One of the great historical GAA books that had never been written, will be on sale in Kilkenny - and elsewhere - from this week.
Not before time, the history of the All Ireland under-21 hurling championship has finally been catalogued for posterity in the 196 pages of Jim Fogarty’s The Cross of Cashel.
It is quite a superb tome, of excellent quality and presentation.
The second I laid my hands on this terrific history, I was immediately whisked back in time to a sunny Sunday afternoon in O’Moore Park in Portlaoise in 1990.
I was fortunate to be a selector on the Kilkenny team facing Tipperary on that occasion.
I remember many things from the day. I remember the great match-winning goal by the great D.J. Carey.
I remember great courage from the likes of John Conlon from Bennettsbridge - remember him? - Patsy Brophy (Erin’s Own), Brian McGovern (Slieverue), Jimmy Lalor (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Tom Murphy (Mooncoin), Johnny Houlihan (O’Loughlin Gaels), Jimmy Conroy (James Stephens).
Well do I remember the silken skills of lads like Carey, Adrian Ronan, Charlie Carter, Tommy Shefflin, Pat ‘Lofty’ O’Grady and more. But my abiding memory from that magical day was watching the captain, James ‘Shiner’ Brennan take The Cross of Cashel from John Dowling with his right hand.
‘Shiner’ never expected the trophy to be as heavy as it was. It came crashing down on the presentation table, still with ‘Shiner’ holding on with great embarrassment.
Argument still reigns about the values and advantages presented by minor teams and under-21 teams.
Some would have you think that the minor grade should be hoisted up a year, and the under-21 grade should be abandoned.
Some people are obsessed with the opinion if lads are still excelling at their hurling craft when reaching the under-21 grade there is more than an each-way chance of them progressing to greater things.
The same argument could not be made with high conviction about the minor grades. Have a look back at some of the names mentioned above and you will get some idea as to the point of the statement, a statement that is replicated many times over, with regard to the marvellous players who adorned the pages of the under-21 championships over the last 51 years.
To the question of why did Jim Fogarty write the book, his answer was very simple.
“I thought that as one of the unwritten hurling histories, the under-21 championship deserved some kind of permanent recognition,” he said.
“It started in 1964, and I have taken it right up to last year. My own county, Tipperary, won it originally, with Clare winning last year.
The top scorer in the first final was the redoubtable Michael ‘Babs’ Keating who scored 2-3. They beat Wexford. On that team were Noel O’Gorman, Mick Roche, Francis Loughnane, and Len Gaynor.
“The Wexford team had Mick Jacob in goal. They also had Dan Quigley, Vinny Staples, Willie Murphy, Christy Jacob, and Mick Kinsella”, said the former Kilkenny County Librarian.
Incidentally, Wexford had their sweet revenge the following year.
It was a championship that has nailed down some of the greatest hurlers the game has ever known. That statement was something the author certainly agreed with.
“Most certainly,” he said. “And there were some terrific games too. In 1966, it took three matches to decide whether Cork or Wexford would be crowned winners.
“The first game was played in Nowlan Park. On that Cork team you had such iconic hurlers as Justin McCarthy, Tony Maher, Seanie Barry, Gerald and Charlie McCarthy and Denis Coughlan.
“Then you have 1989 when Tipperary played Offaly in Portlaoise where there were 35,000 people in attendance.
“We also had the tremendous Waterford v Offaly games and a replay in Nowlan Park in 1993. You will remember lads like Tony Brown, Fergal Hartley, Brian Whelehan, John Troy and more. I could go on.
“Every one of the winning teams produced hurlers of great quality. The list of players who won All-Ireland under-21 medals is phenomenal.”
And that is a list which has plenty of winners of a black and amber persuasion.
“There were such marvellous winners in this county alone,” he continued. “Kilkenny appeared in 22 finals, not including replays, and they won 11.
That strike rate is not that impressive, but on the other hand they were very slow starters, not appearing in their first final until 1968. They did not win their first until ten years after the championship started.
“However Kilkenny still share the greatest number of titles won. They are joint top with 11 titles, alongside Cork, followed by Galway with ten”, he told us.
The book carries photographs of every winning team. It also features the under-21 team of the year, a feature started by sponsors, Bord Gais, plus the Player of the year.
It is a fabulous reference book, but more than that it is chock-full of memories many may have forgotten.
Jim will be signing copies of his book on Saturday in The Book Centre on High Street from 12 noon to 2pm. The Cross of Cashel will be on sale for €20 - a steal at the price.