October 18, 1991
Wexford's Tony Doran
The greatest full forward of our time
Tony Doran. The name rings out in the hollowed corridors of hurling's Hall of Fame. A name that is spoken in the same hushed, revered tone as some of the other modern heroes of the ancient game - Eddie Keher, Ollie Walsh, Pat Hartigan, the Rackard brothers, Christy Ring, Nicholas English.
Men who have forged a unique relationship with the sliothar and the caman and who have used both as a means of expression; of achieving something outside their everyday lives. And who have embraced fame and a certain "greatness" in the process.
Doran would have identified with Bill Shankley's old saying that football is not a matter of life or death - it is much more important than that. Hurling, he says, "is in the blood." A pain that can only be assuaged by grabbing the stick and getting out on the pitch and knocking the ball around; either competitively or otherwise.
Why else would a man approaching his mid forties continue to play in top class club hurling - but for sheer enjoyment of it all. The Buffer's Alley man has been knocking enjoyment out of the old game for over three decades now, both with his club and county, receiving on the way "a few knocks and cuts", but deriving great satisfaction from seeing a ball sail majestically over the bar or crash gloriously into the opponents net.
It was as a forward that Doran staked his place as one of the top players in the country; leaping, salmon-like to pluck the ball from the air, turn with deceptive speed and whip it goalwards. It was these movements that left bewildered defenders floundering, wondering how such a tall man could find the turn of speed that one might expect from stockier players. In the words of his brother Joe - "he didn't need the room."
Tony Doran's childhood dreams were fuelled by the hurling exploits of the likes of the Wexford stars of the fifties, Nickie Rackard and Paddy Kehoe, who Doran recalls meeting. It was the first time the starry-eyed youngster had a chance to come face to face with a real life hurling star. He never forgot the moment.
By that stage the young Doran was playing underage hurling for the local underage team, Monageer/Bullavogue. It was not until the early sixties that he began playing for Buffer's Alley, helping them to move up through the grades and become one of the top clubs not only in Wexford but in the country. In 1989 Doran was in the Buffer's Alley team that won the All-Ireland club hurling championship, the first time a Wexford club won the competition.
Altogether Doran won eleven senior inter-county hurling championships with the club from 1968 to 1991. But down the years the club has not only become a vehicle where Doran could display his talents on the local scene. It has become inextricably bound up with his own family's recent history. And because of that is coloured by stories and events both deeply sad and joyful.
Usually four Dorans lined out with Buffer's Alley - Joe, Colm, Tony and Billy. They all had played their part in helping the club become one of the most powerful in Wexford. They appeared frequently in the county championship finals. But in the course of the 1970 county final, Tony Doran's father suddenly took sick and died. Willie Doran had been a hurler of great skill himself. He had played with Wexford when the county was in the junior ranks during the lean days. He had also played for Buffer's Alley. Before his death however, Willie Doran had proudly witnessed the spectacle of watching Wexford and his son, Tony, win the All-Ireland and bring the McCarthy Cup back to the south east for the first time in eight years.
In 1960 Wexford defeated Tipperary in the final. Eight years later the same pair confronted each other for the biggest prize in hurling. Tipperary started the game much brighter than their rivals. At one stage, they were ten points in the lead and appeared to be cruising to an easy triumph. At the interval, they led by eight points. Mick Roache was having an outstanding game. But then, after the break the nature of the game changed. The 22 year old Tony Doran was switched from his half forward position to full forward with devastating consequences for the Tipperary defence. He was a continual scourge to the Munster champions as he repeatedly suck his hand in the air to field high incoming balls. He used his six foot height to the full, before turning and flashing the ball in the direction of the Tipperary goal.
He score 2-1, with his two goals coming at vital stages that helped to tip the scales in his team's favour. At the end, Wexford were ahead 5-8 to 3-12. Doran, along with team mates such as Willie Murphy, Vinnie Staples, Dan Quigley, Pat Nolan, Ned Colfer and Christy Jacob, had achieved a great victory.
Looking back on that triumph, Doran naturally regards it as a great moment in an eventful career. But it only ranks along with other bright spots such as the first county championship medal he won the same year, or the All-Star he received in 1976. But if Doran tasted from the sweet cup of victory in 1968, he was also to know the despairing effect of losing, when the prize was in sight. In 1970 Wexford, once again, emerged from the Leinster Championship, and a win over Galway in the semis earned them a place in the final against Cork.
The nucleus of the '68 team remained. But with injuries forcing out the likes of Willie Murphy, Phil Wilson and Ned Buggy, the Wexford cause was seriously weakened. For most of the game the Model County appeared sluggish as they struggled to contain the lively Cork forwards. At the other end, Tony Doran and Jack Berry were succeeding in making the most of the scoring chances that came their way. Normally, 5-10 would be enough to win any game but that day the Cork forwards were uncontainable. The Wexford net bulged six times, with the Munster side adding another twenty one points for good measure.
Quite naturally, Tony Doran looks back at the early seventies as 'a bad time' for Wexford hurling. It was their great misfortune to peak at exactly the same time as Kilkenny and Cork were fielding some of their strongest teams ever. For five successive years, 1970 to 1975, Doran and his colleagues trooped up to Croke Park to play in the Leinster Final, only to be beaten on each occasion by Kilkenny. Each time the Wexford men found it impossible to break the black and amber spirit. They almost did on two occasions. In 1972 they brought the Cats to a replay and in 1974 they lost only by a despairing single point. But still Eddie Keher's men prevailed.
The sequence of defeats did nothing for the Wexford morales as each year they returned home to the proverbial drawing board, to reassess their position, and prepare for the next year. But there was no talk of giving up. "But what else could we do except try again," recalls Doran. In the end the dogged persistence paid off. They finally got into an All-Ireland Final in 1977 after winning in Leinster and defeating Galway in the semi-final after a replay. But again, despair lay treacherously lurking up ahead as Wexford let slip an eight point early lead to lose the game to Cork.
Tony Doran, who was playing along with his brother Colm, helped to create two early goals for Martin Quigley. And despite fine displays by Mike Jacob, Ned Buggy and Martin and John Quigley, Wexford found it difficult to take their chances and they finally succumbed to a late Cork resurgence.
It was a similar tale of woe for Doran and his colleagues the following year. Cork proved just that little bit sharper in front of goals. Both Colm and Tony Doran were, once again, among the Wexford stars but they could not prevent Jimmy Barry Murphy picking off the scores that gave Cork the victory, in a game that ended in a cloud of controversy. Afterwards, it was claimed by Wexford and Tony Doran that he should have had at least two penalties but the Kilkenny referee Paddy Johnston refused to acknowledge the angry Wexford calls and the game moved on. Cork won by 1-17 to 3-8.
It was the last time that Tony Doran and Wexford was to have such a good chance to win another All-Ireland medal. But almost ten years later, approaching his fortieth birthday, Doran was still appearing in the yellow and amber, attempting to help his county to just one more All-Ireland victory. But it wasn't to be.
These days Tony Doran spends most of his spare hours, away from his farm, deeply involved with Buffer's Alley. In addition to his duties as Chairman of the club, he likes nothing better than to get on the pitch with the players, and feel the familiar touch of the caman and hurling stick.
In early October he helped the club win another county championship, coming on in the final fifteen minutes of their victory over Faythe Harriers. A week earlier he had captained Wexford to win the Over 40s All-Ireland, when they beat Kildare.
He is reticent to commit himself as to how much longer he will go on playing merely to add that "we will just have to wait and see". But some indication of the scale of values that Tony Doran lives by can be seen in the sporting people he admires. Pat Fox, who despite a lot of injuries, came back to help Tipperary win an All-Ireland. Joachim Kelly who continues to work at his game and play good hurling. The Kerry and Dublin footballers of the seventies, who worked hard at their game and stuck with it until they got it right. What Tony Doran has been doing throughout a long career and what he continues to do.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
18th October 1991
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