Kilkenny V Galway: Sound man Jim was Kilkenny’s gift to Galway hurling

Leo McGough consults the archives to recall the life and times of Danesfort native Jim Brophy who played senior championship hurling with Galway from 1941 to 1954, winning Fitzgibbon Cup (UCG, 1942), Railway Cup (Connacht, 1947), Galway SHC (An Cead Cath Gaelach, 1947, 1948) and NHL (Galway, 1951) medals in a colourful career …

Leo McGough consults the archives to recall the life and times of Danesfort native Jim Brophy who played senior championship hurling with Galway from 1941 to 1954, winning Fitzgibbon Cup (UCG, 1942), Railway Cup (Connacht, 1947), Galway SHC (An Cead Cath Gaelach, 1947, 1948) and NHL (Galway, 1951) medals in a colourful career …

“Three-quarters of a mile east of Galway City is little Gaeltacht enclosed within the four walls of an army barracks. It is the headquarters of An Cath Gaelach, the Irish-speaking First Battalion at Renmore.

“Situated on the seashore overlooking Galway Bay, with the hills of Clare in the distance, it has facilities that could well be the envy of the proprietors of our leading holiday camps.

“In Renmore live men from 22 of our counties, the majority being native speakers from Galway, Mayo, Kerry and Donegal. But there are also many from other parts who have a good working knowledge of the language on enlistment.

“It is not surprising that these men quickly improve their knowledge of Irish for from the moment. I passed the sentry at the gate who addressed me in Irish, until I left with the wish, “slán leat agus go n-eirigh an t-ádh lear!” Irish was used all through the day.

“All commands on the barrack square, and conversations between officers and men were in Irish. Even out on the hurling field, where recent recruits were being coached by All-Ireland hurler, Sergt. Jim Brophy, Irish was the language used.”

So wrote an ‘Irish Press Reporter’ in a recruitment piece which appeared in the national daily in March 1952 by which time the All-Ireland hurler Brophy had spent 14 eventful years in the picturesque Western army headquarters.

Jim, though, was a native of Danesfort, Co Kilkenny but played all his adult hurling in Galway after he was transferred to Renmore Barracks by the Irish Army when 18 years old in 1938.

An accomplished centre-half-back, who later ‘retired’ to the corner while also enduring an experimental sojourn in attack, Jim Brophy proudly wore the maroon jersey of his adopted county from 1940 (won a Connacht JHC medal, played in the All-Ireland Junior final, made his NHL debut) to 1954 (came on as a veteran sub in All-Ireland semi-final), a decade and half during which Galway were desperately unlucky not to have won All-Ireland senior honours.


The Tribesmen lost three All-Ireland semi-finals by a single point, another two by two points while a goal nine minutes into stoppage-time finally scuppered their strong 1953 All-Ireland final challenge, a game Cork won by 3-3 to 0-8 and which entered hurling folklore for the Mickey Burke/Christy Ring confrontation which spilled over onto the steps of Barry’s Hotel the following day … but sin sceil eile!

Mind you, by then, Brophy had long been steeled in surviving tough championship hurling collisions as having enjoyed immediate success with the Army when Renmore won senior status by annexing the 1938 Galway junior crown, his first taste of a senior semi-final, a 1941 victory over Eire Og, Ballindooley, was reported thus in the ‘Connacht Tribune’:

“When the game ended some 200 odd members of the Army formed a cordon near the gate and, belts drawn, prepared to save their players from assault with fist and hurleys, but the assault did not materialise.

“One player was chased across the field after the final whistle. Dodging in and out among the crowd which had swarmed on the field, he eventually found protection among his clubmates and supporters

“The match lasted about two hours. Play was held up for a long period when one of the Ballindooley players who was ordered off the pitch by the referee refused to leave and lay down near the middle of the pitch. He was eventually persuaded by other Ballindooley players to comply with the referee’s instructions.”

When the report finally focussed on the hurling, we read: “The outstanding features of the game were the grand displays by Vincent Baston and James Brophy, both of whom have been chosen from the Army side to go into training for the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final against Dublin. Both may be regarded as certainties for the semi-final.

“Brophy, a Kilkenny man – filled the centre half-back position in front of Tony Brennan, but he was to be found wherever danger threatened the Army defence. He was unbeaten in ground play and his overhead clearances were a remarkable contribution to the Army victory.”


Renmore were beaten by Loughrea in the 1941 final and operating as An Cead Gaelach the Army outfit were also beaten in the Galway county finals of 1945 and 1946 when city rivals Liam Mellows (for whom Brophy played for for one season) proved their bogey-team. Army perseverance paid off when crowned champions in 1947 when captained by Jim Brophy.

Carnmore were comprehensively beaten and the first battalion retained their crown in 1948, Brophy again the skipper, as St Colman’s, Gort were beaten in a 13-goal thriller in the Sportsground, now the headquarters of Connacht rugby.

There is no doubt that the presence of a strong Army team in the Galway championship helped raise the standard and with men of the calibre of Tony Brennan of Tipperary, Rebel County Billy O’Neill, Limerick’s Tommy Moroney and Brophy declaring for county and dovetailing with such talented natives as nifty net guardian Seanie Duggan, marvellous mid-fielder Joe Salmon and sensational sharpshooter Josie Gallagher the Tribesmen’s inter-county rating soared.

Indeed, had Waterford’s Vin Baston, the star midfielder on that title-winning Army side – the First Battalion also won the Chaplain’s Cup, the All-Ireland Army Unit Championship, a few times – thrown in his lot with Galway for longer than the single year of 1942 there is a fair chance the Liam MacCarthy Cup would have visited Corribside at least once between 1923 and 1980.


An all-Galway Connacht team recorded a magnificent Railway Cup triumph in 1947, Leinster beaten in the Croke Park semi-final, Munster in a final delayed until Easter Sunday after frost caused a St Patrick’s Day postponement.

Of that 2-5 to 1-1 victory over the Southern superstars at GAA headquarters we read. “Galway’s display was an exhibition of fast, first-time, accurate hitting, with their centre-field pair coming off best in five out of every six clashes, their backs marking keenly and their forwards manoeuvring cleverly if not always successfully; and behind them, between the posts, they had a custodian who again proved himself without peer. … J Brophy subdued Jackie Power (Limerick) so effectively that the latter made no contribution to the Munster effort.”

Later that year came the cruelest of their one point All-Ireland semi-final defeats, Kilkenny inching a controversial clash in Birr, Terry Leahy shooting the winning point in lost-time after Galway supporters had earlier invaded the pitch mistakenly believing the final whistle had sounded and their heroes had recorded a famous victory.


Leahy was to loom large again four years later, this time in the New York colours as in the Big Apple’s Polo Grounds he stood over a 21 yard free late in the 1951 National Hurling League final, the Exiles trailing by a point. Duggan, though, saved and in the closing minutes Josie Gallagher rifled over two trademark points to leave Galway deserved 2-11 to 2-8 victors in front of 40,000 excited emigrants.

The men of the West had beaten an up-and-coming Wexford in the ‘Home’ final, franking the form of a 1950 Oireachtas final triumph over the Nickey Rackard inspired Leinster men and Galway went into collective training for the 1952 All-Ireland semi-final clash with Munster champions Cork.


In an interview with a ‘Connacht Tribune’ representative Mr Paddy Fahy, N.T., trainer of the Galway hurling team revealed he was “delighted with the way the men had turned up for training and the spirit of co-operation they had shown in the rather tough training schedule.

The collective training, which will end on Saturday when the selected team and substitutes will travel to Limerick, is being carried out at Renmore Barracks. The Castlegar and City players stay in their own homes at night, while the other men are staying in Mr Matt Hackett’s {hurled with Galway in ’37 and ’38 semi-finals} house in Prospect Hill, Galway.

“Twenty-five hurlers, including all the regular team with the exception of Lieut. Tom Moroney, who is doing a special course at the Army Equitation School, are taking part in the training.

“Training commences each morning at 10am with hurling practice for twenty minutes. Special emphasis is placed on fast ground striking. After that the men have a half mile slow run, followed by breathing exercises.

“At 10.50-11, sixty yards sprints, after which they are treated to an egg flip, followed by a pep talk on hurling tactics. From 12 to 12.30pm, wrist exercises and striking followed by a massage.

“At 1pm, lunch (all meals are based on a special training die); 3pm, match practice. The men usually have a 10-a-side game among themselves or play an army selection. Sergt. Brennan is again on the spot between 4 and 5pm to give the players a massage; 5.30, tea, after which the men are free to rest for the evening until bedtime at 11pm.”

And you thought intensive preparation was a 21st century phenomenon?!


Galway were beaten by two points in that 1952 semi but a year later after another bout of collective training the men in maroon finally ended their semi-final bogey

Famed ‘Connacht Tribune’ scribe J.B.D. wrote of that victory: “At one stage in the opening half it looked as of the crafty Kilkenny men were going to run the men in maroon off their feet, as points poured over the Galway bar with paralysing precision. But it was then that the cool heads of Galway’s seasoned champions saved the day. Against his boyhood friend, Langton, Jim Brophy hit an inspired patch and so the half-time deficit was kept down to five points. The second half was a feat of hurling and the good wine was surely saved for last.”

Later, having extolled the virtues of Billy O’Neill, J.B.D. opined “flanking him his Army colleague, Jim Brophy, successfully turned back the clock and put in an hour’s play which entitles him to be ranked amongst the best backs of the day.”


In an interview with the ‘Connacht Tribune’s Brendan Carroll ahead of the 1986 All-Ireland final Jim Brophy recalled “Those years saw fate strike some cruel blows against Galway – no fewer than three times we were denied a Croke Park final appearance by a solitary point, in ’44 by Cork and in ’45 and ’47 by Kilkenny. And two points separated us from Cork in the ’52 semi-final” which Jim remembers as one of the greatest ever matches.

“We were in hard luck many of those years. And Cork were regarded as something of a bogey opposition for us” a retired Army Sergeant Major who was then living in Tirellan Heights in Galway city.

The All-Ireland final loss to Cork was a particularly sore outcome. “We were well there with a chance and only a point behind near the end of the match when Cork scored a late goal.”

“The whole squad used to gather together for collective training which lasted for a fortnight. We went to Galway, Portumna, Ballinasloe and even Mountbellew once, where we were put up in the old workhouse.”

The style of Galway hurling (1986) has changed considerably too in the opinion of Brophy, who played in most defensive positions in a career which brought him face to face with greats like Christy Ring, Mick Mackey, Jim Langton and Tim Flood.

“It has changed an awful lot and I think its generally for the better. Galway’s style of play is now more the Kilkenny style of hurling, there’s a lot more running, carrying the ball and fellows running off the ball.

“In my day you didn’t run very much – you always had one or two on the team who were solo-runners – but nowadays everybody seems to do it. Overhead striking is a thing you don’t see much of either.”


This was a theme the Kilkenny-born born Galway stalwart had visited before in 1981 when in an interview with Peadar O’Brien in the ‘Irish Press’ as part of the all-Ireland build up Brophy stated “I suppose you could say it was different in my day,”. And then with just a hint of a smile on that happy face of his “I suppose you could say we hit first and didn’t ask any questions. Rarely was there a prisoner taken.”

Jim has retired from the Army but still holds down a civilian job in Renmore Barracks where many of the great Galway teams trained in years gone by.

“There is a lot more running now. There is a lot more movement and players are carrying the ball. I cannot say if the game has improved because I do not like to make comparisons.

“Ours was more of a shoulder-to-shoulder type, I do think, however, that a lot of the glamour has gone from the game. There is nothing as exciting as a good shoulder charge, an overhead double on the ball, a point from a side-line puck. If that happens to-day the players are cheered by the crowd.

“In our day, it was taken that if you could not double in the air, if you could not cut a side-line ball over the bar and if you could not time your shoulder charge properly you were wasting your time trying to get onto any team.”

Brophy admits he is not sure whether he would like to be an inter-county hurler in these days. “They have a lot of pressure on them. We rarely had visits from pressmen and there was no such thing as TV.”

Like Offaly’s Tom Donoghue {81 Galway corner-back}, Brophy is an ‘outsider’. “I was born in Kilkenny but came to Galway many years ago and now regard myself as a real Galwayman.

“My greatest hurlers?’ I will not classify them in any great order, but who can forget Ring – I certainly will not – and what about the superb skills of Jim Langton and Josie Gallagher. They were my top hurlers. I remember when Josie cut three line balls over the bar in one game. He would have got player of the month or Star of the Week or something like that, this weather. But Josie knew it was expected of him. That was hurling.”

*Jim Brophy passed away in October 1998 and was given full military honours before being buried at the New Cemetery, Bohermore, Galway.