September 02, 1994
Galway's Smooth - Sean Silke.
One of the greatest centre half backs of all time
On Sunday afternoon Offaly and Limerick will lock horns in the 1994 All-Ireland Senior Hurling final. No place in the decider this year for Galway, the Tribesmen surprisingly dumped out at the semi final stage by a much hungrier looking Offaly outfit. After their promising performances over the previous twelve months or so, Galway had gone into this year's Championship with the omens looking decidedly good - but for some inexplicable reason they failed to deliver the goods on the big day (both in the League final and the Championship semi). Despite these set-backs former county star Sean Silke remains wholly optimistic about the Tribesmen's future. "The quality of hurling being played in Galway at the moment is very good. It's a vibrant county compared to a number of years back and we have been doing extremely well in underage competitions. The 80s were very good for Galway, the 90's are continuing in the same vein. It's a good time to be from Galway".
During the late seventies and early eighties Sean Silke carved a special place for himself in the history books with power-packed performances in the maroon jersey, wooing the Galway faithful with solid reliable displays from the centre half back berth. Sean arrived on the intercounty scene for the 1971/'72 League campaign and departed it in 1984, having tasted All-Ireland glory in 1980 when the Tribesmen truly arrived. Although his intercounty days are now long behind him, the Meelick Eyrecourt clubman still represents his local club at Junior level and this year was manager of the Galway Junior side which was beaten by Cork after a replay in the All-Ireland semi final. Hurling is very much in the Silke blood, there to stay by all accounts.
With Eyrecourt Sean won county Junior and Intermediate medals, losing out narrowly on a Senior Championship souvenir when the club were beaten in the 1980 county decider. Disappointment was minimal - that year furnished the sturdy centre half with the greatest honour of them all - a Senior All-Ireland medal. '80 wasn't really the year, but the real groundwork had been done in the previous decade, the real breakthrough coming in 1975 when Galway defeated Cork by 4-15 to 2-19 to qualify for the All-Ireland final. "1975 was the big year for Galway - the year in which it was generally acknowledged that Galway had arrived.
We had won the League earlier that year and when we beat Cork in the semi final people began to sit back and take notice", Sean reflects. Galway had to suffer the humiliation of losing another All-Ireland final - this time against Kilkenny in 1979 before finally taking the holy grail in 1980. Limerick were beaten in the '80 decider, Joe Connolly's passionate speech became a part of G.A.A. folklore. The important role played by Sean Silke in Galway's outstanding half back line was duly rewarded with a slot at the centre half on the All-Star team that year, a similar honours having also been afforded the Eyrecourt man in 1975. County team mate Iggy Clarke lined out alongside Silke in the half back line on both All-Star selections. Sean also picked up Railway Cup medals with Connacht in 1980 and '82, as well as a couple of Oireachtas honours.
Centre half back was undoubtedly the position from which Sean Silke achieved most, but during his long career, he played just about everywhere, starting off at corner forward and moving to wing forward and then centre forward before finally finding his most suitable position. Was 1980 the highlight of his career? "Obviously winning an All-Ireland would be a highlight for any player. But there were a lot of great moments along the way too - winning the National League and playing in an All-Ireland final in '75 were big moments as well".
Sean Silke was always an all-round sports enthusiast and participated in numerous other sports as well as hurling most notable rugby, football and athletics. He was at college with former Irish rugby captain Ciaran Fitzgerald and regularly played on the same team. Looking back on his career, he admits that there were disappointments to go along with the good times. "When you consider that I played in four All-Irelands and only won one, you couldn't be too happy with that. But then again if somebody had said to me in 1970 that I was going to win an All-Ireland with Galway I would have laughed at them. In '79 we lost to what I thought was a very mature Kilkenny team and a young Offaly side beat us in '81 - those results were really disappointing".
Galway's former All-Star centre half is a little concerned about the path which hurling seems to be taking. "The game had changed. A lot of the traditional factors seem to be disappearing. There was a trend in the eighties towards the fitness factor and stamina training, and the skills of the game were neglected to a certain extent. The nature of the game has changed but this year's two successful counties, Offaly and Limerick, have exploited the good things about the game and proved that the more direct style is the most effective. People are going to have to have a rethink about the future of hurling because at the end of the day skill will win out", notes Sean who still lines out with his club at Junior level and has also appeared for the Galway Masters this year, although his appearances for them were restricted because of his involvement as trainer of the county Junior side. "Working with the Juniors was a great experience. Being involved as a trainer or selector helps you understand a lot of aspects of the game which you mightn't appreciate as a player".
Happily married with two children, Sean Silke is employed as a Human Resources Manager by C.R. Bard, an American health care company which employs 540 people. He feels that, with the proper organisation, Galway can very soon claim their first All-Ireland Junior title since 1939. Obviously, the former star was disappointed with Galway's tame performance in this year's Senior Championship. "Quite a lot was expected this year and, given the nature of their recent success, it was difficult to accept that they could be so heartless at times. They dispensed with the basics against Offaly and didn't play direct enough. They made things very cumbersome for themselves and didn't do themselves justice. Galway hurling is in a transition stage now, with a lot of young players coming in an some of the older lads nearing the end of their great careers. Offaly played a very fast brand of hurling in the semi final and hit the ball quickly, which is how it should be done".
It's not all doom and gloom in Galway, however. Far from it, in fact. "There has to be a bright future for Galway hurling", offers Sean Silke. "There is a great pool of talent here and good young players keep coming through. It will happen again for Galway - it's just a matter of time. But we'll have to review our style of play". On the undercard of this weekend's All-Ireland Senior hurling final clash of Offaly and Limerick is the Minor decider which pitches together Cork and Galway. Having seen them in action, Sean is confident that the young Tribesmen can furnish the county with its third Minor Championship. "It's a very talented squad", he observes. They have been nursed along very well by John Connolly and I expect them to win. John is very much from the traditional school of thinking and is into the direct style of play. They looked very impressive against Kilkenny in the semi final and hopefully they'll continue in the same manner against Cork on Sunday." Seems that Galway Minors have the blessing of one the county's finest ever hurlers. A man who continues to give great service to the national code.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
2nd Sept 1994
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