The Boys of the summer of 1995
Like the Clare and Dublin senior hurling and football teams that weren’t honoured officially as the jubilee teams at the All-Ireland finals last month, the Covid-19 pandemic also put paid to any plans for the Tipperary under 21 players and management who brought great honour to the county when they defeated Kilkenny in the All Ireland final 25 years ago.
Brian Horgan was the winning Tipperary captain on Sunday, 10th September 1995 at Semple Stadium as the Premier County defeated Kilkenny 1-14 to 1-10.
At nineteen years of age and one hundred and thirty-two days old he was one of the youngest men to lead any Premier County team to an All-Ireland success irrespective of the grade.
That 1995 success bridged a gap of six years since Tipp last won the All-Ireland in the grade when they defeated Offaly in Portlaoise in front of over 30,000 spectators. Tipp reached the final again in 1990 but lost to Kilkenny. There was more disappointment to follow in 1991 when the minor team lost the All-Ireland final, also to Kilkenny. Three years later much was expected from the Under 21 team and after needing a replay to get over Limerick they crashed to an eight-point defeat to a Paul Flynn inspired Waterford at Walsh Park.
“The papers had us favourites, but we went down to Walsh Park and Waterford hammered us,” recalls Nenagh’s Kevin Tucker who played corner forward in the 1995 success.
“The following year we had absolute zero hope. That probably helped us. It was match by match and suddenly you were in a Munster final.”
Holycross/Ballycahill’s Michael Doyle was the Tipperary manager. The former senior star captained his county to All-Ireland under 21 success in 1979. He had Portroe’s Jerry O’Brien, a Munster Junior medal holder with Tipp in 1985 as part of his management team along with and the very knowledgeable Donal McGettigan of Killenaule.
Brian Horgan was appointed captain following Knockavilla Kickhams victory in the 1994 County Under 21 ‘A’ Hurling final.
“I had two more years in the grade,” Horgan said of being made captain aged nineteen.
“I got injured in the Munster semi-final against Cork when I broke a bone in my foot in the last twenty minutes.
“Michael Doyle didn’t start me in the final against Clare. That was the day Clare arrived togged out and the match started late. We were lucky to win at the end. I came on as a substitute at the very end and accepted the cup. It was a nice gesture.
“ I didn’t play the semi-final against Antrim, but they started me in the final against Kilkenny. However, I didn’t play very well.”
Some of the 1994 side returned with Philip Shanahan, Thomas Dunne, Liam McGrath, Kevin Tucker and David Bourke leading Tipp to a first-round victory against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on June 27th. Tipp led 0-10 to 0-1 at half-time. Limerick produced a mini comeback but late goals by Declan O’Meara and Aidan Flanagan sealed a 2-17 to 2-3 victory.
The semi-final against Cork at Semple Stadium on July 12th saw Kevin Tucker’s goal give Tipp a 1-11 to 1-6 half time lead. Thomas Dunne’s accuracy from frees moved Tipp eight points clear when Cork’s Kieran Morrison was sent to the line. Alan Browne’s goal two minutes from time came much too late before Declan O’Meara’s goal helped Tipp to a 2-19 to 2-9 victory.
Clare were the opposition for the Munster decider which was scheduled for July 26th.
Hurling fever had engulfed the Banner county as their seniors defeated Limerick in the Munster final earlier in the month, bridging a gap of 63 years.
Reaching a Munster under-21 final with seven seniors on the panelgave supporters reason to believe in another success but to some, reason went out the window when Clare requested the under 21 game be postponed until after the All-Ireland senior semi-final against Galway, which was to be held on August 6th. Frank Lohan, Ollie Baker and Fergal Hegarty were on the Clare team at that stage.
The Munster Council refused the request and, in the days leading up to the final, there very strong rumours that Clare would not field said Kevin Tucker.
“I remember working in Derek Browne’s pub in Nenagh that summer. Theresa and Derek Browne were the owners and Theresa was from Broadford in Clare. The Clare supporters would stop at the pub. There was great craic and the Paddy O’Brien Festival was also staged at the same time. It was mayhem,” he recalls.
“The whole conversation was is it going to be on? Mike McNamara was a selector with Clare seniors and also manager of the Clare under 21 team. He paid a visit to Browne’s a day or two before the game. There was no chat, but you would know by him that he was ready for action. Later, I found out from Theresa that the game would go ahead but there would be something different about the clash.”
Clare opted not to field their senior starters with Lorcan Hassett, Fergus Flynn and James Healy, also on the senior squad allowed to play, and it would have been more but for Eamonn Taaffe injured with a hamstring injury, that would afflict him again weeks later, but only after scoring the match-winning goal in the All-Ireland senior final.
“We went out onto the field for the warm-up and the game was ten minutes late when Clare ran on to the field, receiving an incredible reception from their followers,” added Tucker.
“Within seconds it was drowned out by the boos by the massive Tipp following. I don’t think I ever experienced a team to run on to the field to be greeted with such a roar from their own and the boos from the opposition.
“The match overall was not a good match. It was too tense. I remember playing in the corner and Thomas Dunne was in front of me on the wing. Michael Doyle was walking down the side-line giving instructions to Thomas and myself. But who was coming up against Doyle only Mike McNamara. They were basically heading for each other. Somebody had to move one side, but nobody did, and they hit each other a right shoulder and stayed walking. Michael didn’t give an inch.”
Tipperary led 1-7 to 0-6 at half time as a strong-minded Clare outfit took the game to the home side but poor shooting and an excellent Brendan Cummins kept Tipp in front. David Bourke got the Tipperary goal.
James Healy dominated at centre back for Clare with David Forde (a future star with Clare) making an impression up front. Keith Slevin moved to for Tipp and began to curb the influence of Forde, but every time Tipp went three in front Clare would cut the margin to one. Ten minutes from time it was 1-11 to 0-13 before Tipp’s strength began to tell and they outscored the visitors 0-6 to 0-1 in the final minutes as Tommy Dunne, Terry Dunne, Declan O’Meara, and Pat Croke found the target. Tipp won 1-17 to 0-14.
After the game, both sets of players put rivalry to one side with the customary handshake but for some the tension continued.
“Clare players came togged out on the bus and after the game the players went back on to the bus and did not tog in until they got back to Scarriff in Clare. The bus was not to stop in Tipp,” Tucker again.
“I remember after the game the supporters coming out on the pitch to congratulate us. The Clare players swapped their jerseys, but I could see Mike McNamara going around swiping back the jerseys from the Tipp boys. Things were that tense. You could understand the Clare thinking. They were going for an All-Ireland senior semi-final and probably thought they were disadvantaged.
“The grass in Navan was very high. I remember Sean Maher came on as a substitute. He is from my own club and these things stick out on my mind,” recalls Brendan Cummins who lined out in goal against Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Against the Ulster champions, with Brian Horgan unable to start with Liam Barron deputising as captain. Noel Morris won a place at right wing back while Keith Slevin moved to midfield and Liam McGrath took over on the forty in place of Andy Moloney who missed the game though injury. Eddie Enright was also replaced with Darren O’Connor taking over on the edge of the square.
O’Connor made and impression and his goal helped consolidate Tipp’s early dominance as they led 1-8 to nil lead after a quarter of an hour. Antrim responded with an Aidan Mort goal, but Tipp prevailed, and the goals continued to arrive with Darren O’Connor (2-2), David Bourke (1-2) and Declan O’Meara (1-1) helping Tipp take a 4-8 to 1-1 lead at half time. Declan O’Meara added a further 2-3 in the second half, but his performance came at a cost.
“I went up for a high ball and an Antrim player came in with his hurley and clipped me over the right eye. I had no helmet. The injury left just a bare mark,” O’Meara recalls.
“I went home and began losing vision during the week. I went Limerick hospital. The doctor told me I had a detached retina, and it was starting to tear, so it was going to happen eventually. It was misfortunate before the All-Ireland final.”
Knowing he was not going to play in the final leading up to the decider was heart-breaking as he spent a week in Cork Regional Hospital where he received a visit from selector Jerry O’Brien and clubmate Kevin Tucker.
“I was recovering after the operation and we had the craic about the games but after they left for home I remember welling up because I knew what I was going to miss the game,” he said.
“Michael Doyle rang me and said that I was still part of the panel. I obviously was not going to train but would be involved for the two weeks leading up to the final. I togged out and was on the field and looked after the hurleys. It was surreal.”
Holders, Kilkenny agreed to come to Semple Stadium for the final on Sunday, 10th September. The game was the second part of a double bill with Kerry accounting for Mayo in the replay of the All-Ireland Under 21 football final. Over 24,234 patrons filed through the turnstiles as Tipp were seeking their eighth title, Kilkenny their seventh.
With Andy Moloney and Declan O’Meara unavailable through injury, manager Michael Doyle was delighted to see the return of captain Brian Horgan to wing back. Keith Slevin moved to six in a direct switch with Aidan Butler who moved to midfield. Eddie Enright got the nod at corner forward in place of Declan O’Meara.
“Kilkenny were well fancied but going into the final, but I always felt we had a good chance as it was in Thurles,” said selector Donal McGettigan.
Tipp appeared to be in a lot of trouble in the opening minutes when Brendan Ryan scored a goal for Kilkenny. Tipp never lost sight of the Black and Amber and at half time they trailed 1-5 to 0-6.
“In the first half, Kilkenny dominated the game,” McGettigan said.
“But at the same time we stuck with them and they went in three or four points ahead at half time. At half time we replaced Eddie Enright with Philip O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer wasn’t originally on the panel but was playing well with Boherlahan and was scoring goals.
“I watched the Kilkenny full backline twice and felt there could be a weakness there. O’Dwyer had pace and we felt he could do damage and as it turned out he did and got the goal and won a few frees as well. He played a big part.”
Astute positional switches saw Kevin Tucker move to wing forward, Liam McGrath to midfield and Philip O’Dwyer coming into the attack. The early moments of the second half had Tipp supporters on tender hooks but the save by Brendan Cummins provided relief and from there Tipperary grew in stature as Philip O’Dwyer’s goal (helped by an assist from Kevin Tucker) giving Tipp the lead in the 37th minute. Two points from Damien Cleere had Kilkenny back in front. Thomas Dunne equalised in the 49th minute and from there Tipp moved up the gears to claim a great 1-14 to 1-10 win.
“Brendan Cummins made a great save after half time when we were three or four points down,” McGettigan added.
“Brendan Ryan of Johnstown got the chance. He scored the goal earlier on, but this time Cummins came out and put his body on the line. If that had to gone in, the whole match was gone. That save and O’Dwyer’s goal were the turning points really.
“Both Keith Slevin and Aidan Butler had their best games of the year. Liam McGrath played well at centre forward as it all came together in the second half. Kevin Tucker did a lot of damage all through as well as David Bourke.
“Liam Barron at corner back, was a fellow nobody had mentioned before. He came in out of the blue and I don’t think he had played underage before that. Paul Shelly of Killenaule was outstanding in marking Denis Byrne. Byrne later transferred to Mullinahone and Tipperary. Both Peter Barry and Brian McEvoy were also playing for Kilkenny.”