May 14, 1993
Former Tipperary and Leitrim footballer John Owens
John Owens is very much back in the Tipperary fold
The Clonmel defender is all set to hinder the Limerick attack in Sunday's Championship clash
Will Clare's dam-bursting efforts in 1992 open the floodgates for a whole new wave of talent to come cascading down Jones' Road in the months ahead? Will Limerick re-awaken to give Cork and Kerry more than just sleepless nights? Can Tipperary football re-capture the fire and passion that has been held prisoner since 1984, when their county minors blazed their way towards a minor All-Ireland?
These are just some of the many fascinating imponderables which guarantee one of the most appetising Munster senior football championship campaigns ever. Tipperary and Limerick cross swords to get the show on the road this coming Sunday, May 16th and what an interesting tussle that one promises to be. A pipeoner of an intriguing nature. A fixture which could mark a crossroads for both counties? Experienced Tipperary defender Johnny Owens is understandably content merely to speculate on the significance the tie holds for his own county.
"The match could go either way, but if we lose it means us going back to the drawing board. On the other hand, if we should happen to win, it could trigger off a different emphasis on sport in Tipperary among the county's youth. A win would help show up Tipperary football in a much more attractive fashion," explained the wing half back whose tenacious tackling and all-out commitment has long since made him a favourite among Tipperary's loyal, hardcore band of football supporters.
Just how much a victory over Limerick and a run thereafter through to the provincial final would mean to Tipperary football couldn't possibly be rightly estimated, not even by their long-serving stopper from Clonmel. But Johnny Owens does have the ability to discern better than most of those involved with Tipperary football just how valuable a boost a victory over Limerick would mean to a county aiming to be taken seriously as a football concern. For 27 year old Owens, a previous spell with lovely Leitrim taught him to appreciate the finer points of clawing your way above the also-rans of gaelic football and up on to the middle rung of the ladder. A former county senior championship medalist with Drumshambo's Allen Gaels, John Owens has witnessed at first hand, the offshoots of Leitrim's 1990 All-Ireland B success. "The transformation within the county was amazing. Hurling is the number one game in Tipperary and most of the talented young sportsmen play it but just like after Leitrim won the All-Ireland B, every school child wanted to play football, I could imagine the same happening here in Tipperary if we were to do really well in the Munster championship this year."
Having made his Leitrim senior county debut in the aftermath of the county's B success, John allowed himself the luxury of wallowing amidst the luxury of the ensuing euphoria. It's a feeling, he readily admits that every county should experience. How does he then rate his adopted county's chances of getting in on the act? "Probably ourselves, Limerick and Waterford are on a par at the present time whereas Clare would have been grouped alongside us before last year's championship. While I feel we're bound to have lost ground on Clare for instance, I think that if we have a successful year this term it'll do wonders for us. At the very least, I think we have a good chance, in realistic terms of beating Limerick and Waterford."
The product of an amalgam of football influences and styles, John Owens boasts a rare pedigree of having competed at club level and won county medals in three different provinces. One of a family of four, his father Des was a man born in the Mournes, a wily attacker in the fifties with his native Loughinisland. An employee of the Northern Bank, Des Owens produced a good 'un in the guise of young John, underage footballer par excellence. A contemporary at the famed Down club with Gary Mason and cousin Brendan, John Owens cut his gaelic football teeth at under 12 and under 14 levels up north before gathering his kit to accompany the da and family when posted to Drumshambo in County Leitrim.
Remaining on to do his O-Levels at St. Colman's College in Newry, his football education sped forward under the wings of resident sports gurus at the college, Ray Morgan and current Down team boss Peter McGrath. In due course, Corn na nOg and D'Alton Cup medals were collected to compliment his obvious aptitude for the less exciting but equally important credits obtained in the classroom. By the time Clonmel High School in Tipperary took custody, John Owens had proven himself good enough to capture a place on the Leitrim county minor side and present himself an ideal candidate for an honours Leaving Cert to boot.
A Leitrim championship medal winner with Allen Gaels at minor level, John Owens' leadership qualities were quickly identified. Chosen to captain the westereners for the 1982 provincial campaign, he rallied his troops sufficiently well to steer them to a Connacht final only to lose out by 0-7 to 1-7 against Galway. Still there was always the Munster B Colleges Final to look forward to. Disappointment again though. Up stepped Farranferris of Cork to spoil the Leaving Cert celebrations for the high school centre half back and ardent fan of Kerry's galloping defender of the time, Ger Lynch. There was always the prospect of trying one's luck with Tipperary county minors under the stewardship of Seamus McCarthy. The silver lining perhaps?
In one of the most romantic tales to have brightened up the 'oft times predictable GAA football fare down south, Tipperary (as most football observers will no doubt remember) careered their way through to the All-Ireland decider in '84. Getting the inside track from one of Tipperary's star players that day makes for interesting reading. "We managed to get a huge groundswell of support motivated behind us that year. It was a run that came out of the blue and saw us beat Cork, then Clare and then Kerry in the Munster final itself. We had a very strong midfield in Brian Burke and Gerry Ryan and everything went like a dream for us, except the final against Dublin, of course," the Ballymacarbry-based computer controller recalled.
Hugely adept at reading the game, blessed with a keener concentration than most and a mean readiness for hard labour when most needed, John Owens inevitably drew the attention of Tipperary's senior mentors adequately enough to warrant inclusion in the 1985 senior side which played (and lost) to above all, Limerick in the McGrath Cup final. He was later coincidentally, to make his Munster championship debut against the self-same opposition less than a season later, beating them before bowing out to the Kingdom.
A science graduate from Maynooth, the Moyle Rovers, Clonmel minor and under 21 medal winner looks like he'll be asked to police Limerick sharpshooter Timmy Cummins for the Munster first round clash. Confident enough in his own ability to have acquitted himself well in the past against half forwards of the calibre of Dermot McNicholl, Ger Houlihan and Enda Gormley (all Jordanstown - Sigerson Cup opponents), the 5' 11", twelve and a half stone overlapping defender has come through the mill and knows what is required in the white heat of top class fare. Self-belief isn't altogether a facet of the Tipperary camp, it's not one of their forties, as John confirms.
"Our self-belief could and should be stronger. Certainly looking back on our under 21 days in 1987 when we lost to Kerry in the Munster final, we could have done with a little bit more. It was very disappointing to lose to them after extra time in the replay that year but since then there's been a high level of enthusiasm and a great level of commitment shown by all the lads and we're enjoying our football, I'd have to say."
Resident in New York from 1987 - 90, John Owens' football education continued in the Big Apple. Again he was to mix it with the best and emerge with flying colours. He became one of Connemara Gaels most influential players, reinforcing the talents of household names like Galway pair Val Daly and Gay McManus plus Laois attacker Leo Turley. Always eager to race clear from defence to bolster the attack, John's concentration is now quite definitely focussed on keeping the lames of Tipperary football's h ome fires blazing. Putting a dampener on the burning ambitions of men like Timmy Cummins and Sean Kelly is what fires John Owens' ambitions these days.
Having hacked it with great aplomb on the domestic circuit in counties Down, Leitrim and Tipperary, Moyle Rovers county team mate of Derry Foley and Dennis Finn can be expected to lend a bagful of experience to his adopted county's bid to lay the foundation for a run through to this year's provincial football final. He is adamant that playing in Thurles would be an advantage to his team and a "big step forward to widening the appeal of football in Tipperary."
A Leitrim senior championship medal winner with Allen Gaels in 1991, John Owens will be asked to ascend several steps in the weeks and months ahead. Limerick is the first one and then hopefully the challenge as promised to emanate from the Decies thereafter if things go well. Then there's the prospect of a Munster final appearance on July 18th, a major step forward should Tipperary climb that far skywards. On the 17th, the day before, John will climb into his monkey suit and prepare himself to marry Clonmel lady Annette Walsh. Togging out the following day would be a 'problem' John would love to have to contend with. A double dilemma with the prospect of deep joy on both fronts. We wish John, Annette and Tipperary a bumper summer and blue skies all round.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
14th May 1993
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