April 10, 2001
Tipperary's Jimmy Doyle was selected on the Hurling Team of the Millennium.
The 60's! Those of us who are old enough to recall that magical decade will have his, or her, favourite memories. They might well relate to the 'Swinging' factor or the 'Flower Power' element ... the seismic change in music and fashion tastes or the great sporting heroes that emerged to capture the affections of followers the world over. Cassius Clay, later to become Mohammad Ali, and the mighty Arkle, Pele, Eusebio, Keino and a host of others were great names on the world stage ... while at home we had our crowd-pullers too.
The footballers of Down emerged to blow away the cobwebs which threatened to envelop football and Wexford were still a hurling force following their Down-like arrival in the 50s. Galway eventually became the football team of the decade while Tipperary earned the equivalent honour in hurling, particularly in the early part of the decade, winning four All-Ireland titles in the space of five years.
There were some fine hurlers knocking around at the time, even if the Ring era was drawing to a close. Foremost among them was Jimmy Doyle of Thurles Sarsfields, Tipperary and Munster, a player who was easy to pick out, not only because of his distinctive 'crew-cut' but especially on account of his wonderful stickwork. He was a genuine hurling craftsman whose accuracy under pressure separated him from other forwards who were merely good. Doyle was great.
It could be said that he was bred to be a hurler ... his father Gerry was the sub goalie on the Premier County teams that won the Liam McCarthy Cup in 1937 and 1945 while his uncle Tommy was regarded as one of the all-time greats, giving outstanding service to Tipp from the 1930s through the 40s and his brother Paddy also wore the blue and gold with distinction.
Jimmy first came to the notice of the public when, as a 14 year old, he was Tipperary's goalie when they contested the All-Ireland Minor final against Dublin in 1954. Tipp lost by four points but Jimmy still had three years to play as a minor and, remarkably, won All-Ireland medals in each year. He was at right-half-forward in the victories of 1955 and '56 against Galway and Kilkenny respectively and the young Cats were again the victims in 1957 when Jimmy captained the winning team from left-half forward. It is a wonderful record and one that would have earned him a special place in the record books even without pucking a sliotar at adult level. He also won a Harty Cup medal with Thurles CBS in 1956.
The history of hurling and football contains a myriad of names of outstanding young hurlers who subsequently disappear into the list of also-rans. There are several factors mitigating against their progress to a higher level, not least of which is their inability to cope with star status. Some go stale and lose their appetite, others become 'marked men', some concentrate on other activities and several fail to develop sufficiently for the requirements of the senior game.
No such problems surrounded Jimmy's transition.
The Tipperary seniors had not enjoyed much success after they completed the three-in-a-row in 1951. Cork beat them in the following three Munster finals and Limerick, Cork and Waterford shared the next three. Tipp had failed to emerge from Munster in six successive championships and the alarm bells were ringing in the shadows of Slievenamon.
Jimmy was still a schoolboy and a minor when he won his first National League medal in 1957 and in 1958, he was chosen to play for Munster in the Railway Cup. Lining out alongside Christy Ring, he won his first inter-provincial medal as the southerners accounted for Leinster. Tipp went on to dethrone defending champions Waterford in the Munster final and having accounted for Kilkenny in the semi-final, they romped to victory against a Galway team that had been given a free passage to the final. At 18 years of age, Jimmy had won an All-Ireland senior medal, National League and Railway Cup medals to add to his three All-Ireland minor medals. It was a truly remarkable achievement.
Waterford regained the Munster title in 1959 and went on to keep the Liam McCarthy Cup in the province but Tipp were back as a major force in 1960 even though Jimmy had the disappointing experience of losing the All-Ireland final to Wexford. Tipp had been warm favourites but never raised a gallop with Jimmy being well marshalled by John Nolan. Earlier in the year he had picked up his third successive Railway Cup medal and his second National League medal.
Jimmy won his second All-Ireland medal in 1961 in somewhat tortuous circumstances. He sustained a serious injury in the course of the Munster final win over Cork but played on, and it wasn't until he was x-rayed in Limerick that he discovered that his ankle was fractured ... in two places. There were no semi-finals at the time but he still faced a battle to be fit for the clash with Dublin in the final. Despite being advised not to entertain thoughts of playing on the big day, Jimmy persevered with walking exercises but he was still a doubtful starter right up to the morning of the game. A series of pain-killing injections before the match, and again at half-time, enabled him to take his place and he finished with a total of 0-9 in his team's dramatic one point win, 0-16 to 1-12.
The victory was achieved at a cost ... Jimmy's injury subsequently worsened and he was out of action until the following Spring.
With his club Thurles Sarsfields dominating the Tipperary championship, Jimmy was made captain of the county team in 1962. The year did not begin well for him as he was foiled in his bid to win a fifth successive Railway Cup medal and Tipp also lost their National League title while going for four-in-a-row. But there was ample compensation in the championship.
Waterford were swept aside in the Munster final and the scene was set for a Tipp-Wexford final ... a chance for Tipp to avenge
the 1960 final defeat.
The Munster champions could not have expected to have a two-goal advantage after only two minutes. It looked as if Wexford would be at the wrong end of a severe beating but, in a pulsating encounter, Wexford battled back to get on level terms before Tipp edged into a three-point lead at half-time.
Jimmy put Tipp four points clear at the start of the second half but Wexford rallied again and a goal from Jimmy O'Brien and a point from a '70 by Billy Rackard levelled it once more as the huge crowd roared it's approval. Ned Wheeler put Wexford ahead for the first time and soon after, Jimmy was forced to retire from the action with a dislocated shoulder. The outlook was bleak for the Tipperarymen.
With 13 minutes remaining, Wexford were two points ahead ... a Tom Ryan goal gave Tipp a one point lead but Padge Kehoe equalised ... it was drama at it's most intense. Donie Nealon pointed for the defending champions and Sean McLoughlin wrapped it up in the last minute. It had been an enthralling match and Tipp had good reason to be thankful for their early goal blitz .. the effort in catching up had left Wexford drained in the closing minutes. Jimmy's disappointment at not being able to finish the game was erased by the team's victory but it was Tony Wall who stood in to receive the Liam McCarthy Cup. It was Jimmy's third All-Ireland medal.
He captained Munster to regain the Railway Cup in 1963 and there was a great deal of confidence behind the county team's as they set out in defence of their Munster and All-Ireland titles. Waterford, a team that they had beaten by 20 points in the 1962 provincial final, provided the opposition again in the decider and, on this occasion the men from the Decies came out with a three point victory.
In 1964, Tipp regained the National League and Munster titles, the latter with a facile win over Cork ... and Kilkenny, the defending champions provided the opposition in the final. Tipp won it comfortably ... their third title in four years and their was no questioning the ability of a team that had won it's Munster final against Cork by 14 points and the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny by the same margin.
Jimmy was captain again in 1965 when Tipp won the League and championship double, again hammering Cork by 18 points in the Munster final and having 12 points to spare over Wexford on the first Sunday in September. He was named as Texaco Hurler of the Year and joined an elite group of captains to have led his county to All-Ireland glory on two occasions.
There were disappointments in the All-Ireland finals of 1967 and '68 but Tipp returned in 1971 to beat Kilkenny in the final with Jimmy coming on as a substitute to win his sixth All-Ireland medal. He was still on the panel when Tipp were beaten by Limerick in the 1973 Munster final, at which stage he decided to call it a day.
Jimmy's medal collection is among the finest of any GAA star, if not the finest, and it includes six All-Ireland SHC, six NHL, nine Munster SHC, three All-Ireland MHC and eight Railway Cups. With Thurles Sarsfields he won 11 County SHC including two five-in-a-rows. And he also won one county SFC medal.
In total Jimmy played in four All-Ireland MHC finals and nine All-Ireland SHC finals scoring a total of 0-46 in the senior deciders.
He was named at right-full-forward on both the 'Team of the Century' and the 'Team of the Millennium' ... enough evidence to suggest that he was truly one of hurling's great legends.
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