It is every clubs wish to win an All-Ireland title. Only a few however, are capable of realising this wish. Kilruane MacDonaghs are one of these select few.
The ambitions of this esteemed and famous club were fulfilled in March 1986 when this determined and committed side captured national honours by defeating Buffers Alley, Wexford champions and favourites, in a closely contested battle.
Euphoria reigned in the parish of Cloughjordan. Kilruane were now the nations best. Has there ever been a team so determined, dedicated and spirited as the Kilruane MacDonagh side of 1986?
The foundations for this triumph were laid as soon as the team made a tame exit from the divisional championship in 1984. Many people had seen this defeat as the final chapter for a team that reigned supreme in the late ’70s.
The players however felt that they had done themselves less than justice in that defeat, and they were determined to redeem the situation as soon as possible. The opportunity presented itself two weeks later when they entered the seven-a-side All-Ireland. Surprising many, including their own loyal fans, the team brought back the only All-Ireland title to Tipperary in centenary year.
At the clubs annual convention, new selectors in the person of Billy O’Shea, Jim Casey and Len Gaynor were appointed. Physical training commenced in early February. Challenge games were arranged, as selectors tried to blend a team together for the championship. The object at this stage was victory in the first round of the championship. The motto: “Direct hurling is effective hurling”.
The North Championship
The first round of the championship pitted the team against Silvermines, who had always proved worthy rivals. The game failed to ignite, but MacDonaghs achieved their objective with a victory on a 0-13 to 1-4 scoreline. Lorrha proved stronger opposition in the second round. This was a dour and keenly competitive match. The solidity of the Kilruane defence with Jim and Denis O’Meara playing pivotal roles, paved the way for victory.
The next encounter was against Moneygall with a semi-final spot at stake. MacDonaghs began sluggishly but by the interval had assumed control of the game. Moneygall put in a spirited rally in the second half but the issue was never in doubt. A semi-final spot had been booked and the team was blending into a tightly knit unit.
In the semi-final MacDonaghs were paired against Borrisoleigh. Artic like conditions prevented the game from going ahead on the scheduled date. A fortnight later the sides confronted each other. The game marked a return to the colours of Eamon O’Shea. His return seemed to be the spark which ignited the team, and his presence gave the attack more pace and mobility. MacDonaghs led from trap to line and an opportunist goal from O’Shea in the second half sealed the fate of Borrisoleigh. This was essentially a team victory but the display of Seamus Hennessy at midfield drew admiration from friend and foe alike, while Seamus Gibson enhanced his reputation with an inspiring performance at corner back. The victory maintained MacDonaghs supremacy over Borrisoleigh with only one loss in the previous ten meetings.
Kilruane were now back in the North final after an absence of five years. Roscrea struggled to victory in their semi-final with Lorrha and consequently MacDonaghs were installed as firm favourites for the final. The decider failed to live up to expectations. Kilruane established early dominance with goals from Gerry Williams and Denis Cahill. At half time they led by 2-5 to 0-8. The second period was a low scoring affair, with defenders on top. At the final whistle MacDonaghs were ahead on a scoreline of 2-10 to 1-10. John Cahill in particular gave a superb display in the number two shirt.
The victory, however was achieved at a cost, as Dinny Cahill sustained an injury that was to confine him to the role of spectator until the county final. Supporters celebrated this success in great style but the eyes of players and management were firmly fixed on the bigger prize that lay ahead.
The County Championship
Old adversaries Thurles Sarsfields were the opponents in the county quarter-final. MacDonaghs had first use of the strong wind and by half time had built up an unassailable lead of eleven points. The second half turned out to be a holding operation as Thurles failed to make any significant reduction on the margin between the sides. Final score: 2-10 to 2-2.
Only Cappawhite stood between the team and a thirteenth appearance of a parish team in a county senior hurling final. The men from the west were deemed to be the unlucky side of centenary year and many had tipped them for honours in 1985. Kilruane faced this tie with some trepidation but the match turned out to be an anti-climax as the greater craft and experience of the North champions proved too good for the best efforts of Cappawhite. The final score of 2-8 to 2-2 flattered the losers.
This victory set up the county final the public wanted, Kilruane against Roscrea. This pairing evoked memories of the classic 1980 final, generally accepted as one of the best in the last half century and the 1978 final of the dramatic finish. Roscoe had looked impressive in their quarter-final and semi-final wins over Holycross and Carrick swans respectively. They seemed to have redeveloped their forces to better effect since the North final and general feeling was that they could make amends in the county decider.
The 13th October dawned warm and sunny. Over 10,000 people crowded into Semple Stadium to see MacDonaghs and Roscrea do battle for Tipperarys highest honour. Roscrea were quickly into their stride and pre-match predictions seemed to be accurate. Having dictated the trend of play in the first period they led at the break by 0-8 to 0-4. The hopes of MacDonaghs seemed to have been dealt a serious blow when Enda Hogan was forced to leave the field mid-way through the first half, after sustaining a fractured thumb. Nobody panicked however, and the selectors took remedial action in a number of areas. MacDonaghs thundered into the game after the interval. Roscrea began to wilt under sustained pressure. Kilruane now had the bit between the teeth. Emotion ran high as Pat Quinlan shot MacDonaghs into the lead with a goal in the 51st minute. Two minutes later Eamon O’Shea added another and the title was on its way back to Cloughjordan. Final score: 2-10 to 0-10.
Players and officials embraced each other. Players hoisted Len Gaynor shoulder high in a spontaneous gesture of appreciation. Yes this was the sweetest victory of all because the obituary of this team had been written in 1984.
The Munster Championship
The Munster campaign began with a scenic trip to Tallow to take on the Waterford champions in the semi-final. In a classic encounter MacDonaghs emerged victorious by the minimum of margins on a 1-18 to 1-17 scoreline. A last minute point from a 65 by Gilbert Williams separated the sides. The Guardian reported:
“It was a quality game throughout but the tension and excitement heightened to almost unbearable levels in the last eighteen minutes when both sides raised their game to a spectacular level of skill and determination that is not often witnessed”.
The Cork Examiner described it as one of the best ever games in the Munster Club Championship.
Cork Champions Blackrock were opponents in the final. In the early days of this century they had thwarted DeWets in their quest for Munster glory and twice in 1978 and 1979 they had foiled MacDonaghs. They had trounced Kilmallock in the semi-final and with a galaxy of stars including Tom and Jim Cashman, Frank Cummins and Dermot McCurtain they justifiably assumed the mantle of favourites. The game ended 1-8 each with Blackrock grabbing the equaliser from a Pat Moylan free. The Tribune reported:
“It was a teak tough match played shoulder to shoulder, and some bruising encounters made it a full-blooded end of the season contest that warmed the blood of the frostbitten hardy supporters who travelled from Cork and North Tipp for the occasion.
General opinion was that Kilruane had missed the bus. The team and management held a very different view and felt that they had the measure of Blackrock. Confidence was well founded as MacDonaghs triumphed by double scores in the replay 0-12 to 0-6.
“Kilruane kings of Munster” screamed the banner headline in the Tipperary star as it reported:
“Kilruane are the kings of Munster. Their steel, courage and fantastic commitment shattered the ambitions of a star-studded Blackrock side at Limerick on Sunday in the replay of this year’s final to give the Tipperary champions their first triumph at this level – an honour richly deserved and comprehensively achieved, much to the delight of the vociferous Kilruane throng”.
A feature of both games was the dominance of the Kilruane half forward line of Ger Williams, Jim Williams and Eamon O’Shea over the All-Star Rockies half back line of Tom Cashman, Frank Cummins and Dermot McCurtain, with Ger Williams giving McCurtain a particularly torrid time on both occasions.
The All-Ireland Series
After the Christmas break Desmonds of London were entertained in Cloughjordan on a heavy pitch with a gale blowing. MacDonaghs had first use of the elements and by the interval had chalked up 2-8 while the emigrants failed to register a score. The decisive goals came from Eamon O’Shea and Jim Williams. Desmonds hurled better in a lost cause after the break. Final score: 2-9 to 0-4.
In the semi-final Kilruane faced Turloughmore of Galway in Nenagh and ran out comfortable winners on a 3-9 to 0-9 scoreline. Goals from Paddy and Jim Williams at the start of each half rocked the Connacht champions back on their heels. MacDonaghs superiority can be gauged by the fact that the Galway side only scored one point from play.
Hurling fervour gripped the parish in the build-up to the All-Ireland final on Sunday March 16th. Black and white flags hung from every house, the village street was decorated with bunting, banners were made up and needless to say there was only one topic of conversation. Buffers Alley stood between Kilruane MacDoanghs and history. A Tipperary team had never lost a club final, a Wexford team had never won one. Buffers Alley were powered by the Doran brothers, Colm and the Legendary Tony, Mick Butler, Martin Casey and Wexford inter-county players Tom Dempsey and Barry Murphy. MacDonaghs felt quietly confident that they could take the Wexford men. They had already defeated Buffers Alley in tournament games and also overcame them in the seven-a-side All-Ireland. Kilruane’s more direct hurling hoped to counteract their physically stronger opponents, who favoured the lift and carry style.
Never has the parish of Cloughjordan witnessed such a mass exodus of people as took place on that historic day. An attendance of 10,716 witnessed one of the great All-Ireland club finals. Buffers Alley started in whirlwind fashion and led by 2-2 to 0-2 early in the first half. Kilruane clawed their way back into the game and trailed at the interval by 2-4 to 0-6. MacDonaghs felt that the ship had been steadied and emerged for the second half in determined mood. Five minutes into the second half Pat Quinlan availed of an error by Colm Doran to whip the ball to the net and bring the sides level. The tide seemed to have turned in MacDonaghs favour but Buffers Alley were made of stern stuff and refused to buckle.
What followed was an absorbing struggle for supremacy as both sides tore into each other with almost reckless ferocity. Six times in the thrilling second half the sides were level until a 65 from Gilbert Williams separated the sides with two minutes left. His brother Jim, who had already scored four magnificent points from play, added another on the call of time.
The quality of the game can be gauged from press comments. Michael Ellard of The Cork Examiner wrote:
“In one of the great All-Ireland club senior hurling finals since the inception of the competition in 1971, Kilruane MacDonaghs wrote their name into the pages of history by overhauling Buffers Alley in the finishing straight at Croke Park”
The Midland Tribune said:
It was a game that had the fans on the edge of their seats throughout the hour”.
For the record the final score was Kilruane MacDonaghs 1-15, Buffers Alley 2-10. Who would have believed it could be done? Without a shadow of doubt it was the greatest day in the clubs history.
All Ireland Final Team
Sub used: Seamus Hennessy for Enda Hogan
Subs: Michael Hogan, Sean Williams, John Quinlan, David Quinlan, Tom Killackey, Ned Darcy, Paul Mulcahy, Eamon Kirby, Jack Darcy.
Selectors: Len Gaynor, Jim Casey, Liam O’Shea.
Kilruane MacDonaghs Scoring Chart 1985/86