August 19, 2005
The Late John Killeen
With the focus on the All-Ireland semi-final clash between Galway and Kilkenny some of the county's older fans will take a minute to remember a star of the county hurling scene from the 40's and 50s who passed way last month.
John Killeen who represented his county from 1944 to 1954, passed away in his adopted county of Laois early last month. He was the second of the great 1953 team to have gone to the great hurling game in the sky as team-mate Billy lost his battle with cancer in July.
Despite having moved to Laois in 1950, Killeen never forgot his roots, the Tynagh man calling his Portlaoise home Tynagh House.
He formed a formidable partnership with Paddy Grantly in midfield for Galway in the 1947 All Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, but it was not just at midfield he excelled as he was also noted for his play in the half forward line.
If truth be told, the man could have played in any position, though his attacking instincts were clear for all to see- he scored two goals in a man of the match display in the thrilling 1953 All Ireland semi-final win over Kilkenny from a half forward position, scores that propelled Galway into that year's decider where they were denied by a Christy Ring inspired Cork.
Killeen was just three years old when Galway won the All-Ireland hurling title in 1923, and he was to become one of a number of great Galway hurlers who missed out on a Celtic Cross as that success was to be Galway's last success until the unforgettable win over Limerick in 1980.
His cupboard wasn't bare however, as he won the Railway Cup with Connacht in 1947, beating a Munster side in the final that boasted a host of top names in hurling including Cork's Christy Ring and Jack Lynch, Tommy Doyle of Tipperary, Peter Cregan and Jackie Power of Limerick and Mick Hayes and Vin Baston of Waterford, to name but a few.
He also collected a National League medal with Galway in 1951, as well as two Laois Senior Club County titles- when he moved to the Midlands county he played his club hurling with Clonad and took County honours with them in both 1953 and 1954.
When Gantly 'retired' from hurling, Killeen was joined in the middle of the park by the brilliant Joe Sammon, and in a funny twist of fate that life can throw up, when Killeen moved to a half forward role, Sammon formed an equally formidable midfield partnership with none other then the late Billy Duffy.
In his early years with Tynagh he received coaching from Ignatius Harney, a hero of his and a member of that 1923 All Ireland winning team. One of his most memorable moments at club level came in a match against the army in a County semi-final when he was marked by Waterford's Vin Baston, and the two gave an exhibition of hurling in a memorable duel.
He also cherished the semi final win over Kilkenny in 1953, but there were also low points- in recalling his career he always mentions the All Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny in 1947 when three late points gave the Cats a one point win against a Galway side Killeen reckoned was the best he had ever played on.
There was also the loss to Laois in the 1949 All Ireland semi-final, which he described as the low point of his career, but winning the National League crown four years later against Wexford was one of the high points, especially as it came near the end of his career.
Hurling was in the Killeens blood - John's brothers Joe, Matt and Michael all played for Galway, while his son John Jnr a member of the Laois panel in the early 1980s.
He summed up what the GAA was all about when according to Brendan Fullam's book Giants of the Ash, he told the author: "After a game, having played the ball, its great to be able to meet your opponent face to face and shake hands".
Courtesy of the Connacht Tribune
19th August 2005
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