Championship matches between Cork and Tipperary have always been explosive affairs, but none more so than the 1950 Munster final.
Tipperary goalkeeper Tony Reddin’s memories of the day are the inspiration for this extract from John Harrington’s biography of Tipperary hurling legend John Doyle — ‘Doyle: The Greatest Hurling Story Ever Told’.
The mood in Killarney had been souring with every passing hour. ‘
Staggering supporters seeped from packed pubs onto the streets and the usual pre-match to and fro banter was tainted by alcohol-fuelled belligerence.
Many were only topping up from the previous night when every single hotel room in Killarney had been filled, but the Cork trains that had arrived very early that morning had also deposited a thirsty cargo.
Some were already spoiling for trouble by the time they finally left the pubs and weaved their way to the ground, and the scene that greeted them there quickly turned an already strained atmosphere a lot uglier.
The Fitzgerald Stadium stewards were utterly unprepared for the deluge of supporters that had descended on them, and a terrible crush quickly developed around every gate and stile that led into the ground.
Both stands were already full before the minor match even took place, and when the stewards tried to turn back any more fans from entering through those gates, chaos quickly took hold.
One gate was ripped from its hinges and a torrent of supporters quickly flooded through it, while hundreds more desperately scaled the walls.
The official attendance was 40,000, but up to 20,000 more forced their way into the ground without paying and all over around the stadium ugly scenes were breaking out between both sets of fans.
The hundreds who forced their way onto the sidelines were blocking the view of the fans who had queued early to get a prime spot but now had no option but to stand on their seats.
This in turn obstructed the view of those on the embankment behind the seating area, who now began throwing sods of earth, bottles and other missiles to persuade those standing to sit back down.
The start of the match did little to cool tempers on the sideline. A wave of angry Cork fans swept onto the pitch again when Christy Ring was flattened in the opening minutes, and mini-invasions followed every other testy exchange on the field.
Despite the madness that was swirling all around them, the Tipperary and Cork players were somehow managing to produce an absolutely classic match of hurling.
A Paddy Kenny goal helped Tipperary into a 1-13 to 1-6 half-time lead, and with every component part of the team ticking over nicely, they were starting to look comfortable. Tony Reddin and the full-back line of John Doyle, Tony Brennan and Mickey ‘The Rattler’ Byrne had been supreme for the first half, but the vision that awaited them when they trotted back onto the field from the dressing-room suggested the second 30 minutes wouldn’t be so straight-forward.
The Cork fans had ripped up the stake-wire fence in front of the terrace, and were now crowded right behind the goal and along the end-line.
Reddin was determined not to be cowed. After the previous year’s epic against Cork, Paddy Leahy had taken him aside and warned him he had to toughen up and learn how to look after himself because Cork were “a rough shower”.
The start of the second half was delayed by yet another pitch invasion, and when it finally got under way, Christy Ring dragged his team back into the contest by slaloming through the Tipp defence in typical style and rifling the ball the back of the net.
Before Cork could build up any more momentum though, Paddy Kenny lashed home his second goal of the match.
Cork kept coming forward in waves but were frustrated time and again by Reddin who pulled off two miraculous saves from Lynch and Ring.
A by now totally frustrated Lynch decided it was time something was done about the cat-like goalkeeper, so he beckoned over wing-forward Willie John Daly and issued some specific instructions.
“Next time you get a ball around the middle, lob a high one into the square and I’ll take care of Reddin.”
Daly nodded and a couple of minutes later carried out his orders to the letter. As Reddin waited to claim the dropping ball Lynch charged like a bull straight at the goalkeeper.
Reddin sensed the imminent danger, so immediately after catching the ball he sidestepped nimbly as Lynch crashed into the post and ended up in a crumpled heap in the net.
As the match drifted away from their team the Cork fans grew more and more frustrated, and when a Jimmy Kennedy point put Tipperary 2-17 to 2-9 ahead with just 10 minutes remaining, hundreds invaded the pitch from behind Reddin’s goal and forced referee Liam O’Donoghue to call a halt to the match.
The overworked Fitzgerald Stadium stewards had given up entirely by now, and it fell to the Cork players to try and persuade their county-men to leave the field.
Even fan favourites Ring and Lynch were having little joy talking sense into the maddened horde. Ringy received a punch which he returned with considerable interest.
After a 15 minute hiatus the match was eventually started again, but by now the area around Reddin’s goal was completely lawless.
The crowd continued to press onto the field around the goalkeeper and his full-back line like the horns of an angry bull, and Reddin was pelted with stones, bottles and sods of earth.
At one stage someone flung an orange in his direction, and he infuriated his tormenters even more by deftly controlling it on his hurl and eating a piece of it before smashing the rest back to where it had come from with his hurley.
One Cork fan got more than he bargained for when he pulled Reddin back as he tore from his goal-mouth after intercepting yet another attack.
The goalie lashed back at his assailant and made a satisfyingly solid contact with his hurley that quickly set him free.
Reddin’s resistance was finally broken when the crowd kicked a ball that was going wide back towards the goal and Lynch doubled it home.
The goal was allowed to stand, and Cork followed up with two quick-fire points to reduce the gap to just three.
By now the net behind Reddin had been pulled down and one of his goalposts shaken loose of its mooring, but the latest act of intimidation backfired badly.
A long delivery from midfield looked like it was on its way over for another Cork point until an unbowed Reddin yanked the loose pole towards him so the ball went narrowly wide instead.
The umpire was attacked by the mob when he failed to raise the white-flag, and Reddin had to step in with his hurley to shield the unfortunate man’s head from the bottles that were winging their way towards him.
The match ended in fittingly chaotic fashion a couple of minutes later when O’Donoghue called for full-time instead of awarding Cork a ’65 after Tipperary knocked the ball over their own end-line.
The very second the referee’s whistle blew, Reddin raced towards the middle of the field because he knew what was coming next.
The Cork fans behind the goal tore after him in a great big angry surge and the goalkeeper might have come to a sticky end had it not been for the quick thinking and bravery of his Lorrha mentor, Fr. O’Meara.
The Priest could see his friend was in peril, so as soon as Reddin started to run from his goalmouth O’Meara raced in from the sideline with a group of Tipperary fans who hastily surrounded the goalkeeper.
Quick as a flash, O’Meara gave Reddin’s hurley to a Tipperary County Board official, put his clerical hat on the goalkeeper’s head and dressed him in a short-coat to disguise him from his would-be attackers.
The subterfuge prevented Reddin from being immediately swallowed whole by the mob, but when they realised who the man standing in the midst of the tight knot of Tipperary supporters were, things threatened to turn ugly again.
The presence of two more priests alongside O’Meara was Reddin’s only saving grace. Drunk as they were, attacking men of the cloth was still a step too far for most of the Cork fans who instead turned their attentions to Liam O’Donoghue.
Just when things were looking black for the referee, Christy Ring stepped between him and his assailants with his hurley raised.
Luckily for O’Donoghue, Ringy was regarded by Cork supporters to be even closer to God than a humble priest.
It would be a whole two hours though before the irate crowd would disperse altogether, and all that time Reddin was forced to stay on the field until his safe passage from it could be guaranteed.
The mood around Killarney remained poisonous long into the evening as skirmishes broke out in the streets around the stadium, and it was only when the Tipperary team’s convoy had driven six miles outside the town that they felt safe enough to pull over, tie the cup to the roof of the lead car, and fly blue and gold flags.
Reddin might have escaped the mob in Killarney, but there was no avoiding the huge crowd that waited in Thurles to welcome home the triumphant Tipperary team.
The goalkeeper was flung into the air again and again by a hammock of hands, the Tipperary supporters oblivious to the pain their hero was in from all the blows he’d suffered during the match.
It would take a couple of weeks before the welts and bruises had faded fully. And as he watched them turn from blue to brown to yellow, Reddin could only smile at the wisdom of Paddy Leahy.
Cork were indeed a rough old shower. But the goalie knew too he was plenty tough enough to handle them.
—‘Doyle: The Greatest Hurling Story Ever Told’ by John Harrington is available on amazon.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved