Tim O’Connor returns from the kitchen with a pot of tea and two slices of currant cake before being drawn to a stack of sheets piled on the living room table.

He pulls out two pages stapled together and slides them across the table.

“I made a couple of notes on the match when I knew you’d be calling,” he says, “It’s not a lot, but it’s as much as I remember. It has been 72 years after all.”

The 81-year old, a self-confessed GAA diehard who has attended provincial and All-Ireland finals in both codes over the past eight decades, won’t be in Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday for the meeting of Kerry and Tipperary. As he says himself, he’s gone a small bit lazy in his older years.

Not that he’s stopped going to matches altogether, mind you.

He ventured down to Childers Road — the home of Claughaun GAA — last Tuesday night week to watch his beloved St Patrick’s take Monaleen by 12 points in the first round of the Limerick City junior hurling championship.

“That was only Monaleen’s second team,” he sighs. “There was a time back in the ’fifties when Monaleen’s senior team would struggle to keep it pucked out to us, but times have changed and we’re now more of a football club.”

O’Connor, as he does several times throughout our conversation, drifts off into a reverie about games of long ago. On this occasion, he recalls the Limerick hurling finals of the ’fifties involving St Patrick’s.

“My brother Paddy would have been playing. He won an All-Ireland junior hurling medal with Limerick in ’57 when they beat London in the final.

“What came against him for the senior was his poor eyesight. He had to get the special glasses in from America as they didn’t have those contact lenses back then.”

O’Connor’s memory, if it isn’t already evident, is razor sharp. It’s the very reason we’re drinking tea and eating cake just off the Ballysimon Road in Limerick City.

Sunday’s contest in Killarney holds particular sentiment for the retired clerical officer, as the first provincial final he attended also involved the footballers of Tipperary and Kerry.

The day was July 9, 1944. The venue was the Gaelic Grounds, or the New Field as it was known then, and Tim O’Connor was a wide-eyed nine-year-old.

He gazes out into the back garden and off he goes again.

“My father, Bill O’Connor, was from Listowel. When he finished in St Michael’s in Listowel, he emigrated to Argentina with his brother Eddie. He was only 17 and that certainly wasn’t the done thing at that time. He returned home after six years and joined the Gardaí in 1923.

“He was stationed on Watercourse Road in Cork and that is when he met my mother, Nan Murphy. When they got married, the stipulation at the time was that he couldn’t be stationed within 30 miles of his wife’s home. He was transferred down to Goleen, then Ballineen and finally, up to O’Curry Street here in Limerick in ’44.”

Paddy Kennedy, after lifting Sam Maguire in 1946. He was a key figure when Kerry met Tipperary in the 1944 provincial final in Limerick, alongside other legends like Joe Keohane and Paddy Bawn Brosnan.
Paddy Kennedy, after lifting Sam Maguire in 1946. He was a key figure when Kerry met Tipperary in the 1944 provincial final in Limerick, alongside other legends like Joe Keohane and Paddy Bawn Brosnan.

Bill’s beloved Kerry secured passage to the Munster final that summer, but when Tipperary shocked Cork on the other side of the draw — a victory not replicated until last month — Limerick, ahead of Fitzgerald Stadium, was awarded the final.

“My father would have been on duty for most matches in Limerick, but he took that Sunday off to bring myself and my brothers, Paddy and Matt, to the game. I imagine when he dropped us home that evening that he hit off to the pub for a drink.

“I can still remember the rain that day. It poured and poured. The city buses in Limerick did not serve our area until 1947 so we walked into the game. And the Gaelic Grounds looked a lot different to what it does now. The only seats there were sideline seats. They went all around the pitch and would go four or five rows back. You would have to get in early for those seats. There was terracing behind both goals. Do you know where the open stand is now? That was all terracing back then.

“The first stand they got was in 1959. They built a new Hogan Stand in Croke Park. The old Hogan Stand was only a small stand up in the corner of Croke Park. They relocated that to Limerick.

“Five shillings, or thereabouts, was the admission fee to big games in those days.”

And the match itself?

“There was a fierce wind and Tipperary had it in the first-half. But they didn’t make use of it. They trailed by 1-2 to 0-2 at half-time. I think it was Paddy Kennedy who got the goal. He was captain in ’46 when they won the All-Ireland.

“Tipperary actually played better against the wind in the second period. They needed a goal but couldn’t get it. Kerry won by 1-6 to 0-5. Dan O’Keeffe in goals for Kerry was excellent. The Tipperary goalie, Jim Williams, was excellent too. As was ‘Bunny’ Lambe and Mick Cahill.”

Private Mick Lambe, midfield for the Premier men, was one of several Tipp players who had enlisted in the Army during World War II and subsequently stationed in Templemore with the 10th Battalion Army.

“The second World War ended the following year and a lot of those lads would have then left the army and gone back home which meant Tipperary weren’t as strong in the years after. Kerry, then, well they were a good team. Joe Keohane was later a selector with Mick O’Dwyer. Dan Kavanagh played in an All-Ireland final with Galway when he was a student there. A lot of the Kerry fellas used to get Gaeltacht scholarships up to Galway. Paddy Bawn Brosnan was a fisherman in Dingle. He was what you’d call a teak-tough defender.

“It is amazing to think that the next Tipperary-Kerry Munster final (1998) wouldn’t come around for so long.”

O’Connor returned home that evening from the ‘New Field’ drenched to the bone. He couldn’t have cared less — 72 years on, he’s still as thankful as ever that his father took the day off work to bring three young boys to the Munster final.

Here’s a little extra sport: BallTalk TV look ahead to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.


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