A galaxy of hurling stars from Kilkenny, Wexford and Tipperary gathered in Inistioge’s Community Centre, Cois Abhann on Sunday to mark the Golden Jubilee of Eddie Keher’s first wearing of the Kilkenny senior hurling jersey.
That was back in 1959, when he changed his shirt after the All-Ireland minor final loss to Tipperary and replaced the indomitable Johnny McGovern in the replayed senior final against Waterford.
The Centre was beautifully presented with suitably coloured favours of the club and the county. On stage the guests were interviewed by Kilkenny’s Community Radio Pat Treacy.
While the packed hall enjoyed the banter between Treacy and the guests on stage, Barrie Henriques added to the occasion with interviews of other guests in the body of the Centre.
Chairman of the Rower-Inistioge club, Richie Tierney, welcomed all.
He was delighted to see so many of Eddie’s playing colleagues present. He spoke with great admiration and pride about the importance and status that an iconic sportsman like Eddie Keher brought to the parish.
“We all bask in the glow of Eddie Keher’s achievements, his star qualities, and his acclaim throughout the land and further afield,” he said.
“We feel a great sense of pride by organising this evening to mark his Golden Jubilee, and we hope that you will enjoy joining us in doing so.”
Master of ceremonies was Ned Quinn, the former chairman of the Co Board. His interview of Eddie Keher took people on a magical journey carousel of memories, from the players encountered over the many years of Eddie’s hurling career, with anecdotal references to events on the many playing pitches that Keher adorned in that time.
Chairman of the County Board, Jimmy Walsh, addressed the audience in his own inimitable way, taking them on a rush through his own flashbacks as a youngster growing up in Windgap of Eddie Keher the hurler.
He referenced the perceived influence of Fr Tommy Maher on the hurling life of Keher. Above all, he spoke of what people told him about the importance of Eddie Keher’s contribution to his parish; his contribution to his own place in matters not even closely related to hurling or the GAA.
Pat and Barrie spoke to the players of Eddie’s era locally and their memories of events; some seriously, others not so. All had different tales to tell.
Being an Inistioge native, Treacy had a very astute memory of them. He cajoled the likes of Billy Murphy, Tommy Malone, Donal Kavanagh (who had a blinder in goal when the club won their only senior championship in 1968), to Fr Noonan, the retired Parish Priest in that ‘hurling stronghold’ of Portarlington, to whom he introduced Eddie Keher.
Fr Noonan’s telling of the event brought the house down.
Then there was Michael Lyng and Richard Tierney - Lyng vehemently making the point that the influence of Eddie Keher on, and within the club was so important, and so influential in everything it did.
Kieran Joyce told the story of meeting a bicycle vendor in Lanzarote who had a picture of Eddie on one of his bikes: the vendor didn’t know the surname of the vendor, just Eddie. That got more than a titter from the crowd!
And so the night carried on. It took some time to get through all the guests but it was a special event. Among the guests was the entire Keher family.
We listened to former Tipperary goalkeeper, John O’Donoghue while Babs Keating (a great friend of Keher’s for many years) spoke sincerely of that friendship, with a few anecdotes thrown in for good measure.
The Centre was full of goalkeepers! We had Donal Kavanagh, Noel Skehan, O’Donoghue, and Wexford’s Pat Nolan. Teddy O’Connor, the Wexford corner-back who had the job on numerous occasions of marking Keher was there, as was Fan Larkin who kept the interest alive when talking about playing with, but especially against Eddie Keher, and their trips abroad.
Tom (Thomastown) Walsh spoke at length about his time in great detail, and the mighty man in the middle, Frank Cummins was worth listening to. Nickey Brennan, DJ Carey, Richie Hogan and Tommy Walsh honoured the occasion with their reminiscences.
Kay Keher told the story of the trip to New York, where not enough bedrooms were ordered by the County Board, ending up with rooms bulging with an over-population of Kilkenny people in the Manhattan Hotel.
Tony Doran was there. So too among the vast assembly were Gaelic Games greats Chunky O’Brien, Martin Coogan, Jim Treacy, Johnny McGovern, Mick Crotty, Joe Hennessy, Diarmuid Healy and Eamonn Doyle who, along with Fr Tom Murphy and Keher, set up the No Name Club.
The Downey twins, Ann and Angela, spoke of their memories of Eddie and the absolute support of camogie he rendered.
Pat Henderson spoke as only he can about the professionalism displayed by his colleague and long-time friend.
In his opinion Keher was the greatest hurler certainly of his era, ranking with Ring as the greatest of all time.
“A hurler,” Mr Henderson said, “who, in my opinion, would have been as great in the modern era as he was with us I am sure.”
A 90-page book was compiled to honour the occasion.
The publication is a must for Rower-Inistioge people; hurling followers too would love it for its pictorial content alone. A bargain at €5, copies are available from members of the Rower-Inistioge Committee.
The evening concluded with a superb interview conducted by Ned Quinn with the guest of honour. A presentation painting of an action shot of Eddie, created on a ceramic tile by local artist Mary Lambert, was a delightful reconstruction of the Keher magic in all of its impact.
The evening came to a marvellous end when Chairman Richie Tierney blew Keher and the audience away when he read a letter from ‘a very special person’.
Finishing, Tierney announced, “The signature on the end of the letter reads, Michael D. Higgins, Úachtarán na hÉireann”.
The Centre erupted!
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