set him apart. His team-mates always said that Keady grew six inches taller when he went into Croke Park. The bigger the occasion, the better he performed. He was fearless.
His infamous suspension for the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final stole some light from his
career but it still didn’t cloud Keady’s greatness as a hurler.
If anything, the misfortune of that time, added to his cult status and iconic standing on that Galway team.
Keady won two All-Irelands and was selected as Hurler-of-the-Year in 1988 but his greatest achievement was his family; his wife Margaret, and their four children — Shannon, Anthony, and the twins, Jake and Harry.
“Tony absolutely idolised his family,” says one former team-mate. “Everything he did revolved around them.”
They were the centre of his world but Keady always had that capacity to make people feel important, to treat them with total respect. “I was fortunate to win All-Irelands,” says Pearse Piggott.
“But my greatest sporting memory is Tony thanking me after that 1988 All-Ireland final. I’ve never told anyone that before but that’s how special Tony made me feel. Tony was a great hurler but he was blessed with buckets and buckets of good nature.”
That good nature touched everyone. When a friend of Piggott’s opened a business in Oranmore last year, Keady went into the shop, welcomed him to Oranmore and told him that he and his family would support him.
Keady never even knew the man was a friend of Piggott’s but Piggott wouldn’t have expected anything else from Keady.
For a tribute show on Galway Bay FM this morning, Sean Walsh pre-recorded a number of interviews with former players and GAA personalities around the country.
Joe Sherry, a publican from Clarinbridge, encapsulated much of the mood which has blackened the county.
“Thousands of people feel like they have lost their best friend,” said Sherry. “Because Tony Keady made everyone feel like he was their best friend.”
An icon has sadly passed.
And hurling people everywhere have felt that deep loss of one of the game’s most cherished and loved warriors.
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