June 04, 1993
Causeway hurlers and supporters line up for the pre match photo. DJ Leahy is seen here in the front row, fourth from left. Brother Maurice is on the extrene right of the picture with his son David.
Leahy Brothers have laboured long and hard for the Kerry hurling cause
And their reward? That tremendous win over Waterford. But neither DJ or Maurice are content. They want to beat Tipp on Sunday.
It is reckoned that all the best hurlers learned their skills banging a sliothar against the gable wall of their home. Factual accounts of the innate learning technique of such as Tipperary's Nicholas English is common coinage down south. Ring did the same, just like Best on the streets of Belfast and Pele on the beach at Maracana. Doing what comes naturally, psychologists moot. The Leahy family from Causeway in Kerry followed suit and likewise profited. On Sunday, May 23rd last, Maurice the elder and brother DJ joined with their Kerry colleagues in celebrating a veritable windfall!
County selector Maurice and top marksman DJ have hit balls up against gable ends all their life in pursuit of last Sunday week's triumph over Waterford. The zenith of both their careers for years, they believed that the thrill of Causeway's county championship win in 1979 could not be surpassed, as 41 year old Maurice explains. "Causeway hadn't won the county title since 1932 up until 1979. Winning the championship for the first time in forty seven years was a tremendous time for us all but the victory over Waterford surpassed even that occasion."
Bulwarks of the Kerry hurling system which gelled like never before to make history in Walsh Park, the Leahy's from the Causeway club epitomise everything about the struggle of David. Over the mountains and fields, over the homeland, straddled the Munster hurling Goliaths of Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and Waterford. For years and years there seemed no way out of the corner. Kerry hurling (David) fought off imprisonment and near suffocation to survive. Release, when it arrived in this year's Munster Championship dual, brought the tears cascading down on the Kerry dressing room with a spontaneity that surely rivalled Goliath's collapse at the feet of his unfancied opponent. The thunderous noise of Waterford's crash must surely too have echoed to the lingering sound of Goliath's tumble.
Even events mirroring the repercussions of the most believable miracles can get exaggerated with time, but as far as the long term team selector is concerned, it's consolidation time for the Kerry hurling fraternity. "It's very important that the players keep their feet on the ground, not only up until the Tipperary match but for the long term too. Our aim now will be to consolidate our progress, regardless of what happens for the rest of the championship and to prepare ourselves for the forthcoming National League matches against the likes of Kilkenny, Laois and Offaly. The panel is a young one and it is vital that we do not drop back into the doldrums," suggested Maurice, the one time long serving county hurler.
It's appropriate that both Maurice and DJ Leahy have lasted the pace long enough to savour, from the inside, Kerry hurling's greatest ever day, for the two Causeway stalwarts have been the essence of loyalty to the small ball game in the Kingdom for close on twenty seasons. Eddie Murphy, current hurling selector, says "DJ and Maurice Leahy have given sterling service to Kerry hurling over the years and odds on they were two of the best hurlers ever to wear the county jersey." Both can identify quite readily with everything that is conjured up by that most depressing of words, doldrums. As a selector 'cum coach in 1981, Maurice remembers vividly that sinking feeling as the green and gold slumped to a double figures defeat to the green and whites in Kilmallock. Being beaten by lesser sides at the death in All-Ireland B finals hurt like a sliothar would on striking a cold hamstring muscle on a wet day. The early eighties and later were times to grit one's teeth, a time for perseverance and for rolling up ones best whites. In all respects, Kerry's hurling fraternity have not wanted for a dedicated hard core over the years. The Leahy brothers have proven themselves to be real gems among the self same core.
Both their father Monty and uncle Timmy hurled the fields of Munster with Kerry seniors before sons Maurice and DJ, Monty and John, plus daughter Marion (Barrett) ever managed to volley a sliothar off the proverbial gable wall. The homeplace was, as such, steeped in hurling parlance. An oasis of hurling, in fact, in a football county surrounded in turn by lush footballing countryside, Causeway produced the Leahy's and for long periods in the barren days, supplied almost half the Kerry senior team (Ballyduff supplied the rest invariably). Still, as DJ soon became aware on graduating from All-Ireland B county minor winning ranks, "it was as hard to get off the senior county teams as it was to get on it in the bad old days."
Graduates of Causeway Comprehensive School and players who blossomed from the wise words and expert tutelage as offered by the late Andy Molyneaux and Causeway's own Gerald White, Maurice and DJ were able to take advantage of the best possible hurling springboards in Kerry. Causeway stalwarts like Andrew Diggins and Francis Cantillon saw to that. So successful was the background work at Causeway in fact, that in 1978 for instance, the club scooped twelve of the thirteen county championship competitions available to be won that year, the exception being the senior championship defeat to Ballyduff.
For his part, Maurice, seven years older than DJ, is pretty well certain as to the identity of the people behind Kerry's surge to hurling's upper echelons. The development of the game in the county to a point now where some eleven clubs form a concrete hurling bridge in the Kingdom can be attributed in the main to men like Sean Kelly, current Chairman of the Kerry County Board, and John Meyler, Kerry's team manager. "Certainly a lot of the credit must go to Sean Kelly who, in his time in the early eighties, was vice Chairman of the Board with responsibility for the promotion of hurling in the county. He always believed in the value of hurling and I was delighted for him that we beat Waterford. Then there's John (Meyler), of course, whose arrival last September has spurred the recent revival. He simply doesn't want to know about losing and he's got the players thinking that way too. The players may not have been used to having the winning habit but John has changed all that," observed the double All-Ireland B winning defender in 1983 and '86.
Indeed, brother DJ (34), the 'erstwhile centre half back 'cum striker, is equally mindful of the part played by others in the shaping, moulding and fashioning of the 'sweetest of all victories'. A debutant, simultaneously with Maurice, with Kerry seniors back in 1977 Munster Championship (ironically against Waterford), DJ's rollercoaster ride with Causeway in 1979, '80, '81, '82 and '87 and B championship medal successes represents a mirror image of Maurice's collection of awards and fairly measures up in terms of their comparative commitment to the game of hurling.
As players of the same era, both men were pillars in respective defensive formations which weren't always granite like. DJ has been labelled as the most complete hurler Kerry has produced in modern times. A lovely striker of the ball, citeog and with the on-field persona of a Ger Henderson, his spectacular relocating by manager Meyler to the full forward line over the last year has acted as a real catalyst in his county's coming of age. A former Railway Cup player who has rekindled his appetite and sharpness of old, DJ has shouldered the onerous responsibility of being Kerry's freetaker with a selflessness which speaks volumes for his character. For him, success against Tipperary in the next round of the championship stops short of nothing less than revenge for Kerry's National Hurling League quarter final defeat at the hands of Babs Keating's men. "A win is what we're going for against Tipperary. The team are long enough running things close. There's nothing thought of losers and after about 100 training sessions and fifteen challenge matches we're determined to do ourselves justice," insisted an obviously hugely determined DJ, still relieved that he answered manager Meyler's call for him to hang in there for '93.
Kerry's full time coaching hurling officer for the last four years, Maurice concurs with the word that the County Board have been working hard to improve the foundations of the game in the Kingdom. His dream is to see the county minor and under 21 teams doing the business on the provincial front. "Unfortunately, our minors and under 21s have been struggling and I've no doubt that the County Board will have to look at the situation and set about picking panels at Christmas to try and improve our record at these grades," explained the man who conveys the same forcefulness and conviction as a team selector as he did as a long time resilient full back for Kerry.
Members of the Causeway side beaten narrowly by All-Ireland winners elect Patrickswell in the 1981 Munster Club Championship semi-final, Maurice and DJ represent a slice of Kerry hurling's unwavering die hards. A Kerry senior from 1977 till '89 and married to the former Carmel O'Regan from Courtmasherry in Cork (the couple have four kids), Maurice will strike every ball against Tipperary and offer himself up as the team's sixteenth man in spirit at least. For his part DJ will hope to maintain his appetite for the goals that has been part of his apparel for the duration of his relocation from defence. Both Kerrymen insist that there's a lot more in the tank than was immediately evident from the shock Waterford result. Getting mileage from the mother of all triumphs on May 23rd last is what now fuels the Leahy hurling passion. Win, lose or draw against Tipperary, there'll be no cessation of their love affair with the game they have embraced for so many years!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
4th June 1993
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