We had heard for quite some time that Pat Delaney was “not great”, a reference reserved for his state of health only.
Word came via the kangaroo express that he had passed to his Eternal Reward last Tuesday week, and in a strange kind of intransigent way, we felt a little cheated.
Pat Delaney, the hero of thousands, our hero when we needed a hero, was unbreakable, unbendable, uncompromising, single-minded, unconquerable.
Delaney of the barnstorming disposition; Delaney of the straight line route to achievement as he saw it; Delaney of the craggy, earthy presence, looking like a cut-away section of Slea Head facing what challenge the surging Atlantic presented at his bows.
Proud Fenians (Johnstown) man, hurler, supporter of every ideal and idea the club promoted.
So many people spoke of their personal memories of the great Fenians man. Most would refer to him, quite simply as Delaney. It was not Pat, P and most certainly not the formal Patrick.
Two of those salutations, he never even heard muttered, I am sure. Maybe his mother or father used Patrick - parents are like that; but otherwise, never.
Delaney said all there was to say about the man. It is a badge of respect, familiarity, greatness, admiration.
Have you ever heard anyone call the great Mackey or Ring by anything other than by their surname? Delaney had achieved the same status in the affections of the hurling masses.
His exploits are of legendary proportion. Of course many will talk of that ground breaking bounce of the ball off the ground during a famous solo run in Croke Park, or as it became know, the ‘Delaney bounce’. More will talk of the demolition of so many teams at county and club level, because he was no less a Johnstown man than he was a Kilkenny man.
He set the bar of achievement high for himself. He would not ask of anyone other than their absolute best. It may not be enough, but if he felt it was the best that the person had within their capabilities, that would be enough for Delaney
But who am I, a mere mortal, to eulogise about one of the greatest number 11 or 14 that wielded a camán?
We made contact with another icon, another Fenians man, another star hurler whose exploits merited a surname reference - Henderson.
“First and foremost, Pat Delaney was a Johnstown man. He took great pride in his parish, and an absorbing pride in the team over the years in which he was involved directly as a player, a mentor and as a supporter, particularly when his sons were playing. He played an enormous part in establishing the Fenians club some 44or so years ago.
“The fact that the club remained so very competitive was a source of great pride for him. For us in the Fenians club he was a warrior, a leader, our go to man when times and challenges were the most difficult. Our chances of success were greatly diminished if Delaney wasn’t functioning, which was rarely.
“Both at club and county, his career overlapped obviously. Johnstown won five senior county titles in the seventies, and Kilkenny likewise won five All-Irelands from 1969 to 1979. Delaney would have been a major contributor to both club and county at that time. In subsequent years his contribution as a selector at club and county was invaluable.
“He was a very shrewd man in that regard, in fact, in every regard on and off the field. When I was involved in the management of the team in the early eighties his contribution was invaluable. He was a quiet man, with little to say, but his opinion was enormously valuable, and informed.
“When his own lads came along, he involved himself in the management of the Fenians again. Yes, he truly was a great Johnstown man.”
People have spoken of Delaney as a barnstorming, unorthodox, tough, hard centre forward. Would you agree?
“His make-up as a hurler endorsed all of those elements, but I would prefer to say that he was a very cunning hurler. Whether he was on the field of play or in the meeting rooms of decision making, he could see the end game. He could see what he wanted to achieve before most could work out what he really was trying to do.
“He was remarkable in that regard. How he got there by fair, foul and devious means didn’t matter, as long as he realised his objective. Whether there was a choice of going through a fellow, or around a fellow, he would choose the more expedient way at the time.
“Similarly with issues of a club nature. Often he would make a decision that certain things might be the right way to go, but how he got that done wasn’t necessarily by conventional means. He played his hurling the same way, and I admired him enormously for that. The result was the important thing really at the end of the day.”
He was a great hurler?
“There is no doubt about that. If you look at his build, he was ideally set up for the game he played. His height, his width, his centre of gravity, his strength all enabled him to do a lot of things that players of a different physique just could not do. He had the strength in his shoulders to catch a ball high, and he also had the lower body strength to get down to the low ones.
“If you looked up the field and picked out Delaney, you knew that all you had to do was put the ball in front of him and he would certainly get it. Nobody had the strength to get around him to take that ball. His scoring returns were very impressive and people would often talk about the Purcell/Delaney axis, but they both made huge contributions on the scoreboard in their own right.
“Without their scoring abilities there is no doubt that we would not have won as much as we did. That is absolutely certain.”
The perception was that he was a quiet man. Was he? How was he in a dressing room, for instance?
“He was a man of few words. What he said carried great weight. The dressing rooms scenario is difficult to describe years after the event (smiling), but let’s put it this way, he had a great influence in the dressing room. Whilst others, myself included, might be rather loud, Delaney’s approach would be to have the quiet word in the ear.
“He had a terrific analytical brain, and his vision, awareness of things around him, and his decision making on the field were uncanny.”
School in Lisdowney
Pat Delaney went to school in Lisdowney, and he played schools hurling there. The parish of Johnstown was honeycombed with numerous clubs. Delaney played minor hurling with St Finbarr’s. A move to unify the parish into a single hurling force was initiated around the late sixties, within which people like Pat Delaney, Pat Henderson and others were leading advocates.
With the Fenians, a great hurling storm was whipped up, which saw them annex a county junior title (1968 beat Glenmore) and the senior title in 1970, ’72, ’73, ‘74’ and 1977.
“Delaney came on the Kilkenny senior panel in 1968. Wexford beat us that year, but in ’69 we beat a superb Offaly team and he scored three goals. We would not have won that day without Delaney’s goals. He stayed on the team from 1968 until 1977. That was a fair innings.”
He was a very capable lad?
“He was shrewd, an intelligent man, rooted in the land, who worked excessively hard at whatever he was doing. He had a great brain, and whether in business or farming or whatever else he was involved in, he applied himself diligently and assiduously.
“He was a rogue who had a sense of humour, and he loved nothing finer than to wind lads up, be it on the field or playing a game of cards. He never contemplated any other result but a winning result. Even in a simple game of handball, there could be blood spilled in the ruins of Grangefertaigh Abbey, as we would play for two old pennies with a ferocity that was frightening at the time. He was a winner.”
You will miss him?
“Of course I’ll miss him. As a great friend over many years, I miss him very much.”
Another man twho knew more than most about Pat Dealney, was a man who hurled with him, and against him more often than most, James Stephens and Kilkenny’s legendary defender, Phil ‘Fan’ Larkin.
You crossed swords against him, and fought in the same trenches with him, Fan?
“The one thing you would have to say about Pat Delaney was that he would do the same thing for Johnstown as he would for Kilkenny, of that there can be no doubt. He was a wholehearted player, gave it all for club and county. He never knew when he was beaten.”
He was a great talisman for Johnstown and Kilkenny, a kind of warrior that knew no bounds to his efforts?
“ Yes he was. A bit of a rogue who would use every means to upset the opposition if you would let him do it. That was alright when he was hurling with Kilkenny, but in the local championships that situation would change. He was not an all out skilful hurler.
“I know in 1972 he did that hopping the ball on the ground move, but he wouldn’t have been as skilful as his son P.J., but he was as strong as a bull. You just couldn’t take him off his feet, and many tried I can tell you.”
You had many a tussle in the local championships?
“Club games were different to inter-county. I would have marked him when we would be training with Kilkenny. He was exceptionally strong. At club level, it was difficult to mark him. I would know his antics, and he would be well aware of mine.
“He would also know that I wouldn’t be afraid of him. He wouldn’t spare you, but that was a two-way street. He wouldn’t be adverse to letting in a high one, but he was a great man for Kilkenny. He never travelled on a line other than a straight one, and he would prefer to go through you than around you.”
He knew his hurling, Fan?
“For sure he did. What people fail to remember was that he was a selector on three winning All Ireland teams in 1979 (my last year), and again in 1982 (Fan was a selector) and 1983. Kilkenny won a treble double that time, when winning the Division 2 League and National League in 1982, and the League and Championship double again in 1983.”
For a strong man, well set, he was no slouch?
“He had woeful pace. When he’d be charging forward you would be thinking about getting out of his way. You might consider side-stepping, but it would never cross his mind.”
Did you like him as a fellow traveller on the county team?
“I didn’t know him that well, me being from the City and he from Johnstown. He could intimidate the bejazus out of you if you let him. You didn’t have to like lads when the dust was flying around the square, but when the hurling was over, I got to know him as a county selector. I found him to be very honest and decent.”
He was a very valuable and needed addition to the Kilkenny set-up?
“Certainly he was. He came at the right time for us anyway. He got three goals against Offaly in 1969, and he got a desperate belt against Cork in the final. He was unlucky in 1971. I thought Frank Murphy was hard on him that day.
“He didn’t get frees that he should have playing on Con Roche. He was great in 1972 and 1973. He was brilliant in ’74 and again ’75. Sure he got four goals in the National League final replay against Clare of 1976. He fell into poor health for a long time.”
You will miss him?
“I’ll miss meeting him. We would have the craic, and the bit of blackguarding. He was a great Kilkenny man, none finer. Of course I’ll miss him. I wish we had him now. We could do with the likes of him.”
One of Pat Delaney’s out of house opponents, some might even use the word foe, was that giant of full-backs in the seventies, Pat Hartigan of Limerick. He was a tremendous admirer of Delaney, a man he respected, met socially on occasion, and actually played with on All Star trips.
You were opponents, and on occasion team mates, it was sad news for you and all hurling followers in Limerick to hear of his passing?
“I came onto the senior Limerick team in 1969, but I first crossed swords with Pat Delaney in 1971 in front of over 20,000 supporters in an Oireachtas final in the Gaelic Grounds. Tipp had beaten us in the Munster championship, and they had also beaten Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
“The Oireachtas was to decide in many people’s minds who was the second best team in the land. We barely got the win, but it was sweet. In subsequent years we beat Kilkenny in the League semi-final in 1972, the All-Ireland final in 1973, but they more than made up for that the following year in 1974 when they put us in our place for sure.
“That was a marvellous Kilkenny team, which some say could have won five All-Irelands in-a row. Central to that greatness was the superb Pat Delaney. Ironic now to recollect that when we won in ’73 that my own clubman, Eamonn Grimes was captain of the Limerick team, and Pat Delaney was captain of the Kilkenny team.
“As captain, he certainly led from the front with all of the marvellous attributes he possessed in his hurling portfolio. He had courage to burn, and he feared no man. He faced challenge with amazing confidence in his own abilities.
“He was a unique hurler in the sense that you could never out guess him. You could never out think him. You certainly could never out wit him. I was deeply honoured to play against him, and certainly with him on occasion on All Star trips in America.
“Having said all of that, Pat Delaney was a gentleman, a player and as a good friend in latter years. I would have to say, none came better. I would like to convey my condolences to Pat’s family, his wife, children, brother, relatives and friends and to the Johnstown club too, because we have all lost one of the great hurlers of any era.
“On this occasion it is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Pat Delaney, who nurtured the skills in his family subsequently. The entire hurling family will moan the passing of a wonderful sportsman, and particularly here in Limerick where there is a tremendous respect and admiration of Kilkenny, and of Kilkenny hurlers. One of the greatest sons of the game has gone to his Eternal Reward.
“Heaven is the richer by his passing, because of the arrival of a superb centre half-forward, cum full forward of the calibre of Pat Delaney.”
Go n-deana Dia trochaire ar a anam dilis.