|You’ve heard of
Seán Óg’s Rockies,
|You’ve heard of
Limerick’s Éire Óg,
|They all can
wield the ash, boys, but
|Come on, come
with us join,
|For the best of
all, both big and small,
|Are the hurlers
of Mount Sion
above anthem has been sung by Mount Sion hurlers, in victory or defeat,
since it was first composed in the 1930’s by Bro. A. S. Malone, one of
the founders of the club. Composed
originally as a rallying song for a team of young schoolboys it has now
become the club anthem - the Mount Sion song. Although John Keane was not a member of the young team
commemorated in the song, he was waiting in the wings, as it were, and
very shortly afterwards he burst on the scene as one of the stars of the
Waterford Minor hurling team – he was still only fifteen.
It would appear that his future career in hurling was already
mapped out, but hurling has seen many false dawns. Not so with Keane. From the very earliest beginning many people suspected that
here was one of the greatest in the making.
Growing up in Ireland in the 1930’s
one had few opportunities to break out of life on the streets. We could not aspire to be great politicians, doctors, lawyers
etc. but we could all dream of being great hurlers and thereby gain the
adulation of people like ourselves. John Keane was THE HERO and he remained so all through his
illustrious career and on through his retirement. In the 1930’s and on
through the 1940’s John Keane of Mount Sion and Waterford was a hero
to every boy who held a hurley and who dreamed of hurling glory for his
team and county. He was our
Hercules and Cuchulainn rolled into one. With his magnificent physique, his electrifying presence on the
field of play, his graciousness towards opponents and his manly
behaviour, he was the Corinthian ideal made flesh. As he walked the
streets of Waterford he usually had a posse of young boys following him
at a respectful distance, too much in awe of the great man to approach
him. If only they had
known! Donal Foley wrote of
him, in the Irish Times–
“…whenever hurling connoisseurs meet, his name is mentioned in
the same breath as men such as Mick Mackey, Lory Meagher or Christy
Ring, for John Keane was of that great mould of powerful athlete.
Indeed, for nearly twenty years the most reassuring sight in the
Waterford team for supporters was that of John Keane’s towering figure
at centre half back and later at centre forward.
He was a big handsome man, enormously skillful, fearless, fast
and scrupulously fair. John always played the ball and what a joy it was to see him
jump into the air and bring the ball down to his hand. His clearances of the ball were always lengthy and well
placed, never haphazard.
John came from a family
steeped in the tradition of Gaelic Ireland. His childhood years were
spent among like-minded neighbours in the city’s Barrack Street and
when it became time to attend school he was enrolled in Mount Sion, that
cradle of all things Gaelic and Nationalist. He played hurling, of
course and he took to the game as a duck takes to water. John first wore the Waterford colours when, on Sunday May 15,
1932 he played at centre field as Waterford defeated Cork in the Munster
minor championship. He was
only 15 years old.
The year 1934, marked our hero’s first emergence on to the national
stage when, although still a minor, he starred at full-back as Waterford
won the All-Ireland junior hurling title for only the second time. He made such an impression that the selectors called him up as a
corner back to the senior team later in the same year and so, at
seventeen years of age, John was started on his memorable career.
He was still a schoolboy at this time, and a report in the
Waterford News of 2/3/1935 on the Harty Cup game that Mount Sion won on
a score of 11-6 to Newcastle West's 0-2 said that "Outstanding
for Sion were Keane, and Fleming".
became legends of the game in Waterford and
nationwide and were to go on to become All Ireland senior
medal winners with Waterford in 1948.
John's name became a household word throughout the nation when,
in 1937, against the mighty Limerick team that beat Waterford in the
Munster championship by two points, 3-4 to 3-2, he gave an outstanding
individual performance in holding scoreless the great Mick Mackey. The
Waterford News of July 9th 1937 reported that "…A
feature of the game was the manner in which John Keane suppressed Mick
Green Flag, writing in the Irish Press of the
following day, July 5th 1937 said…"The hero of the
day was John Keane, the Waterford centre half-back who was the
inspiration of his side and the master of the redoubtable Mick Mackey
right through the hour." On the following day
Green Flag again referred to the game and wrote of John…"The
fair-haired Mount Sion youth, John Keane, whom I admired a couple of
years ago as a minor, was the spanner in the Shannonside scoring machine
- he was like a man on springs - nimble and fast…"
those who saw his display that day will, surely, never forget the
titanic struggle between the master and the young, 20 year old giant. That day we saw the full blossoming of a great centre half back,
whose skill and daring and incomparable sportsmanship were to fire the
blood and grip the imagination of all Ireland. To quote the old cliché, Waterford brought a boy to Clonmel -
they brought back a star.
His first Railway Cup honour came his way that same year and, in
all, he lined out nine times for Munster, winning seven medals.
The following year, 1938, saw Waterford in the All-Ireland final
with John, at 21 years of age and playing in his stockinged feet, starring at centre-half back as Waterford
were beaten by Dublin, 2-5 to 1-6. John
was Waterford's leading scorer with four points of Waterford’s total.
After Limerick won the All-Ireland title in 1940, their first game in
the National League was against Waterford
in the Sportsfield, Waterford.
The Waterford News columnist, Gorm is Bán, wrote in
his preview of the game,
should be a great game and well worth going to see, if only for the
clashes between the Limerick half-forwards and the Waterford half-back
line - Mick Mackey will be 'all-out' to best the unconquerable
Keane, but on current form John is more than able to hold his own
In the 1940’s a brilliant Cork team
won an historic four titles in a row, Tipperary won in 1945, Cork again
were the winners in 1946 and Kilkenny won in 1947. The year 1948 was, for Waterford , the greatest up until then and
the frustrating years when Waterford might have won it all, but
didn’t, were all forgotten as they powered their way through Munster,
hammered Galway and, finally, overwhelmed Dublin’s “greyhounds” on
a score of 6-7 to 4-2. John
was the engineer and master architect of that victory. Playing at centre forward he
was again Waterford's leading scorer with two goals and two points and
“made” most of the other scores. His performance was that of a master craftsman who had learned
all that there was to know about hurling and who, now, was giving a
master-class on centre forward play.
John retired from playing inter-county
hurling in 1951 but he remained on to play for and train and coach his
club, Mount Sion, to further glory. In the next few years the Mount Sion forward line was referred to
as "John Keane's scoring machine." John was the trainer when
Waterford won the All-Ireland title in 1959 and so he joined that very
select band of men who have won All-Ireland titles as a player and as a
The following is an extract from an article
Déiseach, 1974 written by John’s great friend and colleague
Pat Fanning, GAA President 1970-73.
“He never spared himself. He turned out in match after match, county and inter-county,
championship, challenge and tournament, winter and summer, never
counting the personal cost where the honour of his Club or his County
Still the coveted All-Ireland medal evaded
him. For years the
Waterford defence had defied the might of Munster, but a lack of
decisiveness in attack could not command the victory a sterling defence
deserved. The advent of John Keane to the forty yards made all the
difference. He brought a
new type of play to the attack and turned his great experience as a
defender to good account in outwitting the best backs in Clare, Cork,
Galway and, finally, Dublin in the great victorious All Ireland of 1948.
Looking back briefly in one final glance at
the saga of one man’s herculean efforts in the cause of Gaeldom,
memories come crowding in. The
writer recalls 1937 at Clonmel. The
strapping figure in blue and white thwarting the great Mick Mackey; the
blonde, curly head bobbing as Keane threw back attack after attack in
one of the truly great games of the Munster championship.
Then came the greatest display of courage and determination and,
perhaps, his greatest personal triumph – his epic display at Dungarvan
in 1943 against Tipperary, when with a badly injured ankle he stood at
centre half and almost alone broke the back of every Tipperary attack.
Well do I remember cutting the boot from his swollen leg at the
end of that excruciating hour. And
I recall, too, the old wizened man of Tipperary who pushed his way
through the crowd to where John lay, to shake, as he said, ‘the hand
of John Keane, the greatest man in Ireland’.
In 1984 the
Sunday Independent had
a competition to select the greatest hurling team of the century and
John was selected at centre half back. What is not generally known is that his vote was split between
centre back and centre forward and it was said that he finished second
in the poll for centre forward. In
the year 2000, to mark the Millennium, the Cork Examiner asked a select panel of hurlers and journalists to
the greatest Munster team of all time and John was again selected at
centre back. The ultimate
honour came his way later in the year 2000 when a distinguished body of
hurling men, comprising the Past Presidents of the GAA and hurling
journalists selected the Hurling Team of the Millennium – and again
John was selected at centre back copper-fastening his place as one of
the all-time greats of the game.
Keane died in October 1975 and there were many tributes
paid to him
in the National Press.