sentiment which we had several times heard him express, “If I couldn’t
live in Waterford, then Limerick is where I would chose,” had proven true
in death rather than in life. We, too, died a little that grey October
For John Keane was not only a valued and a dear friend for a number of
years: not only one of the most marvellously exciting men to spend hours
in conversation with, listening to his analysis, thesis and synthesis on
hurling and hurlers: not only one of the greatest (many say THE
greatest!) hurlers of all time who could play anywhere with equal
magnificence: not only a great trainer, teacher, motivator of younger
hurlers: not only a kindly and sensitive gentleman: he was also our
original boyhood hero, the sandy-blond, clean-cut, classicist for whom we
would have fought, with tooth and nail, anyone who dared cast the
slightest aspersion on his perfection. And heroes ought not grow old.
And heroes simply should not die. So we died a little as the lost
youth still hidden out of sight within us died at last. We were not alone:
it was easy to see at the massive homecoming funeral in the rain and at
the burial overlooking the broad sands of Tramore.
There is an inherent danger in making the acquaintance of one’s boyhood
heroes: they tend, on closer contact, to have feet of clay. Idolatry does
not suit human beings for they are by nature unable to sustain the ideals
which little boys build about them. It was, therefore, many a long day
before we met and spoke to John Keane on any basis of friendship. It has
been a cause of deep regret ever since that we did not seek out his
company earlier, for no man lived up to what one’s boyhood ideal made him
as did John. He had an insatiable thirst for hurling, so he never, never
tired of talking with total absorption to even the most repetitious bores.
He could leave one after an hour of enthusiastic discussion and meet
another as he walked away and would still greet him as a long lost friend
and begin to talk all over again. And it wasn’t diplomacy, tact or
advantage. It was simply that John Keane loved hurling so much and knew
and understood, deep in his heart, the way the people felt about hurling
and how they wanted to touch the edge of the garment of the man who made
them feel so proud.
are many stories that illustrate this. One of the best is probably that of
the man who had cycled the thirty or so miles to one of those epics in the
late thirties at Clonmel, which Waterford lost. Steering along the street
after the game, he suddenly spotted Keane in his ordinary clothes walking
to the team’s hotel. In his excitement at recognising him and never having
seen him except in hurling togs, he lost all his bearings and shouting
out: “Poor John Keane, it wasn’t your fault, anyway,” he cycled
straight up on the pavement and crashed into a shop-front, his eyes still
on his hero.
went to his rescue with the others nearby. [The man] was patched up and
brought home. But John went to the trouble of finding out who the man was,
where he lived, and from that day until he died used to drop in to the
home of that man to say a few words when he was in the area.
see, it doesn’t matter at all whether they put Keane up at No. 1 or 2 or 3
on the All-Time-Greats, or whether he is put, undeservedly, lower down.
Hurling alone did not make the man. As the modern phrase goes: he was a
great human being, apart from the hurling. Yet, the hurling is important
for those who did not know him personally or for the record of history.
And in this regard we remember once questioning him about Mick Mackey, and
how it was that he managed to subdue him – the only man to do so, it is
he said, “I was a terribly long time thinking about it. God forgive me,
even at Mass it used to come into my head. But, in the end I decided that
there was only one possible way
Mackey – get out in front of him for every ball and never let it reach him
we said, “weren’t you taking a terrible risk. Supposing you missed the
ball, Mackey would be through on his own.”
but that’s the thing, you see,”
said John as though speaking to a rather dense child,
The above was first
published in Gaelic Sport, November 1975 edition.
The following is an
extract from the book, Giants of the Ash by Brendan Fullam.
occasions in life when certain strange forces converge and combine to urge
people onwards to special missions. Such was the case with John Keane. He
was unwell. He journeyed to Kilkenny; back to his native Waterford; onward
to Cork; thence to Tralee to his former Limerick rival and Munster
colleague (Jackie Power); and more than likely he had planned to come back
through Tipperary to Waterford. Pat Fanning told me the rest of the story
when I visited him in 1990.
John Keane died in October 1975 and to the day of his death on a lonely
road between Tralee and Limerick, he loved and breathed the spirit of
hurling and [he] remained the happiest of men in the company of hurling
men. John knew that he was ill and one suspected that he knew he was not
long for this world. But the courage, allied to a great natural skill,
that had made him one of the hurling giants, sustained him in that last
illness, an illness with pain that might have withered a lesser man. The
story of his last few days deserves telling, if only to illustrate his
love of hurling and of the hurling rivals whose friendship he treasured.
He was ill and he
travelled to Kilkenny where he spent a night with Jim Langton, recalling
past encounters. Back to Waterford, a fitful nights rest and off to
Kinsale in Co. Cork, there to rake up old memories with great-hearted Jack
Barrett. Then on to Tralee, where he met and talked with a man he admired
greatly, Jackie Power of Limerick. The following morning he took off for
Limerick, anxious to meet old enemies and great friends like Mick Mackey
and Paddy Clohessy and Timmy Ryan and the rest of them. He had a
particular grádh for the Limerick men of that era. He never reached
Limerick: he died by the wayside, his journey incomplete. They took him to
Limerick, where all Munster honoured him, before he was taken home to his
beloved Waterford and Mount Sion.
I chose to regard
John’s last journey as the pilgrimage of a man who knew his days were
numbered and who wished to meet again some of the men with whom he had
given so much of himself on the fields of Ireland. John Keane couldn’t
have had, nor would he have wished for, a more fitting end’.
appreciation is by Tom Browne, Evening Press.
We all died a little
last weekend when the news reached us that John Keane had died quite
suddenly at the ridiculously early age of 58. John seemed so full of life,
because he was always so full of enthusiasm for his favourite subject -
hurling. …A great hurler. No more needs to be said, for it hardly
matters now whether you rank him No. 1 or 2 or 3 in the list of all-time
greats. Those who saw him play cherish the experience as one that will
never be repeated or copied. Centre-back, fullback, centre-forward: it
wouldn’t matter to Keane for he could be and was among the greats in all
those positions. … He is irreplaceable, for he was unique. That uniqueness
was not only because of his hurling – though that was unparalleled – but
also because of his special human qualities. Since his death several
hundred people have told me that they themselves or their fathers, uncles
or other relatives were great personal friends of John. They were. He made
them feel so. No sportsman I have known gave so much of himself to his
fans. Somehow he had an innate understanding of what it meant to ordinary
people to be able to say they had a chat with John Keane the other day.
‘What John Keane?’
‘There is only one
John Keane - The
great hurler, of course’.
The following is by
Tom Morrison, Evening Echo, 10/10/1975
John Keane – Hurler Supreme And Outstanding Sportsman
The Gaelic Athletic
Association lost another outstanding figure last week when the immortal
John Keane died unexpectedly at an early age of 58. The late
Waterford-born star was one of the greatest hurlers ever to wear the
"white and blue" colours and graced the inter-county scene for eighteen
years during which he crossed camans with such great stalwarts as the
Mackey's, Jackie Power, Mick Kennedy and Paddy Clohessy (Limerick), Jim
Young, Jack Lynch and Jack Barrett of Cork, Dublin's Harry Gray, Mick
Gill, Seán Óg O'Callaghan and Jim Prior, and John Maher, Tommy Purcell,
"Mutt" Ryan and Tony Brennan from the Premier county including many more
brilliant top-class players at club and county level.
inter-county county career began in 1934 when playing at full-back, he won
an All-Ireland junior hurling medal when Waterford beat Kildare and London
respectively to bring the second title in this grade to the county and he
played such a major role in that victory that the senior selectors called
him into action towards the close of the same season for a league game.
So at the tender age of 17 John Keane made his debut in senior ranks. A
couple of lean years passed before Waterford gave warning that they were
about to make the big breakthrough when they ran Limerickto two points 3-4
to 3-2 in the 1937 championship. That day John was marking the brilliant
Mick Mackey and gave an outstanding individual performance in containing
the Ahane man.
The following season
he again starred in the centre-back position and under Mick Hickey's
captaincy, the Decies thundered through the Munster championship only to
fail at the final obstacle when it seemed that the first All-Ireland
senior crown was within their grasp. In the final they faced Dublin and in
a low-scoring game the Metropolitans came out on top to win by 2-5 to 1-6
before 37,129 spectators. The
war came and went and Cork won the historic four-in-a-row before Tipperary
recovered to win out the 1945 championship. Cork led by the famous Christy
Ring won their sixteenth national title in '46 and along came Kilkenny to
turn the tables on tile Corkmen with a brilliant display to take the 1947
Liam McCarthy Cup.
For John Keane,
Christy Moylan and Mick Hickey the year 1948 must have been the! greatest
in their entire careers. Ten years and one day previously they had been
beaten by Dublin before some frustrating years followed. Years Waterford
might have won it out and didn't. It was John and his comrades who had
carried the Decies into the front-ranks of hurling through that '48 season
and saw their efforts crowned when Dublin fell before 61,472 spectators on
September 5, at Headquarters.
peerless centre-back finished a wonderful inter-county career by winning
that long-awaited All-Ireland medal at centre forward and scored a grand
total of three goals and two points in Waterford's 6-7 to 4-2 victory. But
great though the jubilation was that the senior title had been won at
last, those who looked to the future of hurling in Waterford were more
pleased with the county's minor victory on the same afternoon. Led by Mick
Flannelly, the new Munster champions beat Kilkenny to win the country's
second under-age title.
John retired from inter-county competition in 1952 after a long and
wonderful career during which he won nearly every honour in the game
including thirteen senior hurling championship medals with his club Mount
Sion. A totally dedicated G.A.A. man, he was also treasurer of the County
Board and selector, trainer and coach to the Waterford team between 1957
and 1963 when they won three Munster championships, one All-Ireland and
League and Oireachtas competitions.
At his funeral, in
Tramore last Saturday, which was one of the largest seen for many a long
time, a number of past and present stars paid their last respect to a
wonderful gael. Among the many were Mr. Jack Lynch leader of the
Opposition: Mr. Seán Ó Síocháin, General Secretary of the G.A.A. and the
former President Mr. Pat Fanning who is of course the Waterford County
To his wife, sons,
daughters and many relatives -- we wish our deepest sympathy.
John Keane: The
By PÁDRAIG PUIRSÉAL
John Keane was, for
me, the greatest hurler the City of Waterford ever produced, and I say
that with due respect to such talented performers as old friend Charlie
Ware, Philly Grimes, Frankie Walsh and the late Sonny Wyse.
But there was only
one John Keane.
I first met him when he was a tall stripling with all his fame before him.
He was cheering on the sideline in Willie Walsh's old Waterford
Sportsfield for the South Kilkenny parish of Mooncoin, which was playing a
Cork club in a tournament game. But there was good reason for the young
Keane's temporary support of the Kilkenny men. Another Waterford-born
hurler, the late and still lamented Loughlin Byrne, was then in the green
and white Mooncoin jersey. I suspect the same "Locky" Byrne was by way of
being Keane's hurling hero in those long-gone days. That evening in the
Sportsfield must be all of 40 years ago now, but I count it a great honour
to have remained a friend of Keane's ever since then until his unexpected
passing last week
Keane at centre half-back was
the complete hurler. On the ground or in the air, whether the game was
hard and close or fast and open, on a soft sod or an iron-hard pitch, he
was equally skilled, equally masterful.
He was the only man
I ever saw out-hurl Mick Mackey in a Munster championship game when
Tyler's great son was at his peak, and I count Mackey in his prime the
best man I have ever seen on a hurling field.
I felt a sense of
personal satisfaction when Keane at last won that elusive All-Ireland
medal in 1948, although, by then, to those who remembered the epic years
of his youthful glory, he already, at centre forward now, was slightly
reminiscent of Oisín in ndhiaidh na Féinne.
Our meetings in recent years had been all too few and all too far between;
he always remained the same quiet, friendly, humorous and utterly modest
man I had first met when he was an eager boy by Suirside long ago. For
nearly 20 years, Keane's was a name to conjure with on the hurling fields
of Waterford, of Munster and of Ireland. He lived and died a credit to his
club, his city, his county, and to the game he loved. Ní bheidh a shamháil
le fághail again.