Leahy, John

August 13, 1993
Mullinahone's John Leahy - Worth half a dozen players in club competitions and as usual, a vital part of Tipp's All-Ireland aspirations. It's a common feature of G.A.A. for counties to be divided between hurling and football - North Offaly is football while the South people prefer hurling, Clare and Kerry also show divides. In the Premier county of Tipperary, it's common knowledge that the North is hurling mad, whereas in the South, a bigger ball is preferred. It is rare, then, to see someone from the Southern half of the county on Tipp's Senior Hurling Team. But it does happen, like with current star, Mullinahone man John Leahy. On Sunday week, John will be facing up to the Galway challenge and this will be his fourth Championship game against the Tribesmen. In the late eighties the rivalry between a resurgent Tipp and their Galway counterparts was legendary and while Galway might have faded slightly since that time, the Premier county have stayed right up there competing for the major honours every year. In 1987, the year Tipperary ended their famine in the Munster Championship, Galway beat them in the All-Ireland semi final and the following year in the decider. It was that year, 1988, that John Leahy burst onto the inter-county scene, making his competitive debut against Antrim and also making the All-Ireland final team who lost to Galway by four points. That day John was marking Pete Finnerty and managed to prevent the half back from dominating the prceedings, as he is wont to do, a point made by manager Babs Keatings afterwards. However, John's first All-Ireland medal was to come a year later when Tipp defeated the men from Antrim in the final, after disposing of Galway in a tough semi final. 1989 was a particularly satisfying year for John at both county level and club level. As well as the Senior victory, he was on the Tipperary Under 21 side which won the All-Ireland, beating Offaly in the final and he also helped his club, Mullinahone, to great things. "In '89 we won the County Under 21 'A' title which was a great achievement for us and a big shock in the county. We beat Clonoulty-Rossmore in the final". At that time Mullinahone were playing at Junior Hurling level and John helped them to the county title in '89. Since then they have also won the county Intermediate Championship and have played at Senior level last year but this year we're having a good run. We're now in the South Tipperary Final for the first time ever". While John is pretty hopeful about winning that game, he doesn't really expect Mullinahone to be able to beat teams from the other divisions in Tipperary to win the county title. "We would hope to give them all a tough game, but there's still a big gap in the standard between North and South teams". Leahy is very pleased with the progress his club have made in hurling in recent times. Mullinahone have come a long way in the last few years. We've made great strides for what's supposed to be a footballing club, traditionally". Many in the know would say that if John Leahy wasn't on the scene, Mullinahone would still be struggling along at Junior level. John doesn't agree with this. "I don't know about that. All the lads here are very interested in the game and they train hard. We have a few county Minors and Brian O'Meara is there or thereabouts on the Senior panel. So we're definitely not a one-man team". However, the fact that in the South Tipp semi final last week, in which younger brother Noel was also playing, John scored an amazing 1-13 out of his side's total of 2-8 tells it's own story. As well as helping his club to Championship success this year, the South Tipp man will be hoping for All-Ireland glory with his county. Their next step on the trail is in Croke Park on Sunday where they will renew their rivalry with the Connacht standard-bearers. "We will be hopeful about beating Galway but on the day a lot will depend on how they play". As is so often the case, the Galway team will be going in as something of an unknown quantity with little indication of their from. John is no different when it comes to assessing how good they really are. "I don't know a thing about them - they're keeping a very low profile". But he knows that it's never easy against them. "Galway are always tough to beat and I don't think it will be as easy as we have got it so far in the Championship. We didn't really have a good competitive game yet". The last time Tipp faced Galway in the Championship was in 1991 at the same stage of the competition. "They weren't great that year. They had somebody sent off and we got a lucky break when Pat Fox's goal in the second half increased our lead". But John thinks they must have improved since. "They must be coming on. Galway teams have won the All-Ireland Club Championship for last two years" As for winning the All-Ireland outright, the Mullinahone man is under no illusions as to how difficult it will be. "It will be a tough Championship to win. Kilkenny are flying at the moment and seem to be in great form. But they have a lot of injury worries and I'm sure Antrim will pose a threat to them. Down beat Kilkenny in the League in Nowlan Park and Antrim beat down so you never know". But Leahy is optimistic about his county's chances. "I think we can do it. There's a great atmosphere in the camp at the moment and if we can produce the form we've already shown in the Championship we should do well". The Tipp wing forward attributes this 'great atmosphere in their set up mainly to the management of Babs Keating. "He has got the mental approach right with the players and is responsible for a lot of the success since 1987. He has definitely had a great bearing on that". John says that all the panel members get on very well together. "They're a great bunch of lads. We were on a lot of trips together and that kind of thing helps to build up morale in the team. There's certainly no problems there". These morale-boosting trips and other such events mainly started around 1986/ '87 with the advent of Babs and success finally started to arrive again for Tipp after a long lean spell. This success was also responsible for a huge surge of interest in hurling in the Premier County. John even sees this in his own club, deep in football country. "Hurling is on the up and up now in Mullinahone. It's the glamour game in Tipperary and all the youngsters want to play it now". So is this damaging to football there? "I suppose it is. A lot of the hurlers can play football as well but there just isn't the same interest there. But that's the way it goes", he says philosophically. He plays a bit of football himself, mainly just in his local area but hurling is the love of his life. Coming from a mainly footballing background, he only started playing hurling regularly when he was 15 and never even dreamed of the future he would carve out for himself. "I never thought I would play for Tipp, coming from this background in Mullinahone but I got very interested in the game". He progressed quickly and was a member of the 1987 Tipp Minor team beaten by Offaly by two points in the All-Ireland final. "It was a big disappointment. I think we were too confident going into the final and just let ourselves down on the day". Aged 24 now, Leahy seems to have achieved much of what there is to achieve in hurling. But he would still love to captain his county to All-Ireland glory. However, in Tipperary, to do this you must be a member of the Senior county champion team. While John's other ambition for the future is to help Mullinahone to keep progressing, he realises a county title might be a bit unrealistic. "I think that for me to captain Tipp the rule would probably have to change alright. But you never know". Often seen around the Tipperary area by supporters due to his job as a travelling rep. for United Beverages, if John Leahy ever was appointed his county's captain, it would certainly be a popular choice. Written by Hogan Stand Magazine 06 /08 / 93

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