THIS Sunday the convoy of Kilkenny cars and buses making their way from the city and county to Croke Park will be listening to a man who has experience of dispatching the Premier County in an All-Ireland final.
John Kinsella was part of the 1967 panel who beat a dominant Tipperary team in a tough, hard fought match. For years now, John has been on the airwaves on the local radio station, on All-Ireland final day - playing the requests from the fans, adding in some old favourites and generally making sure we get as far as we can in fine form - with the sound of home still coming through our stereos.
He’ll talk about the weather, the traffic, who is on the road and where, throw in a few horsey tips if we are feeling extra lucky. And there’s the classics, ‘The Rose of Mooncoin,’ maybe ‘The Moon Behind the Hill.’ All to get us up for the match. Even if you’re not travelling, it’s compulsive listening on All-Ireland final day.
John was a stylish wing forward - and brought his swing to the golf course. A head man at Barlo Nissan for decades, he retired a couple of years ago and is enjoying life to the full.
He won’t take over the show with hurling - but he knows the game inside out. A Bennettsbridge man, and a Kilkenny hurler, Kinsella was a member of a star-studded club and county panel.
Such was Bennetsbridge’s dominance of club hurling in Kilkenny in 1967 that a training match between Bennettsbridge and the best of the rest of the county was set up to finalise the All Ireland panel.
Bennettsbridge had six players on the panel. The captain Jim Treacy, Seamus Cleere, Paddy Moran, Jimmy Bennett, Noel Skehan and John. The Bennettsbridge team was invited to take on the best that the rest of the county had in an effort to finalise the Kilkenny panel for the All Ireland final.
“It was a once off situation I think that Bennettsbridge took on the rest of the county, never heard of it before or since,” said John Kinsella who was part of the All Ireland winning ‘67 team. He took to the field in Croke park with five minutes to play and marked his 20th birthday with an All Ireland medal. It was the first time Kilkenny had beaten Tipperary in the championship since 1923.
As if tension wasn’t high enough on the day of the final, one of Kilkenny’s star players, the late Ollie Walsh, managed to injure himself on the way to the game. A game of 25’s had been in full swing and when one of his opponents hit twenty five, Walsh had thumped the glass partition. His fist went through the glass and Ollie Walsh needed stitches before the All Ireland had even begun. The whole team were sworn to silence, while Ollie Walsh was smuggled to the hospital.
Despite the injury, Ollie Walsh started the game and put in a star performance. The Irish Press reported that “Ollie Welsh was the hero of heroes”. Mr Kinsella described the game as a tough low scoring match. Kilkenny only just won the game by 3-8 to 2-7.
“Kilkenny were geared up and it was either win or bust. There were heavy tackles both ways taken and given. There weren’t that many frees given in those days. When Kilkenny and Tipperary met it was always tough, it was fair and tough. With seven minutes to go I got the call. Your going on, Jimmy Bennett was going off injured. Eddie Keher had been injured before that and Tom Walsh had been injured. We had our share of injuries at the time.” he said.
It was Kilkenny’s training that stood to them in the game. Tipperary only scored a single point from play in each half. The Kilkenny manager at the time, Fr Maher had insisted on three things, skill, ball control and tight marking.
Looking back on the training Mr Kinsella can see how the game has changed. There wasn’t as much emphasis on gym work and fitness back in Mr Kinsella’s day. That’s not to say that the ‘67 team weren’t fit. Mick Lannigan had them running laps of the pitch and doing sprints but they didn’t train as much in the winter as the current team. “There’s no comparison with the fitness today. They go in for weights and they have an awful lot of different training methods. We didn’t have a dietician or any of that. We got tea and ham after training. It’s a different ball game now all together, they have dieticians and they train in the gym during the winter and all of that. They are a lot fitter and healthier than we were. There were no isotonic drinks at half time in our day, a glass of water and you were grand, if you were lucky you got a slice of orange.”
Winning an All Ireland was also tougher back in the sixties according to Mr Kinsella. There were more teams that were challenging. It was harder to get into the final and there were very strong Galway and Wexford teams around.
All Ireland champions in the sixties qualified to play in Hurling’s World Cup. The victorious Kilkenny team of ‘67 were flown to New York to play in a World Cup final in New York. This was the first time John Kinsella had ever been on a plane. “I’d never been beyond Salthill,” he said. The two legged final was held over the course of a week in Gaelic Park New York. The Kilkenny team were put up in a Manhattan hotel and treated to a heroes welcome in America. Despite playing in temperatures of 70 degrees Kilkenny still managed to beat the New York team in front of a crowd of 10,000 ex-pats. Looking back on the team and its achievements Mr Kinsella thinks that it was a privilege just to make the Bennettsbridge team in the sixties. They were all either on the Kilkenny panel or future panellists. “Bennettsbridge had an unbelievable team. It was a privilege to even get in the (Bennettsbridge) panel at all. They were all legends in their own right,” he said. “I won an All Ireland on my birthday. Nice way to celebrate the Birthday, certainly one of the best presents I ever got”, he added.