Thursday 23 November 2017

Paddy Kehoe left me with treasure trove of memories

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

These memories will always be special to me. I'm referring to the rise of Wexford hurlers and the good fortune I had at the time to have been able to see those star-studded players on the playing fields - mostly in National League games in Wexford Park, O'Kennedy Park and Bellefield.

I will never forget those great hurling teams of the fifties, along with that fine football side of 1956 which reached the provincial final before losing out to Kildare by 2-11 to 1-8 in Croke Park.

The death of the legendary Paddy Kehoe on Friday brought those memories flooding back as the Gusserane clubman played such a huge role in both codes during that particular era. I was just seven years of age when Wexford won the 1955 All-Ireland Senior hurling title, retaining the Liam MacCarthy Cup the following year.

At that time the done thing was to gather around a radio and listen to the glowing voice of Micheál O'Hehir as he brought us through those golden moments of Wexford hurling.

And what an amazing man Paddy Kehoe was. Having teased and tormented defences in that 1955 All-Ireland success, I enjoyed my day in Croke Park at just eight years of age when I accompanied my brother, John, and late father, Larry, to the Leinster Senior football final. The memories are still with me, seated on the sideline down under the Cusack Stand, from where I witnessed some of the best footballers ever to represent our county.

Although in the twilight of his career, Paddy still retained that dash and enthusiasm which one associated with fellows 15 years his junior, and after all his years of playing activity he still enjoyed the game as much as any youngster.

Looking back on some records over the weekend I came across this line written by one reporter after Wexford footballers had created a shock by defeating Dublin, Leinster champions and All-Ireland finalists in 1955, in the provincial semi-final at Carlow on a final scoreline of 2-7 to 0-7.

'Paddy Kehoe was their star performer, and with ten minutes remaining he had to leave the pitch with an injury that required fourteen stitches in the forehead.' It was the summer of 1956. It was also the year he retired. He had much on which to look back, much on which to reflect.

He was one of the great dual performers. Indeed, you could call him a triple performer, as in his army days he played a lot of rugby, and he once recalled a weekend when he played rugby at Lansdowne Road with the Curragh army team on a Saturday, and lined out in Croke Park the following day.

Paddy played in all grades of hurling and football for his native Wexford. He won many honours, including All-Ireland, National League, Oireachtas and Leinster titles in hurling, while in football he won a Leinster title in 1945. He was chosen for Leinster in the Railway Cup in both codes.

It all began in 1938, the first of three years as a Minor. When I spoke to Paddy some years back at length about his career he vividly remembered that first Minor game against Dublin at Gorey.

'I was marking Seán Og O Ceallacháin. I broke the bas of my hurley, leaving me with half a bas. I was too shy to ask for a replacement and afraid I might be taken off, so I played on, and even scored a point with it. We lost the replay at Kilkenny, it was the day Nickey Rackard made his debut in the purple and gold.'

After his Minor days, Paddy progressed to Junior level and from there to Senior. Paddy enlisted for the army in 1940 and remained there until June, 1944.

At 5' 9" Paddy played hurling right hand under. He had a tremendous burst of speed with great ball control, and was fearless in action. He has been described as 'a natural performer, the effortless stylist, the football and hurling enchanter'.

He was all that and more. He had strength, stamina and skill in abundance. It enabled him to play both codes at the top level for a span of 14 years.

Paddy always saw the humorous side of things. To interview him was to be entertained. A verse from a poem of that era just about summed him up:

'He weighs 16 st. and never forget,

He has the heart of a tiger and the speed of a jet,

Better keep your distance if you want to grow,

When you're playing on a man called Paddy Kehoe.'

Wexford People

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