March 05, 1995
A vital part of the great Tipp Team of the late 50s, early 60s
Hurling's Big Three - Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Despite the more recent emergence onto the big stage of traditionally weaker powers such as Offaly and Galway, these three counties have almost dominated hurling proceedings since the word go. Between them the Rebels, the Cats and the Premier County have amassed a grand total of 76 All-Ireland Senior titles - leaving only a measly 31 titles between the other ten counties who have featured on the Roll of Honour. Tipperary haven't exactly been firing on all cylinders in recent times - but they are still one of the undisputed heavyweights. 24 All-Ireland Seniors, fifteen Minors, seven Under 21s, nine Juniors - the statistics speak for themselves! The Tipperary colours have been donned by some magnificent hurlers over the years, a list of whom would probably fill up this entire magazine! And leave us without enough space to talk about one of the Premier County's most skilful past players, Liam Devaney of Borrisoleigh.
Former Tipperary attacker Liam Devaney was an almost permanent fixture on his county's Senior team between 1954 and 1968, during which time he forged a reputation for himself as one of the most naturally gifted hurlers in Munster. At a time when players of the calibre of the Rackard brothers, John and Jimmy Doyle, Babs Keating, Eddie Keher, Dan Quigley and Christy Ring populated the hurling scene, Devaney measured up admirably to the best of them, holding his own on the field of play during what was a truly magical period in hurling history. Images of Liam Devaney's wizardry with the ash and sliothar will live long in the memories of the Tipperary faithful, his contribution in helping the Premier County to eight Munster titles within the space of eleven years have become a part of G.A.A. folklore.
Between 1952 and 1974 Devaney represented the Borrisoleigh club at adult level, the highlight arriving early in his club career when he picked up Tipperary Senior county Championship medal in 1953. From there on in times were rather lean with Borrisoleigh. "We were beaten in the 1955 county final, but always managed to retain our Senior status", Liam recalls. At intercounty level, things were to be so different as the stylish Borrisoleigh prodigy went on to collect just about every honour possible - at least once! For two years Liam Devaney was a county Minor twice he won All-Ireland Minor medals! Comfortably too, by all accounts. In 1952 the Premier County Under 18s, with Liam Devaney occupying the right half forward berth, were in particularly rampant mood. Clare were hammered by 10-7 to 1-2 in the Munster final and then in the curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland Senior final clash of Cork and Dublin, Tipp's Minors scored an emphatic 9-9 to 2-3 victory over the Metropolitans. The following year it was the Dubs again when were beaten in the All-Ireland Minor final, this time on a scoreline of 8-6 to 3-6.
Less than two years later Devaney had broken into the Senior county team and he was to remain there for fourteen seasons, during which time he help himself to five All-Ireland Senior medals (1958, '61, '62, '64 and '65), Nine National League souvenirs ('54, '55, '57, '59, '60, '61, '64, '65 and '68), six Oireachtas tournaments (1960, '61, '63, '64, '65 and '68) and three Railway Cup medals in 1961, 1963 and 1966. A massive medal haul by anybody's standards! "I still have some of them anyway", he jokes.
In all, Liam Devaney appeared in a total of eight All-Ireland Senior hurling finals. In 1958 he was full forward as Galway were beaten in the final, in 1960 he was on the forty and Tipp went under against Wexford. The Borrisoleigh man then went on to win four All-Irelands in five years, starting at centre half forward in 1961, at midfield in 1962 as a sub in '64 and on the left of attack in '65 as All-Ireland final day victories were secured over Dublin, Wexford, Kilkenny and Wexford respectively. Devaney was left half forward in 1967 when Tipp lost to Kilkenny and was top of the right the following year as the Model County scored a two point victory over the Premier County.
During the course of his lengthy intercounty career, the north Tipp man enjoyed many great moments, the highlight arguably arriving in 1961 when the Borrisoleigh clubman was honoured with a Texaco Hurler of the Year award. That year Devaney received his second All-Ireland Senior medal courtesy of a 16 points to 1-12 victory against Dublin, and it was without doubt the versatility of his performance in the decider which rubber- stamped him as Texaco All-Ireland material. He reflects on that memorable match. "I started out at centre half forward on the late Christy Hayes and was then moved back to centre back for the second half. I mustn't have done too badly when they decided to give me the Texaco award".
Considering that he spent most of his days in the forward line, Devaney's performance in the 1961 All-Ireland final was a wholly admirable one. But what was his preferred position? "I actually played in goal, in the full back line, in the half back line, at centrefield and in the forward lines. I played every position bar full back and, to be honest, never minded where I was playing. If changes were to be made, I was always the one who was switched". Who were the best players Liam Devaney played alongside and against? "There were a lot of great individuals on that Tipperary team of the sixties - names like Doyle, Keating and Wall. It's very difficult to name out individuals though because that was a very strong team all round. As for difficult opponents, I could never manage Wexford's Billy Rackard and I also found Tom Neville to be a handful. Seamus Cleere and Pat Henderson of Kilkenny were also two very difficult men to play on. "Was Christy Ring the greatest player of all time? "There have been a lot of great players, but you would have to say that Ring was probably the best, although Jimmy Doyle or Paddy Kenny weren't too far behind him", Liam admits.
Standing a full five inches below the six foot mark and weighing in at about ten stone, Liam Devaney's game plan relied almost totally on skill. He always kept in shape and even nearing the end of his playing days, never passed the twelve stone mark. Skill was a natural gift, something which he never really had to work on, inherited perhaps from his father Jim who had represented Tipperary at intercounty level in 1937. Nevertheless Devaney's commitment to the code was such the he practiced by himself, with Borrisoleigh, and with the county team three nights a week! He would jump at the chance of playing in the modern game were he a few years younger, he tells us. The game is no longer as physical as it used to be, and there are more openings now for skillful players, players like wily Borrisoleigh clubman Liam Devaney.
Liam Devaney doesn't feel that it's for him to say whether or not the game of hurling is in decline, but he does agree that the way the game is played has changed significantly with the years. "The days of ground hurling are gone. I would rather see a more direct, first time brand of hurling, such as the which was en vogue when I was playing", he explains. Does the former Tipperary star feel that, with the likes of Galway and Offaly forcing themselves more and more into the picture as genuine Championship material, standards are levelling off? "I don't know. Offaly always had great individuals, but probably not enough of them. It all depends really on the material any county has at a given time".
What was it the made the Tipperary team of the fifties / sixties so successful? "Club hurling was very strong in Tipperary at that time and we had great clubs to pick from which inevitably led to a strong county team. In fact, there was so much talent that a lot of very talented players couldn't even make it onto the county team players who would probably have made it during another era. The current side isn't too bad. They showed what they can do in last year's League final win over Galway and I think they could make it to the All-Ireland final in 1995".
Since nailing his caman to the wall and hanging up the boots, Liam Devaney's active involvement in hurling has been limited. He was involved with the club in an advisory role for a number of years but these days enjoys looking from the outside in. A Salesman with Killough Quarries in Holycross, Liam has golden memories of his playing days, reveries which will stay with him for the rest of his days. The best memory? Not the honours! Nor the praise, accolades or respect afforded him. Nor the sheer thrill of winning. At the end of the day, there are more important things: "It's the best field game in the world and through it I made some great friends on and off the field". Liam Devaney - a true gentleman and one heck of a hurler. They just don't make them like they used to do.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
5th March 1995
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