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11 Mar 2024 by Gilbert Williams

On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs Club, I  would like to pay this tribute to our Vice-President Des Gaynor.

“Chiselled from Ash” is the award-winning autobiography of Len Gaynor.  Had Des penned  his story, “Chiselled from Granite” would have been an appropriate title. In the Kilruane MacDonaghs jersey, there have been tough men, but there were certainly none tougher than Des. For raw power and rugged strength on the hurling field, he had few equals. However, had Des not returned from Melbourne with his family, he would never have experienced the thrills and spills of hurling and  would probably have participated in one of the popular sports down under. Cricket is the national sport in Australia. I find it difficult to visualise Des in all-white attire swinging the bat or bowling the ball. The lack of physicality in cricket combined with its adjournments for lunch and tea would be unlikely to satisfy his competitive instinct.

Australia’s loss was Kilruane’s gain. Growing up in Rapla, the sporting choices were simple and uncomplicated. You could play any game as long as it was hurling. Des is first mentioned in despatches in 1951 when the Kilruane MacDonaghs U15 team overcame Moneygall in the North final.  The Guardian reported that the MacDonaghs half-backline of  Gaynor, Donnelly and Cleary was the rock upon which all attacks perished. The following year, he was part of the minor panel that won the club’s first divisional title in this grade with his brother Kevin lining out in the victory over Nenagh. In 1956, Des was corner-back on the junior team that got the better of Toomevara in the North final. He made his senior championship debut in 1957. The year after, he made the first of his six North final appearances, but a powerful Toomevara side carried the day. In 1959, Des partnered captain Gerry McCarthy at midfield as MacDonaghs dethroned champions Toomevara in the divisional decider. A valiant effort in the County final against Thurles just came up short with the MacDonaghs performance lauded by Sarsfields captain Tony Wall. The Tipperary Star commented as follows on Wall’s gracious words; “His generous tribute were re-echoed by all who witnessed the display of as gallant a band of hurlers as ever represented the North division.“

In the 1960 and 1962 North finals, Toomevara thwarted Des’s efforts to add another divisional senior medal. After a six-year wait, he got his hands on his second medal  in 1965 when a fourteen-man MacDonaghs team, captained by Len Gaynor,  had a dramatic two-point victory over Lorrha. Des started the move that led to the winning goal. Kilruane and Lorrha clashed again in the semi-final in 1966 and the following year in the losers’ group final with Kilruane giving second best on both occasions. These were bone crunching games against a formidable Lorrha side. There were great hurlers on both teams with no player taking a backward step. The rules were stretched to the limit and occasionally breached. The Guardian reporter at the ’66 semi-final wrote that “On occasions players from both sides were apt to be over zealous in tackling opponents and less inclined to play the ball.” I actually think the reporter was being very diplomatic.

By 1968, the successful ’65 side had broken up, and MacDonaghs were not serious championship contenders for five years. During that time, Des kept giving his all on teams that had little chance of success. A youthful team emerged in 1973 and reached the North and County finals. Des was now a veteran but answered the call of the selectors for the North final as 5,400 spectators crammed into Nenagh to see Kilruane and Borris-Ileigh go head to head. A defender by nature, he lined out at full-forward to beef up a lightweight attack. His willingness to play in an unfamiliar position was a typical example of Des the team player. It wasn’t a fairytale ending for him as MacDonaghs lost to Borris-Ileigh by a point. An action photo of Des appeared in the following week’s Guardian. I don’t want to malign his memory,  so I am going to err on the side of being charitable and say that Des was pulling in the general vicinity of the ball, and I mean the very general vicinity. 

Des played senior hurling for seventeen consecutive years in three different decades. He had played with and against some of the best hurlers in Tipperary. The sixties were the golden days of club hurling in North Tipperary when the standard was highest, the rivalries were keenest, the competition was fiercest, and the attendances were largest. Kilruane were involved in some titanic tussles, particularly with Toomevara and Lorrha. In the heat of battle, Des could be found in the thick of the action. He would go through a stonewall and come out fighting at the other side.  


Des took his hurling seriously but saw the lighter side as well.  He played in an era where dressing rooms were small and stuffy, and the odour of wintergreen and sweaty socks would overpower anybody with a weak constitution. This is in sharp contrast to a modern dressing room where you could be suffocated by the scent of deodorants.  This incident involves Des and another player with the  fictious name of Tom. On this particular day, the odour of  sweaty socks was dominant. Des remarked to Tom: I hear ye got the water in. You might run the tap on those socks when you get home.” Whereupon the fits of laughter erupted in the  dressing room, and the prematch tension evaporated.


When Des retired, he remained very active in the club. At various times, he held the positions of treasurer and vice-chairman of the senior club. Des was also chairman of the juvenile club and served on the committee. As a player, he  wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves, and in these administrative roles, he gave total commitment. When shoulders were needed at the wheel, Des was at the head of the queue. At meetings, he was direct and to the point and wasn’t reluctant in voicing his opinion. Des called a spade a spade unless he tripped over one.


He was a shrewd judge of a hurler. Des was razor sharp in recognising a good one, and he could spot a dud at a distance. He was a selector with the seniors, juniors,  U14s and U12s. When Des was involved with any team, no effort was spared. In 1975, he was a selector with the senior team that reached the County final, and in 1998, he was manager when the juniors won the North final. Large backroom teams are now the norm. You can have physicians, statisticians, physiotherapists and psychologists on the line. Des operated at a time when the minimum of help was available. He was fiercely loyal to his players but didn’t pamper them. Des’s quick-witted comments are now part of the club’s folklore. On one occasion, a player was looking for a drink, and the bottles were empty. “Chew a blade of grass,” suggested Des. An instant and environmentally friendly solution to the problem. The cry of” run it off” was the reliable remedy for  leg injuries of all descriptions. In one game, a player got a clatter on the hand and was feeling a bit sorry for himself.  “Run it off,” advised Des much to the astonishment of the bewildered player who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Another evening, the junior team was playing Toomevara in Cloughjordan. An opposition player went down with cramp and the Kilruane player in possession, following the practice in soccer, deliberately hit the ball over the sideline to allow the injured player to be treated. “What the hell are you doing?” yelled Des “you are not in Old Trafford now.” Needless to say, a similar incident never occurred on Des’s watch after that. He didn’t show any family favouritism. His nephew Brian got a nice nick on the chin in a match in Borrisokane where Des was a spectator. After the match, a  concerned supporter asked Des about Brian. “He’ll live,” replied Des sympathetically “I often got a worse scratch from a briar.”


Des will always be associated with Kilruane Bingo on a Saturday night. As well as being a consistent revenue earner for the club, it was always a great social occasion where Des was in his element enjoying the banter and interaction with the patrons. His determination and dedication kept it going during six decades. On several occasions, it looked like the Bingo was on its knees. It rode out recessions and lived with lockdowns. The smoking ban could have sounded its death knell but was probably a blessing in disguise. The bingo is now going as strong as ever, eloquent testimony to  the resolve and resilience of Des and his loyal colleagues. How very fitting that he reposed in Kilruane Hall where he spent so many happy hours and made so many great friends.


In 2020, Des was elected vice-president of Kilruane MacDonaghs. A well-deserved honour as he has been involved in one capacity or another with the club for three quarters of a century. My abiding memory of Des is that he was a warrior who could have hurled with Cuchulainn in Eamhain Macha or with Matt the Thresher. In Knocknagow. A passage called  “The Man in the Arena” from a speech by American President Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly. Des was that man in the arena in the Kilruane MacDonaghs jersey, displaying determination and fortitude in both victory and defeat, the same fortitude and determination that were very much in evidence in his battle against illness.

Des has done the club some service. We acknowledge and appreciate his service,  a service that was freely and willingly given without any expectation of reward or anticipation of remuneration, a service that was given with good humour and sharp wit, the minimum of fuss and the absence of fanfare.

On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs Club, I extend sympathy  his wife Maureen, his sons Michael, Ned and Sean, his daughters Eileen and Marie, his brother Len, his sisters, Mary, Imelda and Maelisa, all his family and friends.

Des was one of the most recognisable, one of the most popular and one of the most colourful characters in our club and in our community.  There was only one Des Gaynor. There won’t be another.  Suaimhneas síorai dá anam uasal cróga.