Waterford captain, Frankie Walsh, receiving the Liam MacCarthy Cup from Dr. J.J. Stuart, President of the GAA in Croke Park in 1959.
A few short months ago, we were reminded that sixty years have passed since Waterford’s second, and last, All-Ireland Senior Hurling victory in 1959. Each ten year cycle sees the memories of that great occasion stirred in the minds of those there to savour it.
In those days things tended to happen every ten years or so in Waterford hurling. The first All-Ireland hurling title to come to The Deise was the minor title in 1929 and nine years later players from that team such as Declan Goode, Locky Byrne, Pa Sheehan, Danny Wyse and Jackie Butler figured in Waterford’s first senior Munster title winning side that went on to lose a first All-Ireland final appearance to Dublin.
It would be a further ten years before that elusive Senior All-Ireland would come to Waterford and what a day that was for Waterford hurling in 1948 with Jim Ware captaining a team that included Waterford’s greatest players from the losing 1938 team in John Keane, Christy Moylan and Mick Hickey to vengeful victory over Dublin. On that same day a Waterford minor team, drawn from just three clubs, Mount Sion, Cappoquin and Dungarvan and captained by Mount Sion’s Mick Flannelly defeated Kilkenny on a score of 3-8 to 4-2.
Small wonder then that in the aftermath of that great occasion expectations were high that that Waterford hurling was on the cusp of achieving great things. It was never going to be that simple for Waterford.
Looking back now at the end of another decade of fruitless, but huge, endeavour in pursuit of that third Senior All-Ireland one recalls that great occasion and how it came about as seen through the eyes of a youngster growing up in the Waterford of the nineteen fifties.
Hurling and soccer dominated the sporting scene in the city back then while throughout the county hurling and Gaelic Football, through the local club, dominated in almost every parish. Hurling and soccer were both very strong in the city with the youth catered for by the City Juvenile Hurling Street Leagues and soccer by the Waterford Schoolboys League. In a time when playing pitches for any code were scarce kids honed their skills on the streets. It was a time of the GAA ban on foreign games, a rule more honoured in the breach than the observance, and on any street or patch of waste ground with grass on it the coats would be down and everyone would be playing hurling and football. Almost always, the good hurlers were equally good at football and vice versa.
Mount Sion and Erins Own were the big hurling clubs in the city drawing their players mainly from ‘up the roads’ and the big nurseries that were Mount Sion C.B.S. and the De La Salle schools with all of the players having come through the street leagues first. In the county Abbeyside and Cappoquin were emerging as serious title challengers.
The 1959 All-Ireland winning Waterford team. Back row: L to R: Freddie O’Brien (Mount Sion), John Barron (De La Salle), Ned Power (Dungarvan), Jackie Condon (Erins Own), Martin Og Morrissey (Mount Sion), Joe Harney (Ballydurn), Austin Flynn (Abbeyside), Phil Grimes (Mount Sion), Mick Lacey (Cappoquin) and Joe Coady (Erins Own). Front row: Paudie Casey (Ballygunner), Tom Cheasty (Ballyduff Lower), Larry Guinan (Mount Sion), (Mick Flannelly (Mount Sion), Frankie Walsh (Captain, Mount Sion), John Kiely (Eire Og, Dungarvan), Tom Cunningham (Dungarvan), Seamus Power (Mount Sion), Mickey O’Connor (Cappoquin), Charlie Ware (Erins Own) and Donal Whelan (Abbeyside).
On the soccer front the local Junior League clubs were very strong. Support in the city for both GAA and soccer was about even. I can recall the crowds in ‘The Sports Field’ (Walsh Park) for big club and National League games and huge crowds marching down Bunkers Hill behind the Barrack Street Band on the way to Kilcohan Park to see Eddie McIlvenny and Jimmy Gauld playing alongside local heroes the Fitzgeralds, Tommy, Jack and Denny and the Hales, Dixie and Georgie. The younger brothers in both local families, Peter and Alfie came on the scene a little later.
On the national stage Waterford F.C. had come up just short of the League of Ireland title in the mid fifties being runners up on two occasions while the promise of good things to come with the All-Ireland Minor success on the same day as that of the seniors in 1948 had failed to materialise on the hurling front. Waterford people were hungry for sporting success.
Post 1948 Tipperary and Cork dominated the All-Ireland scene so it was like a breath of fresh air when Wexford came on the scene to challenge Cork, losing the 1954 final before going on win in ’55 and ’56. The feeling was then that if Wexford could do it so too could Waterford.
Martin Og Morrissey is shouldered off the Croke Park pitch.
MY FIRST MUNSTER CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
For me it all began in 1955 when, as a ten year old I went to what I recall as my first Munster championship game. I knew many of the players by name and sight through attending club games. There were high expectations facing Limerick in the Athletic Grounds in Cork as Waterford had won easily the previous year when the teams met in the first round in Thurles. On the same day the Waterford minors beat Limerick with a young Larry Guinan the star of the show.
Prior to the start of the senior game Waterford’s Mick Healy of Mount Sion, a neighbour on the Cork Road, collided with a concrete roller, parked behind the end line, in the puck about (warm up was not invented in those days) suffering a head injury and so giving Tom Cheasty his inter county debut. Waterford went down to a shock defeat by a flying young Limerick side trained by the legendary Mick Mackey. That same year Clare shocked both Cork and Tipperary to reach the Munster final. They were confidently expected to overcome Limerick in the final but they too fell to the side known as ‘Mackey’s Greyhounds’. Limerick went on to lose to Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The following year Waterford faced Cork in the opening round of the Munster Championship in Fermoy of all places. Cork retained a hard core of the ‘old guard’ who had figured in their 1954 victory including Christy Ring who was in quest of his ninth All-Ireland medal. Though Waterford lost on a score of 5-9 to 2-12 it was a game they might well have won and the seeds of what was to come in the following years were sown that day with ten future All-Ireland winners in the side. An abiding memory of that day is travelling home in a team car with my father and Frankie Walsh, who had suffered a terrible head injury as a result of a blow that bordered on the criminal, drifting in and out of consciousness on the way to the City Infirmary.
Austin Flynn has often spoken of the spirit and resolve that was spawned in the wake of that defeat as the players looked forward to the following year. There were signs of what was to come when Waterford clashed with All-Ireland champions Wexford in the National League at Walsh Park in October and played out a thrilling draw in front of a huge crowd with Frankie Walsh playing with his head protected by a ribbed rubber cycling helmet of the day under a cloth cap which was summarily discarded after a short time.
Into the new year then and the stage was set for a big game in Walsh Park against a Kilkenny side on the up. John Keane had arranged for a supply of planks from Graves to set up sideline seating for what was going to be a huge crowd. It all went wrong on the day however with thunderous rain prior to and during the match that reduced the size of the crowd hugely leaving all of the seating unused as Kilkenny made light of the conditions and stormed to a big victory.
Frankie Walsh leads his team in the parade around Croke Park.
BUILDING ALL THE TIME
With the league over it was time for the championship and for Waterford it was back to The Athletic Grounds to face Limerick. The Shannon siders had lost out to Cork in the Munster final the previous year when, having dominated the game and looking set for victory, the wily Christy Ring plundered late goals to give his side an unexpected victory. Now a more experienced side to that which had won Munster two years previously they were confidently expected to come through Munster at least. In the event Waterford were up for this game big time and came through on a score of 4-12 to 5-5 with midfielder Johnny O’Connor and debutant goalkeeper Dick Roche the stars for Waterford. Veteran Johnny Kiely was Waterford’s top scorer with 1-2 to his credit.
Cork had beaten Tipperary in the other semi-final but an injury to Christy Ring forced him out of the final against Waterford. In a closely contested game Waterford pulled away in the closing minutes with a late Mick Flannelly goal opening up a five point lead on a score of 1-11 to 1-6. Waterford were Munster champions for the first time since 1948 and with Kilkenny ending Wexford’s Leinster reign in convincing fashion a Suirside All-Ireland final was in the offing.
Before that could happen Waterford had to face Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Waterford team showed one change from the Munster final with Donal Whelan replacing his injured clubmate Johnny O’Connor. It was a bruising encounter which Waterford won comfortably on a score of 4-12 to 0-11 as Galway finished the game with fourteen players. Phiilly Grimes was Waterford’s top scorer on nine points with Tom Cheasty (2), John Kiely and Larry Guinan the goal scorers.
Tom Cheasty in the act of scoring a goal for Waterford.
The meeting of the Munster and Leinster neighbours was a novel All-Ireland Final pairing and in the city of Waterford excitement was a fever pitch in the run up to the game with so many Waterford and Kilkenny people working together in the local factories particularly in Clover Meats and the Paper Mills. The parish of Ferrybank was split down the middle and Slieverue players Paddy Buggy, Micky Walsh, Dick Rockett and Mullinavat’s John Sutton were as well known on the south side of the Suir as they were in Kilkenny.
Waterford settled into The Grand Hotel, Malahide on the eve of the game, a hugely impressive hostelry as it still is. Even there the atmosphere was alive with anticipation and expectation and staying in a nearby B and B in the North Dublin village was like staying in another country in those days.
Memories of the heavy league defeat by Kilkenny early in the year lingered in the minds of Waterford supporters but the conditions now were going to be much different and would suit this speedy Waterford side. Waterford showed one change from the side that beat Galway with Johnny O’Connor coming back to replace Cappoquin’s Mick Lacey. It was a great game of hurling in perfect conditions before 70,000 thrilled spectators. Waterford led at halftime by 1-6 to 1-5 thanks to a Grimes goal and led by six points with ten minutes remaining when Kilkenny rallied to level with goals from Mick Kenny of Callan and Billy O’Dwyer before Bennettsbridge’s Mick Kelly, the Kilkenny captain sent over the winning point. I will never forget the heartbreak of losing that game and I do recall laying much of the blame on the Limerick referee who I believed to be getting back at Waterford for eliminating his county in the opening round of the championship. Kilkenny had won their first All-Ireland since Jimmy Langton’s side beat Cork in 1947. Waterford’s quest for a second title and a first since 1948 would go on a little longer. The Waterford team received a great welcome home the following day with promises made that they would be back.
DIDN’T HAPPEN IN ’58
The return to Croke Park did not happen in ’58. Waterford were given a soft Munster semi-final draw against Kerry and after an unimpressive win in Killarney were totally outplayed by a fired up Tipperary side in the Munster final. That might have been the end of the road but this was a proud bunch of players who knew they had let themselves and the county down and spurred on by some inspirational rhetoric John Keane and his men resolved that they would indeed be back.
Tom Cheasty ready for action on All-Ireland Final Day in Croke Park.
Galway were welcomed into the Munster championship in 1959 and were summarily given short thrift in the opening round in Limerick with Waterford scoring a 7-11 to 0-8 victory. All eyes were now on the Munster semi-final against Tipperary in The Athletic Grounds, Cork, the predecessor of Pairc Ui Caoimh and probably one of the worst venues in the country at that time. With the memory of that devastating Munster final defeat the previous year still fresh few expected anything other than another win for Tipperary.
Had the Metrological Office of the day the benefit of our modern technology then Sunday July 12th 1959 would have been subjected to an Orange weather warning. It was a day I will never forget, Not being so advised it had been decided that I would travel to the game as a pillion passenger on my father’s fine NSU scooter piloted by uncle Larry himself an experienced purveyor of motorised two wheel transport of many years on a BSA Bantam. We splashed our way towards Cork through the gale force wind and driving rain, stopping for some respite in the gateway to a big house on the outskirts of Midleton, that I can identify to this day before resuming the journey.
It had been well flagged that one Corporal ‘Skinny’ Fanning of Morrisson’s Road, garrisoned in Cork, had secured the rights of the bar for the day in the boat club adjacent to the pitch and that a big stock of Large Bottles had been secured for the thirsty Waterford supporters. That was the first stop on arrival with the cousin duly keeping his promise in the significantly less than luxurious surroundings. With my driver suitably nourished we made our way to the ground for a further soaking.
Being supremely confident Tipperary, on winning the toss elected to face the gale force wind and it proved their undoing. Waterford struck early for goals, tearing through the much vaunted Hell’s Kitchen that was the Tipperary fullback line of Mickey ‘The Rattler’ Byrne, Michael Maher and Kieran Carey. Before 18,000 disbelieving fans Waterford stormed into a halftime lead of 8-2 to 0-0. Small wonder that Micheal O’Hehir, broadcasting the Leinster Final between Kilkenny and Dublin on the same day refused to accept the score from Cork and sought clarification. Tipperary won the second half on a score of 3-4 to 1-1 but Waterford had taken ample revenge for their 1958 Munster final defeat. The Waterford scorers were Larry Guinan and Charlie Ware 2-0 each, Frankie Walsh and Mick Flannelly 1-1 each, Seamus Power, John Kiely and Donal Whelan 1-0 each, Philly Grimes 0-1.
John Barron of De La Salle in action during the ’59 final.
On then to the Munster final against Cork who had enjoyed an equally impressive semi-final win over Clare and this time Christy Ring, having missed the ’57 final, would be lining out for Cork. Waterford fielded an unchanged team from the starting line ups against Galway and Tipperary that saw Ned Power in goal, Joe Harney, Mick Lacey, Jackie Condon and Charlie Ware in the side as the changes from the 1957 team. In a great game Waterford came away with a 3-9 to 2-9 victory before a crowd of 55,000 on a scorching hot day in Thurles.
The winning of the game was the switching of Philly Grimes to centre back in the second half to curb a rampant Paddy Barry of Cork. The Waterford scorers were Johnny Kiely 2-2, Frankie Walsh 0-5, Seamus Power 1-0, Tom Cheasty 0-2.
The atmosphere on Suir side was even more electric than in 1957 as the neighbours prepared to square up once more on All-Ireland day. Crowds thronged to the training session in The Sports Field as John Keane, Jim Ware and Co. prepared their men for the game of their lives. It would be unheard of today but the advert at the time that ‘Guinness is Good for You’ seemed to resonate with a number of the Waterford players who thought it would be a good idea if a small stout or two might be available as refreshment after a draining training session. One of the ladies supplying the tea and sandwiches after training was Maureen Quann, who with her husband Johnny, himself a well known referee and Gaultier footballer, ran a small hostelry in Gladstone street. Maureen and Johnny saw to it that needs were met and I do recall one particular player feeling discriminated against in that he was partial to a bottle of Harp. He then too had to be catered for.
The Waterford heroes are paraded through the packed streets of the city for their homecoming.
UNFAMILIAR ROLE OF FAVOURITES
Waterford were now cast in the unfamiliar role of favourites as 73,000 descended on the new look Croke Park for the first final in the shadow of the new Hogan Stand, opened for the first time. Waterford held the upper hand for most of the game and were clearly the better team, leading by 0-9 to 1-1 at the break. Leading by four points going into the last quarter the Deise looked set for victory when Kilkenny’s Tommy O’Connell, a youngster in his first year struck for his second and third goals and with the game going into the final minutes Kilkenny were three points up and looking set to repeat that 1957 victory.
I recall the tears welling up in my eyes at the prospect and unable to bear it I left my seat in the Hogan Stand and headed down the steps. Suddenly there was a huge roar so loud that I knew it could not have been from the Kilkenny supporters. I rushed to the top of the steps to see the Waterford flags waving Seamus Power, forever a man of fierce determination had fired a shot at the Kilkenny goal which was slightly deflected by fullback ‘The Link’ Walsh past the unbeatable Ollie Walsh. The day was saved and we had the first All-Ireland replay in twenty five years. I resolved there and then never to leave my seat again before the end of a big game.
The replay saw the crowd boosted to over 77,000 and on a never to begotten day Waterford made no mistake. Every Waterford player was a hero and, on a day when Joe Harney held drawn game star O’Connell scoreless and Tom Cheasty banged in two goals, Mick Flannelly, a surprise omission from the drawn game selection, marked his return to the scene of his minor triumph eleven years earlier with a great goal. The scenes after the game were imbedded in the mind of every Waterford person present as Frankie Walsh ascended the Hogan Stand to become the first captain to receive the Liam MacCarthy Cup on that platform.
The All-Ireland winning Waterford team on their trip to New York.
BACK IN THE PROMISED LAND
The celebrations in the Grand Hotel, Malahide that night went on an on. The scenes on the return to Waterford that evening were simply amazing. Coming through the towns and villages of Kilkenny on the way back from Dublin the Waterford players were applauded by groups of vanquished supporters and the entire city and county had turned out to cheer the team on the Snowcream lorry all the way from the bridge to the town hall. It was an amazing sight as the city had been bedecked for the inaugural Festival of Light Opera and the visiting participants from all over Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland joined in the celebrations.
That Waterford team was unfortunate not to win another All-Ireland, losing out to Kilkenny in 1963 despite scoring six goals in the final, unprecedented for a losing team in an All-Ireland final. Winning Oireachtas and National League medals those players ended with the full packet. Players like Tom Cheasty, Martin Og Morrissey, Frankie Walsh and Larry Guinan ended their intercounty careers in 1970 but went on to win club championships with their clubs in the seventies.
In the years that have followed we have had but two All-Ireland appearances, both this century. Lady Luck has not smiled on the Deise. Many of the heroes of those great occasions have passed on and some are still with us, still hoping to see that third title coming. Those of us who were present with vivid memories still live in hope, wishing that our grandchildren will experience what we did on those great days in September and October 1959.
Perhaps next year, who knows?