We TOOK ourselves off to Ballincur to meet one of the most honourable, decent and grounded hurling people one could wish to meet on a walk across God’s creation. Jimmy Lynch lives on the family farm on the back road from the Royal Oak on the outskirts of Mooncoin on the way to Kilmacow.
You pass by the eye-catching racing establishment of young Eoin Doyle, one of a number of thriving such establishments in the south of the county before you come to the Lynch household, and a fine imposing residence it commands on the roadside.
In fairness, we had the intention of talking to Jimmy, but hurling being the catalyst that it is, Jimmy Lynch came with some baggage, and I mean no disrespect to Jimmy’s neighbours and brothers, Dan and John, but both men are such enthralling hurling people, that our chat took on a life of its own, as the three brothers bounced fact, statistics, analyses off each other for clarification.
From the initial seconds, it became apparent that the brothers, Dan and John had a deep respect and admiration of the brother that had won every hurling medal available on the national stage, with the exception of a much-prized (at the time) Railway Cup medal.
“The lads went to Mount Sion inside, while I was the dunce of the gang,” Jimmy laughed. “I went to the Mooncoin national school where I was taught by Mr Denn, who lived in Waterford. I went on to Mooncoin technical school afterwards.”
Mooncoin was a hotbed of hurling and nationalism in those times. Its hurling tradition had been hard earned and well documented. Was there any alternative sport or sporting icons available to the youngsters growing up?
“Ah no,” he smiled, and one noticed that the so likeable Jimmy was under some pressure from the inquisition. Being the modest man that he is, he did not see how anyone could be interested in interviewing him about his hurling exploits.
But to me Jimmy Lynch had a hidden hurling life that was not too well known. I learned this from talking to people I know in Mooncoin, including relations, Ned Quinn, Ned Doyle and so on. Jimmy Lynch was a player ahead of the posse in many respects.
When he got serious about his hurling, Jimmy Lynch imposed a training regime that was somewhat extraordinary relative to the times that we are talking about.
“He was a fitness pioneer,” said Ned Quinn. “Word has it that he would be running round one of the family fields at 7 o’clock in the morning before starting his job in the Paper Mills. It is a well-known fact too that he was a tremendous student of diet and dietary control methods.
“To this day I would be aware that he is still very conscious of his diet, and the type of food he eats. He is a disciple of organic food production.”
It is very hard to put any type of chronology into an interview with Jimmy Lynch, because his nature, being what it is, does not allow him to indulge his own acclaim or fame. He is itching to talk about others.
He is bubbling to speak of the exploits of Joe (Dunphy), Doyle (Ned, Jimmy and John) in that order. He practically explodes when discussing the merits and contribution of Claus (Dunne), and he goes into the stratosphere when extolling the greatness of McGovern, Cleere, Coogan, Henderson, Keher, Larkin, Skehan, Walsh and more.
“I remember we played against the ’Bridge in a semi-final and we were down 14 points or more at half time. Well Dunne nearly single handidly beat them on his own during the second half. Only for Noel Skehan he had them beaten. He scored 2-9.
“That was unbelievable, considering we were playing against the greatest club team Ireland has ever seen. Dunne was outstanding. He had a big heavy hurley, but he had great wrists. He was a natural. He is a great golfer they tell me. He could play great football. He was a naturally gifted sportsman with terrific natural abilities.”
By the same token, and in similar vein, the great Claus Dunne belted 3-5 against the Fenians, a feat that forced his selection on the county team for the ill-fated All-Ireland Final against Limerick, which Limerick won in 1973.
McGovern his hero
I suppose you can still rattle off the injuries encountered by the Kilkenny team on the run-up to that final?
While we were travelling that road, I asked him about the player that was so much a part and parcel of youthful Mooncoin life.
“Johnny McGovern was my hero,” Jimmy said without hesitation. “He made hurling look so easy. He had a great temperament, and I heard that he never had his name taken by a referee. He was a great role model for us young lads growing up. He was a spectacular hurler.
“He had perfected the art of picking the ball as it came to him, and striking it without taking it into his hand. Then there were others that time who were revered by us young lads. Sean Clohosey, Mickie Kelly, God be good to him, Ollie Walsh and Mick Kenny were great too. Little did I know that one day I would be in the same dressing room as some of them, with the same jersey.
“Sure that was a great honour as far as I was concerned,” he smiled.
Back to Ballincur, Jimmy, Dan and Johnny.
Tommy won under-14, 16 and minor honours with Mooncoin during the mid-fifties. He captained Mooncoin to win the minor title in 1958. He also played with the Kilkenny minors in 1958.
He won the Leinster final, beating Laois (how well I remember - I was marking Murty Leahy that day) but were beaten by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. Jimmy won county minor medals with Mooncoin in 1960. He was a sub on the winning All-Ireland minor team of 1960.
Jimmy remembered the names of those yesteryears.
“On the Mooncoin teams I remember Willie O’Keeffe, Mike O’Brien, Tommy Ryan, Denis Kinsella, Claus Dunne (later), Holdens, John Jo Kinsella, Heneberys, and of course Joe (Dunphy).”
Bachelor Jimmy religiously travels into Waterford one day a week - everyone knows when - and meets up with many of his hurling friends and neighbours in the Granville Hotel. There was great rivalry - still is - between the Waterford team of the late 50s and early 60s?
“That time we used have great games with the likes of Mount Sion, Ballygunner, Erins Own, Portlaw and others,” the Mooncoin man recalled. “We would be meeting the likes of Martin Og Morrissey, Mick Flannery, Frankie Walsh, Cheasty (RIP), John Kirwan, Philly Grimes and Freddie O’Brien. I would meet many of them later at inter-county level.
“Every one of them were great men, and great hurlers. Grimes, Walsh, Cheasty and Condon were terrific, but I always thought that Flan (Flannery) was the best of them all because he was as fast as a hare and as brave as a lion. He was only slight but that didn’t stop him.”
About rivalry he had this to say.
“I would never hold a grudge against any man. I wouldn’t be that type. Once the game is over, you shake the man’s hand and hope to meet again. I would always wish a man well, and wish his team continued success if they bet us. And if Waterford were playing tomorrow, I would be supporting them. And many of them I have met over the years, particularly in Waterford, and I am delighted to say that no man has ever refused to shake my hand, and I have given no opponent reason not to do so.
“There were great Factory League games too. We used have great battles with the likes of Clover Meats. They had great teams. The Kilmacow man, Sean Williams played with them, but he was also a great organiser, besides being a terrific hurler.
“You could be playing against a clubman in those games. They were hotly contested affairs too.”
We got to talking about the famed fetes around the county. Did he ever win the suit lengths?
“I did begor,” he smiled. “I won a couple; not as many as the Bennettsbridge lads. They won enough of them for the whole parish. I won one with Kilkenny when we played Cork down in Newtownshandrun.”
Talking about the ’Bridge, Jimmy had great admiration for them.
“They were magnificent as a team. They were the complete package, and when you look at their players, they had more great players than most county teams. Sammy Carroll was probably the best club hurler that ever played the game. Then they had Paddy Moran. Sure he was a genius. He was a match winner.”
He took to demonstration.
Make eejit out of you
“He had a swivel in his body that way, that you couldn’t kop. He’d make an eejit out of you as quick as look at you. He had a great engine, and he could stay going all day. Then the Treacys were great men, and Johnny, Seamie, and of course Skehan. Sure where would you get better.
“They all came from a small circle of houses, and they knew one another so well. Their combination play was pure magic. We always got it hard to bate them, and seldom we did.”
We swivelled round to the value of Fr Tommy Maher to Kilkenny hurling. What influence did he have on you Jimmy?
“He was a great coach, and a great adviser,” he answered. “ My first match was against Clare in the National League, and before I went out, Fr Maher took me to one side and told me that my man, Jimmy Smith, was only a one sided player, that he could only strike off his left side. No matter what you do, and no matter how he twists or turns, he will only strike on his left side. How right he was,” said Jimmy Lynch.
How did you get on?
“I did all right,” he glowed. “ I never gave him a score.” Job done!
His next game was a qualifier for the annual Wembley Games trip when Kilkenny played Wexford in New Ross for the right to travel. He faced the iconic Nick O’Donnell - ‘twas O’Donnell’s last game for Wexford.
“I got on OK agin him, but me next game was agin Ned Wheeler,” he smiled again. “There was no sign of a small lad coming in to me, all big lads. That was the thing at the time. A rale big lad would be fired in at full-forward to put manners on the full-back.”
You weren’t too simple yourself, Jimmy!
Johnny interjected: “Ah he was too quiet. He’d never give a lad a dig or anything that way. He would only react to a slap. He couldn’t box. He was a bit shy”.
There was a bit of codding going on.
Bit of a scuffle
Dan drove on with: “ Box? Are ya codding me. Sure he couldn’t box cards.”
The Lynches one, the scribe lost.
Jimmy remembered a famous National League game against Tipperary in Nowlan Park, when an altercation between Pa Dillon and Michael ‘Babs’ Keating was the talk of the place.
Prior to the game, Dinny Kiely layed Jimmy a bet of a five-pound note that Tipp would beat the Cats. Take it away Jimmy.
“I was playing on Sean McLoughlin, while Pa Dillon was full-back and Martin Treacy was in the other corner.,” Jimmy recalled. “Dillon had the game of his life agin Babs. He was out in front for every ball, and he swept it down the field 60 yards.”
During the first half the ball went out over the end line, and a Tipp player received “a tip” of the hurley. (You are at liberty to define tip). A Kilkenny player was knocked with a belt of a fist. There was a bit of a scuffle at first and then a big bust up with others getting involved.
Paddy Grace, the then County Board secretary, was in the middle of it trying to quieten things down.
“Ah there was no real damage done - a few belts of a fist or so that way. You know yourself,” said Jimmy.
I don’t, but I know that multi-repeats of the incident have conjured all sorts of imagery for many listeners over the years.
“The good thing about that game was the fact that I went into work on Monday and made straight for Dinny Kiely to collect me fiver,” roared Jimmy Lynch as the memory came screaming back.
Was it a memorable source of pride when he was first called to the county team?
“Ah sure it was. I remember the Hogans of Portnascully picked me up in the car one day to take me to a match in the early 50s. Wexford were in their prime that time, but I could never see the day I would be asked to play for Kilkenny. So when I got the call, I was over the moon,” he smiled.
Incidentally the Hogans mentioned were nephews of the famed three Doyles of Dournane (Eddie, Dick and Mike).
Mooncoin won the senior championship in 1965 by beating Bennetsbridge.
“That was a great team. Besides Dunne and Doyle, we had great men in the likes of Mickie Conway, Tom Nolan, Tommy Walsh, Martin Howley (RIP), Wattie McDonald (RIP), Pat Delahunty (RIP), Johnny Walsh (RIP), and Dick Dunphy (RIP). I played at centre-back.”
His toughest opponent?
“I played against plenty of good ones,” he assured. “Babs Keating, Mackey McKenna, Martin Coogan, Mick Roche, Colm Sheehan (Cork) and others, but I would have to say that Roche was a prince of a hurler. Never a bad stroke, and a great sportsman. He had beautiful hands and a marvellous body swerve.”
Jimmy Lynch made his inter-county debut as a defender against Wexford in the Leinster championship of 1965. Wexford won so that finished that.
Reached All-Ireland final
The following year Jimmy Lynch was again on the Kilkenny team. They reached the All-Ireland final. He was captain of the team, playing at full-back. Kilkeny were beaten by Cork in the final, but they were back again the following year.
This time Kilkenny defeated the Tipp men, for the first time in an All-Ireland final since 1922.
Jimmy won and lost National Leagues against Tipp during those years. He won an Oireachtas medal against Cork. He finished playing with Kilkenny after the 1973 All-Ireland final against Limerick.
On the club front he finished in 1979, a long time, considering he started playing senior back in 1962.
Stories come tripping off his lips like the falling rain. He tells of a game against Tullaroan when a certain Tullaroan player remarked about his crew cut hairstyle. The named player reportedly informed Jimmy that he shouldn’t have wasted the money at the barbers, because “he would have done the job for nothing”.
He went to America twice in the sixties. He loved it. He regaled all and sundry about the sights of New York and Chicago. It was so unusual to get to places like America at that time.
He could stay talking about the 1967 final forever. He could talk about Tipp getting a single point from a free in the last minute of the second half, and the exploits of Ted Carroll, Pa Dillon, Jim Treacy, Martin Coogan, Pat Henderson, and Seamie Cleere.
It was great meeting the honest, honourable Jimmy Lynch, and the clan Lynch, Johnny and Dan.