Georgie Leahy and his wife, Rita sitting on his right
The thought was somewhat amusing in a sense, but there was no doubting the sincerity of the speaker.
“If I wasn’t sick I would be with some club, no doubt about it,” insisted Sean, or Georgie as he is more popularly known.
He is 78 now, and ill health has left him climbing a hill, but Georgie Leahy retains the passion for hurling, the longing to help others achieve. He still has suitors, and only recently he turned down an offer from a Tipperary club.
He has been a spreader of the hurling message for as long as he can remember. His inter-county travels involved working at different times with Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Waterford (1983), Westmeath, Wexford and Carlow. He was trainer, coach, selector, manager or whatever.
A host of clubs including his beloved James Stephens, Glenmore, Galmoy, Tullaroan, Barrow Rangers (Paulstown), Mooncoin, Conahy Shamrocks and Castletown (Laois) have benefited from his mild, easy ways of imparting the gospel.
He wasn’t exactly ‘Champion of the Underdog’, but like the tradesman’s advertisement might suggest, ‘no job was too big, no job too small’.
James Stephens (1976) and Glenmore (1991) got to enjoy senior All-Ireland club success; others county leagues or championships.
He worked with Kilkenny teams from 1972 to 1978, and was a selector in the senior All-Ireland winning years of 1972, 1974 and 1975; and in 1974 and 1975 at under-21 level.
He coached the Kilkenny minors to All-Ireland success in 1972, and with Leinster he was there when the harvest was returned in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977.
Georgie took on managing Laois when few were interested. He ruled between 1979 and 1985, taking them to the All-Ireland Centenary Cup final (1984) against Cork. That was the first time Laois played in a national final since 1949.
There was more. Georgie helped them qualify for the Leinster senior final in 1981, but they were beaten by Offaly by one point.
And there was camogie success too. With the now defunct St Paul’s (Kilkenny) he sampled All-Ireland success five times.
In more recent times Georgie helped promote the very successful Kilkenny Development Squads system after drifting into coaching in schools after retiring from the former Post and Telegraph, where he worked for 37 years.
“Regrets?” he questioned when the question was posed. “None really. I always did my best. That’s all I ever asked of the players. If they could look me in the eye after games and say honestly they had given their all, I would be happy.”
Three seasons ago he encountered an usual feeling. He was with Galmoy. They lost a championship match they were expected to win against Windgap. He couldn’t figure it out. On the way home he stopped the car, got out and walked around.
“That was the only day I couldn’t talk,” he revealed. “We had trained well and things were going well, but we lost. I stopped the car to catch my breath I was so shocked. I was hurting inside. We under performed. That was the only time I felt like that.”
That upset was exorcised quickly. Galmoy regained their step, winning the All County League subsequently.
“The feeling of winning is wonderful, no matter who it is with,” Georgie insisted. “After all the years it took me that length to be stung to the core. They were after putting in a fierce effort, and I felt for the players.”
He had a particular grá for small rural outfits. Winning with them meant so much to the community, and it helped drive on the game.
His hard work and giving nature have left him with ocean of friends, and there has been a constant stream of callers to his home lately as old acquaintances catch up.
Georgie helped with an interesting Kilkenny People project recently that will be revealed later, and it was only when chatting one realised there was so much to record; so much we had all taken for granted.
In the early years in the job his hand of friendship was always there for me. We remember fondly the season 1975/76 when James Stephens became the first Leinster team to win the All-Ireland club final. Georgie was the lone trainer, coach, selector.
He pulled off a master stroke that day, switching former county star, Joe Hennessy from wing forward to wing-back, with former club chairman, Jimmy O’Brien making the journey in the opposite direction. Both benefited from the move.
The Village beat mighty Blackrock (Cork), a team of virtual All-Stars. To this day, that astute Village change stands in the memory as one of the finest.
“You know, if we had to play Blackrock again the next day I don’t think we would have beaten them,” Georgie announced. “It just happened for us that day. The lads wanted it badly enough.”
Doesn’t get trend
He doesn’t get the trend now, clubs all the time looking for strangers to manage them. That wasn’t fair. He would never overlook “your own people”. It was the passion for your own place, he insisted. That couldn’t be matched.
Georgie always enjoyed the involvement. Some, he laughed, thought he wasn’t married he was so giving of his time. He and wife Rita are blessed with five children, and no less than 19 grandchildren, he proudly announced.
Georgie epitomised the Corinthian spirit. Once he took a self-imposed cut in training expenses because the club was undertaking a major development. The club objected. Georgie insisted.
When he took on management jobs, he didn’t expect stars. He simply wanted to further the game.
“It was brilliant, brilliant to see people improving,” he said with enthusiasm.
The simple gift, he said, he brought to the table was to try and be right and fair with people. Encourage rather than rebuke.
During his own career he won junior (1955) and under-21 championships with The Village. He was only 16 when he started managing teams. He looked after under-14 sides in the parish.
In 1969 he won a senior championship with James Stephens, which was mighty, in part because their previous success had been way back in 1937.
With the late Bill Cody, father of the Kilkenny manager, Brian, he helped drive the establishment of an under-age games structure in The Village. The benefits were huge.
Somewhere in between he found time to serve 13 years as chairman of Bord-na-nOg, and he also gave 10 years as chairman of Coiste Iomána Laighean (Leinster hurling Development Committee).
The driving force throughout was the game.
“If I made a promise to a team, I would be true to my word,” he said. “Hurling was my game. It wasn’t that I was against other games or sports. I didn’t believe in clashes. Players had to make a choice.
“Rarely does anyone win if a player is running from one game to another trying to serve two or three sports. It generally doesn't work.”
Sceptics suggest the county haven’t a D.J. Carey, Henry Shefflin, Eddie Keher, Liam ‘Chunkey’ O’Brien or whoever coming along. They are there alright, he insisted. Time and patience were needed.
In good place
“Kilkenny are in a good place,” he assured. “There is wicked passion in the county, and everything is a collective effort here. When I go to other counties they are fascinated by Kilkenny hurling. Rightly so when you think how small we are.”
So, would he do it all over again?
“I told you, I would be with a club if I could,” he laughed.
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