A REPLAY in the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup might be new to the current Kilkenny team - but not for some Cats.
Eddie Keher was a member of the Kilkenny team who took on Waterford in the replay of the 1959 decider - the last time a hurling All-Ireland finished level.
“It was a surprise at first, but a real honour,” the hurling legend recalled. “It was fantastic to get the call-up.”
The call for Keher to join the seniors came after he had lost the minor final to Tipperary (in an action-packed year he also played a colleges All-Ireland with St Kieran’s in ’59).
It might have been a long time ago, but the Rower-Inistioge man’s memories of being summoned are as fresh as ever.
“Communications were a little different at the time,” he smiled. “I got a card from the late and great Paddy Grace (Co Board secretary). I remember the card clearly, which said that Ollie Walsh would collect me for training.
“It makes it more spectacular because Ollie Walsh was a god to young lads in Kilkenny. He was living in Thomastown at the time and, as he had a car, he was asked to collect me in Inistioge.
“Can you imagine a young lad being told in a card that Ollie Walsh would be collecting him for training, and then to go sit in a dressing-room with all your heroes, the likes of Sean Clohosey, Denis Heaslip Johnny McGovern and Paddy Buggy?” he asked.
“It was a huge thing.”
There might have been nerves for a young lad who was stepping into that senior dressing-room for the first time, but Keher had an ally.
“One thing that helped me was that Fr Tommy Maher was the coach of the Kilkenny team. I would have had him for four years in Kieran’s before that, so I was in familiar territory,” he said. “It was great to have him there to guide me.
“Fr Maher told me that I wouldn’t start but that it was very likely that I would be coming in as a sub,” he added. “That helped me to get my head around things.”
Fr Maher, who would later become Monsignor Maher, was very much a hurling visionary during his time in charge of Kilkenny.
“He was way ahead of his time,” Keher said of his former mentor. “I think the book that Enda McEvoy wrote (The Godfather of Modern Hurling) explained it well as before Fr Maher training of teams was very haphazard.
“There was no system about it - he was the first man to analyse the skills of the game and document the ways of practising those skills,” Keher added. “We did those with him in St Kieran’s before he carried them on to the Kilkenny senior team. When it was recognised what he had done there he was brought on to do it nationally. It explains the man, what he did and how his work has continued on to the present day.”
Keher, who came into the team as a sub for the injured Johnny McGovern, also recalled how Fr Maher would use his man management skills before the game.
“Fr Maher never gave you a big lecture before the game - he spoke individually to each player,” he recalled. “We used to stay in a hotel in Clontarf and part of his routine before an All-Ireland was that he would line the team up in the hotel ballroom as they would appear - Ollie Walsh, Tom Walsh, Link Walsh whatever the team was.
“He would give a general talk and then go to each player, look them in the eye and say one sentence. He’d say a different thing to each player, what he wanted them to do or their role in the game. I can’t remember what he said to me on the day; probably along the lines that when I came in I was to play my own game.”
The replay didn’t end well. Kilkenny lost by 3-12 to 1-10.
“It was hard going - Waterford were all over us, particularly in the second half,” Keher recalled. “I got a couple of breaks in the second half and managed to get a few points. I was reasonably happy to think I could score in a senior final, but disappointed that we lost.”
Keher did get ample compensation over the years with Kilkenny. In a glittering career which spanned more than 15 years at the top level he made 50 senior appearances for the Cats.
Along the way Keher helped himself to a whopping 7-74 in his 10 All-Ireland final appearances, winning six Celtic Crosses. He was also named on the GAA’s Team of the Century and Team of the Millennium, but all the honour that stands out the most was when he captained the county to the All-Ireland in 1969 - a career highlight.
“It was my greatest honour with the county,” he said. “Unfortunately we (the Rower-Inistioge) won just one county championship in 1968. I had the honour of being captain of the 1969 team.
“For a few years I was only one from the club on the team, but Fr Tom Murphy came in 1963 while we had four in 1969 (Fr Tom, Pat Cavanagh, Billy Murphy and myself).
“It was great to have our own club so well represented,” he added. “To be captain was a huge honour.”
Although he played in the last replay, Keher is keen to experience this one as a spectator. “It’s amazing that it’s so long since we’ve had a drawn final, but it was an unreal atmosphere coming from the drawn game as a supporter,” he said. “We’ve left Croke Park as winners and losers, but coming out after the draw was surreal.”
Fifty-three years on, he’s eagerly awaiting the new rematch.
“I’m looking forward to the replay,” he said with eagerness in his voice. “I hope the lads do well and do themselves justice on the day.”