July 09, 1993
Lionhearted Pat Henderson
One of the most influential "Cats" Ever and head of a great G.A.A. Family
Heavy duty talk about Kilkenny's supposed match winning hurling or their invincible super power status and God-given right to a position on the winner's rostrum every year can stop here and now. It's Wexford that's meeting the Cats in Sunday's Leinster final after all!
And just don't take the word or directive at face value from any common or garden hurling commentator, ask one of the most influential Cats ever to have got his claws on the Liam McCarthy Cup as both player and team guru. Henderson, Pat, he of Johnstown lineage won't be putting the deeds of his house on the defending champions to win at Croker this weekend. No, but he still expects his home county to advance if.?
People in pubs, pulpits and places of sporting heroics of all hues have been trading in hypothesis in the run-up to Kilkenny-Wexford clashes since the foundation of the G.A.A. itself. Uniformed observers have tended to hedge their bets by bringing to life the hurler on the ditch analogy. Others have seen their heads roll off the chopping block in tandem with their impetuosity in forecasting an outright winner. Reasoned, rational and almost always right on the pulse of hurling's Leinster merry-go round, Pat Henderson reckons that much will depend on which and how many of this year's Top Cats are ruled out through injury for this weekend's tete-a-tete.
"Traditionally it's been Kilkenny's strength and depth which have got them through but the team has been hit by injuries which will not help their cause. Liam Walsh will be a big loss and a lot will depend on whether or not Michael Phelan is alright to play and if Liam Simpson is okay. Kilkenny will start as slight favourites which will not suit them, but it the team as a unit don't perform to their maximum ability or their injuries take their toll a surprise could be on cards", offered the current Dicksboro team manager and former great.
In truth, it seems like everything has changed (over the years since Pat Henderson hung up his hurley) and nothing has changed. For all of his fourteen years at Senior level Pat Henderson concerned himself with teasing out gently the psychology of Kilkenny-Wexford headlining battles before going out inevitably to win the war on the pitch. This week as the Leinster showdown looms, the Managing Director of Harvey Printers has Wexford on his mind and Kilkenny very much at the centre of his heart.
Pat Henderson was a man made famous in the sixties and seventies and a defender of few equals and added to his sporting C.V. years later by steering his beloved county to five national titles as team manager. The 50 year old articulate, likeable and thoroughly knowledgeable hurling aficionado is in fact a journalist's dream. Generous too. "Cyrill Farrell did tremendous job with the team last year but expectations this year rebounded on the team in the League but I think they're good enough to be at their best for Sunday".
In an era which saw Kilkenny and Wexford meet fourteen time in fifteen years between 1965-'79 Pat Henderson got to know, from the inside track, just how much one puck of the ball can make in deciding clashes between the two hugely resourceful counties. Leinster hurling is, if anything, he says of a higher standard all round thanks to Offaly's emergence at the close of the seventies. The trills and spills of Pat's time in the Yellow and Black stripes haven't soured any . "Offaly's emergence was good for the game and I wouldn't have said that there was a levelling out of standards. Instead Offaly came on an enormous lot and their vast improvement helped make Leinster as strong and competitive as Munster".
The double All-Star whose stone wall centre back hurling days were the stuff from which pub talk late at night is manufactured, the Dicksboro resident reckons that a good hurling final is on the cards this Sunday. He would though, wouldn't he. Having helped himself to a bagful of wins over the Yellow Bellies Pat's always been favourably disposed towards relating past clashes with happy memories. While with Kilkenny Seniors the defensive lynchpin earned five All-Ireland Senior Championship medals in 1967, '69, '72, '74, and '75. In all he played in ten national Championship finals. Wexford obliged in seeing him through to all of them bar one (Offaly in 1969).
Three years after making his county Senior debut, Kilkenny beat Wexford by 4-10 to 1-12 in the Leinster final. Saddled beside his 1961 All-Ireland Minor medal, the provincial souvenir paved the way for an even more sparkling honour, the ultimate honour in fact. Patience was the name of the game for Henderson and colleagues before the pot of gold was unearthed though. "We were hammered by Tipperary in the '64 All-Ireland final and lost in the final of the Leinster Championship in 1965 and to Cork in the All-Ireland final of 1966 so by the time we went the whole way in '67, we were due some success", explained Pat whose sons Ger (23), Tom (20) and Patrick (18) have all inherited their father's love for hurling and Kilkenny.
Kilkenny did indeed win that most glittering of prized possessions in 67 but the writing was on the wall for all other title pretenders a year earlier when the Cats purred their way to the National League crown. The writing was on the wall too for Pat Henderson on a personal basis too. By the time he began to show his true colours with Thurles CBS and Johnstown Fenians underage troupe, Henderson, eldest of a great hurling clan (brothers Ger and John would become equally highly regarded) was obviously destined for greatness.
Pat Henderson's beloved Johnstown were destined for great things too. The club had signalled their intentions to ruffle the feathers of resident county twin kingpins James Stephens and Bennettsbridge by claiming the 1968 Kilkenny Junior Championship. Two years later, Pat Delaney and Pat Henderson spearheaded the charge of the club's younger brigade of such as Bill Fitzpatrick and Nicky Orr. The small village side (Johnstown is situated on the Tipp border, on the main Dublin-Cork road) mirrored the rise and rise of the county Senior side and hauled in the blue ribbon of county titles in '70. Later in '72, '73 and '74 the crown would be theirs in a unique hat-trick of trumphs. In Pat Henderson's sojourn with the Fenians, a fifth county Senior Championship title would be captured in 1977. By that stage he would have caressed the Liam McCarthy Cup on a similar number of occasions. Even after his best playing days were over him, his love affair with the temptress McCarthy would continue at least another eleven seasons.
With ten years between Pat and the next eldest Henderson clan member, Ger, it was always odds on that the teak tough would be county boss would be the family standard-bearer for longest of all. Pat Henderson was, by virtue of his county debut appearance in the National Hurling League of '64, the first Johnstown club member to make the Cats elite team in some fifty years. It was a unique honour and joined on the team in later years by brothers Ger, and John was a source of great pride to the passionate hurling powerhouse.
What Pat Henderson achieved as a player, he attempted to repeat as one of Kilkenny's Management duo in 1979. The liaison with Eddie Keher at first proved to be the county's dream ticket. Newcomers Galway led by big John Connolly were well outscored on All-Ireland final day. The following year though Kilkenny collapsed, going out in the League early on and losing to Offaly in the provincial decider. Head's might not have rolled but they did. Two years later though the Johnstown true blue was back at the helm in his own county and with ready made All-Ireland winning material close at hand too. "I had in between times been still active with my club but to be honest I hadn't got the county hurling set up out of my system. I had couple of brothers involved with the team and so there was a natural draw there to go back. I felt though that the players rather than me had a point to prove", acknowledged the five time Railway Cup medallist and Caltex Hurler of the Year winner of 1974.
Back Henderson went and weren't the county hurlers and supporters to be glad of it too. Kilkenny's best young talent of the Ger Hendersons', the Joe Hennessy's and the Liam Fennelly's of this world gelled superbly with the remnants of the old brigade symbolised by Frank Cummins, to dominate the early eighties at provincial and national level. Back to back All-Irelands were won in 1982 and '83 (Cork were beaten on the double), as were National League titles in the same years. Another League triumph came on stream in 1986 also. Henderson, the magical stickman, had proved himself the manager with the Midas touch.
Will everything Kilkenny orchestrate on Sunday next turn to Gold? The team's former boss who achieved as much as he could rightly have expected (without being thought greedy) says that the Cats own complacency could be their greatest danger. "In all the clashes between Kilkenny and Wexford over the years, the team that confidently expected to win invariably got the greater shock. In the past Wexford tended to employ a fairly predictable style of play but now they have added a new dimension to their play, which wasn't there in the past. It's bound to be a good final and only a fool would definitely commit himself to tipping with confidence either side.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
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