September 04, 1992
Kilkenny's Liam Simpson
Liam Simpson of Bennettsbridge
A proud tradition to uphold
Finishing on a losing side in an All-Ireland senior final is often described as the worst experience possible in the world of gaelic games. If that's the case, how much worse can it be when the man you're marking ends up the unanimous choice of Man of the Match afterwards?
Liam Simpson might be able to provide the answer. Twelve months ago he suffered the mortification of finishing with a loser's medal - and seeing Pat Fox, his immediate opponent for most of the 70 minutes, drive over the four points which eventually separated Tipperary and Kilkenny, writes Enda McEvoy.
For a man who'd up to then enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying debut season in the Black and Amber colours, it was a downbeat way to round off an exciting summer. It could hardly have done wonders for his confidence either.
One of the great things about hurling though, is that, unlike say, the colt who gets short headed in the Derby, players usually receive a second chance. Liam Simpson gets his on Sunday.
He doesn't have to perform miracles. A reasonably tight outing on Ger Fitzgerald, a little help from his friends further afield - both easier said than done of course, and Liam Simpson just might be an All-Ireland senior hurling medalist.
And nobody would remember last year's defeat by Tipp at all. Or, if they did, wouldn't be bothered too much any more.
Certainly not if they were from Bennettsbridge. Because Bennettsbridge has a famous hurling tradition, and success for Liam Simpson here would add another chapter to a tale of glory.
Some villages have houses with front gardens. Others have houses with satellite dishes. Bennettsbridge has houses with All-Ireland medals - loads of 'em.
Noel Skehan, a resident of the Woodlawn Estate, is the proud possessor of nine celtic crosses. Next door is Paddy Moran, winner of four. Down the way Seamus Cleere and Pat Lawlor have three apiece, John Kinsella two and Liam Cleere one. One estate - 22 All-Ireland senior hurling medals. Not bad going! There's more. Other Bennettsbridge men, among them Jim Treacy and Johnny McGovern, have tasted triumph on the first Sunday of September with Kilkenny. The parish has given the county no less than five McCarthy Cup-accepting captains, and boasts twelve county titles dating back to 1890.
Born and bred in Bennettsbridge, Liam Simpson has a proud tradition to follow. In his two years on the Kilkenny senior side, he's added two Leinster medals to the club's haul. But it'll take an All-Ireland souvenir, the game's ultimate award, to put him up there alongside Skehan and co. If and when the happy event does occur, either this year or at some other time in the future, it'll prove how even the most apparently unlikely candidates can achieve greatness. For all that he's a nephew of legendary stylist Seamus Cleere and rooted in Bennettsbridge's hurling tradition, in another way Liam Simpson is definitely not your typical player.
Unlike colleagues such as DJ Carey and Adrian Ronan, Liam was no underage starlet. He didn't make the county panel at minor and under 21 level, and most of his leisure time was taken up playing soccer. As a centre half of sweeper with his local club East End, he won every honour possible in the Kilkenny and District League.
Up to a couple of years ago, he'd rarely even attend hurling matches he wasn't participating in. Which is when everything began to change ... Kilkenny won the All-Ireland junior championship in 1990, handing out a proper hammering to reigning kingpins Tipperary in the final. Left corner back that scorching August evening in Portlaoise, Liam Simpson was one of the stars of the campaign. When manager Ollie Walsh was appointed to repeat the job with the county seniors a month or two later, the 'Bridge man similarly made the step up.
He slotted into the number four position for the beginning of the League soon afterwards, going on to make the jersey his own in time for the summer of 1991. And did so in style, gaining in confidence with every game. It didn't come easily, the tyre fitted admitted. "The training at intercounty senior level was so much harder, the pace faster than anything I'd experienced before. For a while it was difficult to adjust to. But the fact of being there throughout the League that year was a huge help. I was a far better hurler because of it - I could rise the sliotar and get it away quicker. Use it better. Find a colleague more easily."
The Simpson express came off the rails on the big day twelve months ago. Any player would have taken time to rediscover his form in the light of such an event, perhaps understandably, Liam didn't enjoy a marvellous time of it in the 1991/92 National Hurling League. Then again, neither did most of his colleagues. A brother in law of team mate Billy Hennessy (Liam's married to Bill's sister Majella), he was back in the frame for June's Leinster semi final clash with Offaly. Sound performances followed versus Wexford and Galway. At just turned 26, this is his second bite at the biggest cherry of them all. "While he probably never expected to make it with the Kilkenny seniors, he was always a good athlete underage," recalls Noel Skehan. "I remember seeing him play under 12 in Nowlan Park, and he struck one as a hardy competitor. Last year he was the most improved player on the Kilkenny team. His biggest asset is his concentration. He rarely seems to be lost or unsure of what to do. He's fast, even though some people think he isn't. And he's intelligent, he uses his head."
Ger Fitzgerald, Cork's right corner forward all season, is (probably predictably) quite happy to be complimentary. "LIam Simpson? Very good player. But then all the Kilkenny backs are good." Gentle and quietly spoken, the Bennettsbridge man is one of the most pleasant individuals you could meet anywhere. Expect the celebrations at his sports mad workplace - TC Tyres, Patrick Street, Kilkenny - to be only mighty if he manages to turn up for work next week with an All-Ireland medal!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
4th September 1992
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