It was back in 1967. I well remember it. I was one of thousands of Irish emigrants, sitting and listening, but wishing to be somewhere else.
RTE’s legendary commentator Micheal O’Hehir was telling me that the total domination of one Paddy Moran and one John Teehan over their more vaunted Tipperary opponents was central to the magnificent Kilkenny effort in downing the more fancied Tipp lads in a superb All-Ireland hurling final.
I was sitting in the front seat of a Ford Poplar 4-gear (3 forward, one reverse) motor car parked outside our digs in a borough of Greater Manchester called Higher Blackley. Two things I remember. O’Hehir saying: “He was good in the first half, but his performance in the second when he dominated the great Mick Roche has earned him undying fame and the unconditional admiration of Kilkenny men the World over. The 45-year monkey had been well and truly decimated.”
The man O’Hehir was talking about was John Teehan, proud son of Kilkenny.
I am in John and Teresa Teehan‘s house in Bardstown. Having recalled the above acclamation, John just told me, with some embarrassment: “Ah sure I wasn’t that good. There were plenty of better men than me that day.”
Having done a basic run through background information, I still made a bad start to our conversation by suggesting he was born in Threecastles.
“Can I stop you there,” came the firm reply. “I was born in the parish of Graigue Ballycallan, in a place called Barrack Hill, just down the road.”
He lived in Barrack Hill until he was 10, and then moved to Killree Lane in Threecastles. Having attended Bonnettstown for six months after the move, he enrolled in Tulla national school. “It was known as the Tulla University,” smiled John.
He remembers a day when he was in fifth class, and a letter arriving from the beloved Tom Waldron, principal in Freshford national school.
“Our Master, Mr McAuliffe said that Mr Waldron wanted the sixth class boys to go play with the Freshford schools. I asked could I go although I was still in fifth class. McAuliffe said that it was only for the sixth class lads.
“I was gutted. A week later another letter arrived asking that I go to hurl with the school under-14 team. I was walking on air.” He made the panel again in 1951. Freshford won the Roinn B Championship. Any notables of the future playing with you on that team? “Well, there was Pa Dillon, Sean Buckley, Toss Molloy, Nicky Grace, Johnny Butler, Dinny Butler and Kevin Dalton,” he recalled instantly. “I cannot think of them all, but they were all great hurlers for either Kilkenny or Freshford later, or both when talking about Dillon, Buckley and Teehan”.
There were a lot of good hurlers out that way, one prompted.
“Undoubtedly, and there was huge interest in the game,” he assured.
In 1954 the same bunch of lads went on to win the county under-16 Roinn A title, beating Thomastown by 4-6 to 2-3. The misfortunate Teehan missed out on the minor county final win in 1955 when Freshford took care of Glenmore, 8-5 to 4-5.
The story was that the Threecastles contingent were waiting for the cars to collect them. John jumped down off a wall and made bits of an ankle.
“I went on as a sub in the last few minutes,” he recalled. “With fourteen of the ’55 team still available, Thomastown beat us by 8-4 to 5-3 in the 1956 final. That was a shocking disappointment to us, although we had three great games against The Village in the Northern final.”
When did you play with Threecastles then? “That happened in 1957 after the minor grade,” John explained. “I lived in the last house in the parish, closer to Kilkenny than Freshford. It was very difficult to get up to where the Freshford lads were training in Harrison’s field. There were very few motor cars.
“I don’t believe I even had a bike. But I was friendlier with the lads at my own end of the parish, so I played junior with them. I felt that I was making better improvement with Threecastles. The inevitable happened in 1959. We faced Freshford in the Northern junior semi-final in Ballyragget. That certainly was an occasion fraught with electricity.
“People still talk about that time. The talk beforehand was vitriolic; expectations were high in both camps. In a rattling first game we drew, and that only heightened the talk, the boasting and the expectation. Unfortunately we were beaten with a little to spare in the replay. Passions were fairly saucy betimes for a while afterwards,” he told us.
St Lachtain’s went on to beat Thomastown in the county final, played in 1960.
John Teehan was selected on the Kilkenny junior team the same year. Kilkenny played Wexford in the first round of the Leinster championship in Ferns. They were beaten. A promising inter-county career was shifted sideways.
The indomitable Paddy Phelan was the man who brought the young starry-eyed Teehan from Threecastles to that game. Freshford were well beaten by Bennettsbridge in the championship of the same year. “It was no disgrace to be even sharing the same pitch with one of the greatest club teams this country has ever known,” enthused John. “Threecastles didn’t go too well either in their junior championship, so to cut a very long story short, amalgamation between the two parish clubs was confirmed. In January 1961 the unification of the parish was completed.”
Later that year, Freshford careered through any obstacle presented.
“We were going too well,” John recalled on reflection. “But the best thing that ever happened was a game against the Glenmore junior team. They clattered us. In fact, some might say that they reduced the head sizes, which turned to great advantage later.
“That was the only game we lost the entire year. It primed us for the county final. We met the Near South in the final. They had a terrific team, with the great Ollie (Walsh) in goal, Tom and ‘Link’ Walsh in defence, Denis Heaslip, Mick O’Neill (former county chairman) and a few more. We won by 4-5 to 0-12. There was tremendous celebration.”
John had a tremendous relationship with Joe Mullan, one of the Threecastles trio of selectors on that 1961 Freshford team.
“I got on great with Joe, and he was a wonderful help to me,” the former star explained. “He was always there to bring me to matches. Whether I played bad or good, he would always encourage me. Jack Lalor was also a selector, as was John Butler. We also had Mick Bergin, Kieran Dooley and Tom Waldron to complete the selectorial lineup.” The brilliant Bennettsbridge put Freshford down in the 1962 semi-final, but they thundered back in 1963. John Teehan played most of his career at centre or wing forward. He was at number 10 in 1961, and when Freshford repeated the victory in 1963 he was in the same position.
“We met a Kilmacow team in the first round, and they gave us plenty of trouble, as they had done in 1961,” John recalled. “Castlecomer in the next round were floored, and in the semi-final famed BB loomed. We were 12 points down at the break and Bennettsbridge looked home and hosed.
“Tom Waldron didn’t need to say a word in the dressing room. We knew ourselves. We went back out, and two very quick goals got us moving. We eventually won. We felt it was the best day’s work we had ever done.”
The records will show that the winning goal was slammed home by J. Teehan. The same record books will show that Freshford won a low-scoring county title against Tullogher, 1-7 to 0-3.
In 1964 the defending county champions went out early, and the Summer was spent watching others in action. A Claus Dunne driven Mooncoin came out of the pack to win the 1964 title after 29 years, having beaten Freshford in the semi.
John Teehan’s first taste of senior inter-county action was against Wexford in some tournament in Ferns. He played at full-forward against the mighty Nick O’Donnell.
“What a learning curve that proved to be,” he smiled.
After a series of trials - prominent at the time to unearth talent - in 1962 John was put on the county panel with Dick Blanchfield. John was held on the panel up to the Leinster final, when he was dropped.
“Bennettsbridge put hurling out of my head in a game, and that concluded my county involvement,” he smiled.
In 1963 John would have been confident that he could make the county team, particularly after Freshford had stormed through the local championship. He made the panel, including for the Leinster final. For reasons best known to those charged with making decisions, John Teehan was dropped for the All-Ireland final against Waterford.
Disappointed? “I would be lying if I said otherwise,” he admitted. “It hit me hard because I really had not done much to play myself off the panel. In fact, I hadn’t played.”
Somehow or other I felt that there was more to the story, but with the passing of time, one felt that it would better to leave things be. The sun shone brighter for the Freshford man in 1964. As reigning All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny were more than fancied to double up their All-Ireland achievement.
John played right through the National League; won the Leinster final against Dublin where he was marked by Mick Bohane. He had the number 11 on his willing back.
Kilkenny were favourites to beat Tipp in the final, but alas, favourites don’t oblige all of the time. Kilkenny were well beaten, 5-13 to 2-8. They lost Martin Coogan before half time. Forwards left their expertise at home.
In the account of the game by GAA historian, Tom Ryall, he wrote: “Tipperary led by 1-8 to 0-6 at half time. A goal by John Teehan three minutes after the interval put the losers into a grand position, but the forwards could make little headway against the tight Tipperary defence. Ted Carroll starred and Pa Dillon was superb. The forwards were ineffective, although John Teehan had a good first half.” John’s participation at the coalface of inter-county activity in 1965 came to an abrupt end when, after beating Dublin in the first round of the Leinster championship, he broke his ankle. Short Seamie Cleere, Ted Carroll and Teehan, Kilkenny had a high plateau to scale against Wexford.
The slope was too steep. Wexford went on to the All-Ireland final, only to fall foul of a resurgent Tipp.
Wexford were a daunting proposition all through the sixties and seventies, John? “I’ll tell you something now,” he opened. “Through the 60s’ and 70s’ Kilkenny were always nervous going to Croke Park for the Leinster finals against them. ‘Twas the same at under-21 level. They were tough.
“They hurled with a great passion. They were courageous, and no matter how hard you would hit them, they would be back at you in the blink of an eye. They were bone-crunching hard men to hurl against. They wouldn’t give it to you too soft I can tell you.”.
On to 1967 and what it brought!
John Teehan won a Railway Cup medal with Leinster in 1967. He also broke his wrist. He was being joined in Holy Matrimony with Teresa O’Sullivan two weeks later. He got married.
“Getting the ring on her finger was a problem,” he laughed. “She wasn’t too pleased.”
Kilkenny were beaten again by Wexford in the National League final.
Kilkenny played Dublin in the first round of the championship in Carlow and won by 6-10 to 1-5. Mooncoin’s Jim Lynch scored two goals. The Leinster final was against Wexford. Wind-assisted Wexford led at the break by 0-8 to 0-4.
At 40 minutes, Wexford still led, by 1-10 to 0-5. Goals by Jim Bennett, Claus Dunne and an Eddie Keher 21-yard special got the Cats over the line ahead, 4-10 to 1-12. John entered the fray as a second half substitute at centre-forward. Tipp and Cork were cutting rashers off each other down South. Defending champions, Cork, were beaten. It was blue and gold against black and amber in September.
You were normally a half forward, he was prompted. When did the Moran/Teehan axis become reality?
“In the 1966 League final against Tipp, Paddy said to me would I mind playing on Roche and he would play on Theo (English),” John said when he opened the door on a bit of history. “He had played many times on both of them, but in that game he suggested that I might go over on Mick.
“I always preferred to play on the right side of midfield, so that suited me, even though I was wearing the number 9 jersey. Paddy Moran was an absolutely outstanding hurler, with a tremendous sense of awareness. He was superbly fit, and he had incredible wrists.
“Paddy was at his very best in adversary. When Kilkenny were behind, Moran was a man that became inspired.”
How was the training regime for the final, we wondered. Fr Tommy Maher and Mick Lanigan were the shrew handlers.
“It was nothing like as intense or as demanding as the modern game,” he insisted. “We trained for two nights every week for the three weeks prior to the final. Fr Maher was good, but I thought that the work done by Mick (Lanigan) was the most valuable of all. Fr Maher was a great judge of a man, and of what was needed.
“He was not strong on physical training at all. Mick was excellent on that score, being an international champion athlete. On training nights, he would come over to me and ask what work I was doing all day. I could have been putting in bales, or similar work.
“He would tell me that I was not expected to do much that evening. There was plenty of running laps and sprints. I suppose the specialists now would scoff at that practice, but it was our way. I remember one day prior to an Oireachtas final against Tipp, when Fr Maher said in the dressing room that they were trying to put a team together for September.
“I remember a very prominent player in the dressing room standing up and saying to the great man that we (players) were very interested in the game that day. He was always looking forward.”
What was the pressure like in those times pre All-Ireland?
“There was a vivid presence of pressure,” he felt. “You’d be thinking about the game, the opposition, how you would play, what if you didn’t match up, the referee and a whole lot more. This was more than a special All-Ireland given the opposition.
“We hadn’t beaten Tipp for 45 years. Could we do it? Would we do it? The atmosphere around the place was crackling electricity.”
Paddy Moran got a great tonic for Kilkenny. How so John?
“He was such a fabulous hurler,” he insisted. “He swept in on a breaking ball, and his low drive skated in along the ground like a bullet. It totally deceived John O’Donoghue in the Tipp goal. There was barely five minutes gone.
“We were playing against the wind, and a goal like that gave us great encouragement.”
Tipp led at the break by 2-6 to 1-3. The Kilkenny mood was positive.
“We were hurling well, none better than Ollie and Ted (Carroll),” John recalled. “Pa was hurling a storm at full-back; Jim was looking after Jimmy Doyle very effectively and of course Henderson (Pat) was hurling whatever Tipp fired at him, while Coogan and Seamie hadn’t played better all year. We kind of knew that if we maintained our first-half form, winning was very much on the cards.
Tom ‘Blondie’ Walsh baggged 1-2, his goal in the second half being a game-changer. Eddie Keher drilled three points over the bar. Paddy Moran had his early goal. Martin ‘Goggy’ Brennan grabbed another -what a player - and Claus Dunne scored two points. Dick Blanchfield got on the scoreboard with a point.
“Ah yes,” he admitted, satisfaction dripping fromt he words. “Such memories cannot be bought. I was not a natural hurler. I had to work very hard at getting better, but I was so fortunate to be in the company of such wonderful hurlers.
“When I saw Jim lifting the MacCarthy Cup, I remember some of the lads saying that it didn’t come any better, and it couldn’t. I had my All-Ireland medal, and to make things better, didn’t the legendary Sim Walton, a cousin of Teresa’s promise to give her one of his seven All-Ireland medals, and he honoured that promise. Two medals at the same time in the same household. Ecstasy.”
Due to pressure of work, being a progressive farmer in Tullaroan, John had to take stock of his situation. He never played with Kilkenny again.
Some would have said the decision was premature. He played with Freshford, being beaten by the Rower Inistioge in the 1968 semi-final, but he called it a day. He and Teresa had four children, Patricia, Sean, Mary and Barry. There are four grandchildren now, Lois, Tadhg, Lara and Aaron
“Not a single one,” he assured. “I was lucky to be where I was at the time, and to be in the company of some of the greatest players that ever hurled anywhere. It was a privilege. I won almost everything.
“I made great friends, many from Tipperary and Wexford, our greatest rivals, and not one mili-second of my journey would I change. It was humbling in many ways to be sharing the same stage with all of those greats.”