He was a serving secretary of his club for 25 years - some would swear it was nearer to 40 - and it is still a matter of discussion whether Seamus Dunphy was more a GAA secretary than a farmer, writes Barrie Henriques.
Now into his ninth decade, I got the opportunity to enjoy the company of the great man who was everything to generations of Glenmore GAA people.
I was accompanied by a good friend, a remarkable Gael, a dedicated Glenmore servant, and a man who left New York with his family over 14 years ago. He couldn’t get on without hurling at home, you see.
The man is Mick Duggan, who is retired, although he would have reservations about the unabridged interpretation of that statement.
More about that later.
Having enjoyed the delightful hospitality of Mick’s wife, Trudy, in their beautiful home close to the N27, Mick brought me to meet Seamus Dunphy, who is in the most professional care and attention of the nurses and staff of the Community Nursing Home, New Ross.
What an experience it proved to be.
Born in 1927
The man is an enigma really, given the superb health he still enjoys, but more pertinently the superb ability to recount in meticulous detail events of yesteryear.
Born in 1927 in Glenmore, and even given the fact that farming was his calling, he would laugh at the idea when saying that it was more of an encumbrance when things GAA were on the horizon. But Seamus Dunphy had another sporting interest, known only to his immediate circle.
Seamus Dunphy was a regular at greyhound tracks all over the South East.
We were eager to get into the hurling story. Seamus does not have too many pleasant memories of hurling or football with his local school in Glenmore.
“The Master at the time was Henry Bevans, but he took little or no interest in the games,” Seamus explained.
But how did your all manage to get the basic rudiments of the game if not at school?
“In all honesty, we taught ourselves, pucking around on our own,” he explained.
When you progressed on to Good Counsel, were there GAA people available to coach or whatever?
“Ah, I wasn’t any good really at it, so after doing my Leaving Certificate, I busied myself with the administration of the club for what that was worth,” Seamus smiled.
Did you come back to farm after sitting the Leaving Cert exam?
“That wasn’t the plan at the time,” he said when he took up the story. “I went for an interview with the bank. A grand uncle of mine, Joe Knox inside in Waterford, sponsored me to get an interview, but I made a right eejit of myself talking about things that I knew little about.
“I suppose I tried to create an impression of what I really was not, but I made a mess of the whole yoke,” he smiled at the memories of his one and only bank interview.
It was a well-known secret that in those times, the only way you could get employment in any bank was dictated by someone with a big account sponsoring you.
At 21 years of age, Seamus Dunphy was installed as secretary of Glenmore GAA club. So started a long, laborious, rewarding, historic journey that saw the famed green and gold wearers scale heights never anticipated even in the most prosaic of dreams.
When Seamus Dunphy assumed the cloak of secretary, Glenmore were more renowned for football rather than hurling. After his elevation to office, Glenmore had already captured 15 senior football championships. The mighty Railyard had a mere three.
We asked Seamus about the marquee players in his early administrative days.
“We had the Heffernans, of course. Not the Christy family, but the Heffernans from Aylwardstown. We had Jimmy, John and Paddy Heffernan,” he informed.
Mick Duggan helped out by mentioning the Fitzgeralds.
“Oh yes, we had the Fitzgeralds - Paulie, Billy and Sean. Isn’t Sean the father of yer man that carries McIlroy’s golf clubs? Their first cousin Mickie was a great one too. Then there were the Connors’, Synnotts’ and Heffernans.
“Great men the whole lot of them. Paul Fitzgerald was a mighty man too. Did you know that he replaced the great Nickey Rackard at full forward on the Leinster Railway Cup team, in 1956 I think.”
Down around that neck of the principality embracing the parishes of Rosbercon, Rower/Inistioge and Glenmore it would be New Ross that would be their town for business, socialising and shopping.
It would also have been the centre of their education. Not surprising then that the greatest factional rivalry would be with the Wexford people, their teams and their hurling stars.
At the time frame within which we write, Wexford were kingpins of Leinster hurling. There was no doubt that in that neck of the woods, there was an unbridled vein of admiration for the Wexford team of the Rackards, Morrisseys, Kehoes etc.
It could not have been otherwise as that Wexford team were unequivocally the greatest hurling team of their generation - some might say eclipsed only by the Kilkenny team of the sixties, who in turn relinquished their banner of fame to the present band of Kilkenny artists.
Seamus Dunphy waxed lyrical about Paddy Kehoe, a member of that great Wexford outfit.
“He lives only a couple of hundred yards from where we are now,” he told us. “He was a giant among men. He was way older than most of the 50s team. Only Nickey Rackard, who went to school in St Kieran’s in Kilkenny was close to him in age.”
There was great regard for the Wexford men of that era?
“There was really,” he insisted.
Tell him about the night you sat in on the selection of the Wexford team, said Mick Duggan. Seamus’s eyes lit up.
Laughing heartily, he said: “The Wexford lads picked their team in the Central Hotel, and I happened to be in the immediate area. Before I knew where I was, wasn’t I in the middle of them all, making switches,and picking other lads.”
Did they not show any rejection?
“Not at all,” he smiled. “Sure maybe (with a glint in his eye) they thought that the Kilkenny lads knew more about selecting a team than they knew themselves.”
“Or maybe they thought we knew nothing about the same job and felt we were harmless. I don’t know for sure, but they didn’t kick me out anyway.”
Again more peals of good humoured laughter.
Football - the game
The roguish persona often shown at County Board meetings under the old stand in Nowlan Park still sparkled. Seamus Dunphy would do a bit of hurling training in Rosbercon in the company of Henry Dowling in a field called Shanbough.
In the early days of Dunphy’s stewardship, football was the game.
“There was a year when we had no hurling team,” he recalled. “We played at junior level with little or no gain. Football was certainly our game, and by the end of the century we had won 19 titles. In my time we won five of that nineteen.”
Glenmore were more a victim of the prevailing system where lads could go off and play hurling with whatever club they choose.
“Jimmy Heffernan went off to play with Carrickshock, while Mick Heffernan and Eddie O’Connor hurled with Mullinavat,” Seamus told us. “I remember Eire Og coming down the 31 miles to ask a lad, Tommy Phelan, to go play with them.
“Sure no struggling rural club had a ghost of a chance to get going when all of their best players were being whipped out from under their noses.”
Still the die-hard Glenmore men kept the wheels turning over. More time was being invested in the young lads in the parish. Talk to some of those young lads now, and the likes of present chairman, Frank Kirwan will tell you of times when he was ferried all over the county for juvenile games.
“He truly is an amazing Glenmore man,” Frank said of the former secretary. “If it was for Glenmore he was all for it. He bought a Morris Minor car. Cars were more than a scarce commodity, but Seamus would have up to a dozen in that car bringing them to matches.
“An awful lot of youngsters in Glenmore would owe a big debt of gratitude to Seamus Dunphy for all of the help and encouragement he invested in every one of us,” said big Frank.
In the move to regularise - for want of a better word - the qualification of players playing with any which team, the County Board initiated the Parish Rule regulation.
“I drove that issue as hard as I possibly could at every turn of the road,” said Seamus, and you could still feel the ire and determination coming from his near 90-year frame.
“Jimmy Brophy from Piltown canvassed around the county with me. There were some battles in Nowlan Park and at Southern Board before it got across the line, but we got there.
“It was the dawning of a new age for the lesser clubs in Kilkenny. It set the county on a new plain that has paid off big time,” he enthused.
“Sure lads were playing all over the place. I seem to remember that Jimmy Heffernan played in a Railway Cup final with Leinster at half back, and his brother, Mick, played directly on him at half-forward for the Munster team. That was how confusing the whole thing was.”
At the outset the job of keeping a club going at all was onerous in the extreme. Besides the by-location of players, fixtures were not nearly as co-ordinated as they have become.
Notifications of match fixtures were through the use of the reliable Post Office with the 3d stamp. Telephones were as rare as hen’s teeth, and there were probably only two phones in Glenmore during the early days.
One would be in the Post Office, the other in the parish priest’s house.
“That time too pitches and equipment were a problem,” Seamus remembered. “Mickie Fitzgerald was very helpful with a field at the Half Way House. Other farmers too helped. Then there was the issue of footballs.
“We had a football used from the previous year as a training ball, and maybe for matches too. If we bought a new ball whenever we could afford one, everyone in the parish would be up training.
“Word would go around the parish that we had a new football. Hurling balls too would not be as plentiful as they are now. I see the lads nowadays with bags of balls. We would have one, and maybe a second well stitched by someone in the club.
“Money was tight. We might have a couple of pounds left at the end of the year, and that met with general approval. If we were in debt, there would be a row.”
Going back to the introduction of the Parish Rule, Seamus told the story of the three Glenmore men who regularly played with Slieverue. The introduction of the Parish Rule rendered them illegal to play with Slieverue when Glenmore faced Slieverue in the championship.
Take it easy
Mentioning the three players, he also mentioned two high-ranking GAA officials in the Slieverue club who were very friendly with the Glenmore trio, who influenced the trio to “take things easy” on Sunday in the game. They did. Glenmore were beaten by a couple of points.
Old friendships die hard!
When did the swing towards a greater concentration on hurling happen?
“We beat Foulkstown in 1953 in the junior county final and you could say that it started in earnest from then,” said Seamus.
“That is right,” Mick Duggan added, “but it really blasted off when we won junior in 1980 (beat Tullaroan) and the intermediate in 1981 (beat Dicksboro). We played in the senior semi-final in 1982.
“We struggled for a couple of years in senior, but we came good with a terrific team in 1987 when we beat the Shamrocks in the county final. They had clipped our wings in 1985. They were two superb games.
“They got us back in 1989, but further titles in ’90, ’92, ’95 and again in ’99 still with the core of the 1987 team certainly established us as a potent force in the top rank of Kilkenny hurling,” added Mick Duggan.
That was a memorable era for the club.
Was it the greatest memory you have of your total time with Glenmore, Mick?
“Sure it would have to be,” he insisted. “Kilkenny, Leinster and All-Ireland titles with your own club. Sure how could you better that?”
What about you, Seamus? What was the most memorable things you have from all of your years?
“I remember scoring two goals against Castlecomer in an old special junior match,” he said with a smile. “Sure I was no good, but I remember pulling on one of them to the chicken wire (nets of the day).”
There was something about his answer that prompted me to pause. It was worth the wait.
“Ah sure, it would have to be the memories of all of those wins, and in particular the All-Ireland club win,” he said when he continued. “Remembering some marvellous individual performances like the free-taking of Ray Heffernan, the best free-taker I have ever seen.
“Out of respect, I will not get into the realm of mentioning other players. They were all great. I remember the contributions of some amazing people like Martin Og Morrissey, Tom Casey, Tom Ryan, Georgie Leahy and others.
“But I still can recall with a great feeling of joy and pride the pleasure given to so many Glenmore people by such a small band of great men.”
The Club has never looked back since those days, Mick?
“We have had a few ups and downs, but overall we are still going well,” he insisted. “We purchased our own pitch in Graigue na Kill in 1980, and then four years ago, our young officials who have taken charge of the affairs of took a gamble and bought Páirc na Reatha for close on €850,000.
“You would have to admire the courage of those men, led by our hard-working chairman, Frank Kirwan.”
As we neared the conclusion to our little meeting, I remembered that both Seamus, primarily, and Mick had mentioned so many names that it would be foolhardy of me to even attempt to try and mention them all.
I heard Martin Cass, John Sutton, every hurler’s name that ever pulled on a Glenmore jersey, camogie players, footballers, non-playing officials, but the thing that struck me about the litany of the Glenmore Saints was the reverence and admiration that underscored their mention.
Seamus Dunphy gave every ounce of his energy to his beloved Glenmore. It was reciprocated a hundred-fold.
What an amazing pair of gentlemen we had the honour of encountering.