Tom McLoughney (1940-2021)

08 Mar 2021 by Gilbert Williams

On the 6th May 1954  Roger Bannister became the first athlete to run a sub four-minute mile when he clocked 3 minutes 59.4 seconds at a meet in Oxford. Few will recall that on 21st June, less than six weeks later, the Australian John Landy ran the mile in a faster time of 3 minutes 57.4 seconds. It is a harsh fact of life that the names of people who are first to record achievements are forever etched in our memories while those who are second often fade into oblivion. 

The 1962 All-Ireland final between Tipperary and Wexford was the first televised decider. Tom McLoughney lined out at full-forward and scored the first goal of game thereby becoming not only the first player to raise a green flag but also the first player to register a score in a televised All-Ireland final. The legendary GAA scribe John D. Hickey penned the following description of Tom’s goal in the Irish Independent: In the opening seconds Wexford needlessly conceded two line balls, and from the second cut in by Theo English, Tom McLoughney fastened on to it to give Pat Nolan no chance with a scorcher to the net for a Tipperary goal inside a minute.”

A preview of that final in the same paper had a glowing profile of Tom: One of the reasons Tipperary feel that they can draw level with the “old enemy” Cork is the play of Tom McLoughney. Tom, solidly built with the speed, mobility, intelligence and general know-how to be the ideal man for the job should have a rare battle with the great Nick O’Donnell on the fringe of the Wexford square.” I can relate to almost everything in that profile. Mobility intelligence and general know how. Definitely. Speed. I’m not too convinced about that. Incidentally, in that profile Tom’s height was given as 5-10 and he weighed in at 13-5. 

Although Tom was not the first parishioner to win an All-Ireland senior hurling medal — that honour belongs to Jim Dwyer of Killurane who won a medal with Thurles in the 1887 final — Tom was the first Kilruane MacDonaghs player to win a Celtic Cross. He was also the first Kilruane MacDonaghs player to win a Munster senior hurling medal and a coveted Oireachtas medal.  Tom blazed a trail which thankfully other Kilruane MacDonaghs players have followed.

Tom was born in Coolagorna on the 23rd  October 1940, the second son of John McLoughney and Mai Doheny. He went to school in Ardcroney where the legendary Con Heffernan was principal. Con fostered a love of hurling in his pupils and Tom was one the many young boys who prospered under his expert guidance and tuition. Tom first came to prominence as a ten-year-old when he lined out at corner-forward on the Kilruane MacDonaghs juvenile team that defeated Moneygall in the 1951 North final. Playing right beside him at full-forward was his older brother Paddy. In 1955 Tom was on the MacDonaghs juvenile team that lost the North final to Toomevara. Even in defeat Tom stood out with the Guardian reporting that he was “MacDonaghs outstanding player.” The following year he was part of the junior panel that won the North championship.  

In the late fifties Kilruane MacDonaghs were not a force in minor hurling and unsurprisingly Tom, like many other outstanding hurlers in that period, did not get the call to wear the blue and gold. All that was to change in 1959. Tom began that year plying his wares with the juniors and made his senior championship debut against Borris-Ileigh. MacDonaghs ended a fifteen-year barren spell with a victory over reigning champions Toomevara in the North final. A tremendous effort against Thurles in the County final just came up short but Tom gave an impressive display on Mickey Byrne. The county selectors came knocking on his door and eleven days shy of his 19th birthday he wore the blue and gold jersey for the first time in the League against Galway in Pearse Stadium, scoring 1-1 in Tipperary’s victory. 1959 had seen a meteoric rise to prominence for Tom. He began the season in the obscure and unglamorous junior championship and by the end of the year he had been catapulted into the Tipperary senior team to play alongside the likes of Tony Wall, Theo English and Donie Nealon.

1960 started on a bright note for Tom when he won the first of his two National League medals as Tipperary overcame Cork in the final. He scored two goals in his maiden championship appearance against Limerick and collected his first Munster medal when Tipperary toppled Cork.  Almost 50,000 gathered in Thurles to witness a Titanic battle. In the Irish Independent John D Hickey wrote that “he had never seen men on a hurling field who were so utterly contemptuous of their safety when duty called.” Wexford caused a major shock when beating Tipperary in the All-Ireland final. On that day Tom was marked by Nick O’Donnell who was later selected on the centenary team and the team of the millennium. Tom regarded O’Donnell as the greatest opponent he ever faced. A win over Cork in the Oireachtas final provided some compensation for Tom and his colleagues. 

Tom won his second National League medal in 1961 and in September he realised every young hurler’s ambition when he won his first All-Ireland senior hurling medal. He wore the number 14 jersey on the Tipperary team that had a narrow victory over Dublin in the final. Earlier in the year he was at the centre of a controversial incident that occurred in the Munster Final. The Tipperary and Cork rivalry reached its peak when a record crowd 60,177 crammed into the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. With 22minutes gone in the second half a flare-up occurred between two of the giants of hurling John Doyle and Christy Ring. In the ensuing melee Tom received a blow to the head which not only forced him to leave the field but left him with a nice souvenir of the match in the form of 12 stitches. One national newspaper implicated Ring in the incident. Tom kept his counsel and to his eternal credit refused to identify the culprit. The affair has always been shrouded in a dense fog of confusion and conjecture somewhat similar to the third Secret of Fatima. Tom ended the year on a high note, winning his second Oireachtas medal with a victory over Wexford in a replay. Thus Tipperary had completed the League, Championship and Oireacthtas treble. The prestige of the Oireachtas Tournament can be gauged from the fact that 28,034 spectators witnessed the replay in Croke Park. Only those who comb grey hair can remember those days. 

Tom’s inter-county career petered out after 1962. His last appearance in the blue and gold was in the 1963 National League final when Tipperary lost out to Waterford. It had been a short but very successful stint in the blue and gold jersey. Tom had played with and against some of the greatest names in hurling. On the club front Tom collected his second North senior medal when MacDonaghs had a dramatic victory over Lorrha in the 1965 final.

Tom continued playing with MacDonaghs until 1971. For most of that year he was a reluctant goalkeeper as nobody wanted the number one jersey. Tom was delighted to hand over the goalkeeper’s jersey to me as the season progressed. He also bequeathed his goalie’s hurl to me, an implement so heavy that you would need a caddy to carry it. Tom’s final championship appearance in a MacDonaghs jersey was appropriately in Semple Stadium when he came off the bench to score 1-1 as we lost to Ballybacon. Tom had married Marie Keogh in October 1970 and maybe this alliance hastened the end of his hurling days.  

Tom’s laidback attitude belied the fact that he was a fearless competitor who was well able to look after himself in the heat of battle. Referring to the modern-day tactic of soloing, Tom said it wasn’t recommended in his day as a forward who dared to solo through a defence would be unrecognisable on his way back out. In an era which in opponents used every form of physical intimidation forwards often had to live on their wits. The story is told that on one occasion he was being marked by a boxer who challenged Tom to drop the hurls and trade blows with the fists. The boxer made the fatal mistake of dropping his hurl first whereupon Tom, with hurl in hand, did not look a gift horse in the mouth took full advantage. You know the end of that story. 

Tom’s will to win is best illustrated by an incident that happened in 1977 when he was a senior selector. We were playing in a tournament in Rath County Offaly on a Sunday evening. Tipperary had been playing in Limerick that day and some of our players took the scenic route home, stopping at a hostelry along the way. We could only muster fourteen players. We rustled up a pair of socks and a pair of boots for Tom and played him in goals. As luck would have it one of our players got injured and Tom was despatched to play in the attack while another selector Billy O’Meara, without boots, went into goal. Proving that class is permanent Tom sent over a point and he was determined that short-staffed or not we would win the game and believe it or not we did.  

Tom enjoyed playing the game in a time that every team was full of characters. My memories of the cramped and stuffy dressing rooms in the 60s and 70s in particular was the overpowering odour of wintergreen and smelly socks. It would be an environmental officer’s worst nightmare. This story involves Tom and another player who shall be nameless but for the sake of the story we will call the other player….. Des. I am not sure who the guilty party was because I have heard two different versions. On this particular day the sweaty socks were winning the battle of the smells against the wintergreen. Tom or Des said to the other one: I hear ye got the water in. You might run the tap on those socks when you get home.”  Whereupon the dressing room erupted in laughter and the prematch tension was instantly diffused.

When Tom retired from playing he continued to be active in the club. He was a shrewd hurling judge and he was a selector on the senior team in 1975 and 1976.  He was also on the line when Kilruane MacDonaghs won the three-in-a row North and County titles between 1977 and 1979. Tom was a County selector in 1980. He was selected at full-forward on the North Tipperary Centenary hurling team in 2001. Tom was first appointed to the club committee in 1988 and served until failing health prevented him doing so. Tom was never a big fan of meetings. His favourite meetings were the short ones and the shorter the better. He only spoke when he had something to say and didn’t just speak for the sake of saying something. In 2010 he was elected Vice-President of Kilruane MacDonaghs and was appointed as one of our Presidents in 2013. The Tipperary County Board honoured him with a Sean-Ghael Award in 2012.

Tom was not just a tremendous hurler but a great character as well and he always had a great interest in farming and machinery. Tom came on the trip to New York with the senior hurling team in 1982. We made the long journey by bus to Washington. There was great excitement among the touring party as we looked forward to seeing some of the great sights such the Lincoln Memorial and Airlington Cemetery. “Folks” said Tom” Do you know what I would like to see — a farm.” The moans and groans reverberated around the bus and Tom was lucky that he wasn’t ejected on to the side of the road.

In later life Tom developed a great passion for golf though to call him a golfer might be stretching it a bit. He loved the camaraderie involved in the golf and he particularly enjoyed the retired intercounty players golfing trips abroad. Tom was a lover of all sports and appreciated the skill and talent of players whatever the code. In the company of his daughter Mary and great friend John Costigan he travelled all over Ireland supporting Tipperary teams in both hurling and football.

While we will always associate Tom with hurling, he had his priorities in order. Family, faith, friends and farming were most important in his life. He was predeceased by his sister Mary Cleary and only last year by his brother Charley alongside whom he fought many a battle on the playing field and I do mean battle. As a man to whom family meant so much Tom would have would have felt the loss of Mary and Charley.

Tom was very unassuming and carried his fame lightly on his shoulders. In our parish and in the Kilruane MacDonaghs Club he was an iconic figure.  Since his passing the  warm tributes have flowed in from all over the county and across the country. Friend and foe alike referred to Tom as a gentleman. One dictionary defines a gentleman as a chivalrous courteous and honourable man. Tom was the personification of that definition. A former Lorrha hurler in a message on rip.ie said that Tom was a gentleman on and off the field. Having witnessed those bruising battles in Borrisokane between Kilruane and Lorrha anybody that could be deemed a gentleman by his opponent is probably a candidate for beatification if not canonisation.

The Tom McLoughney I knew was a loyal,  caring and compassionate character. He didn’t forget his former playing colleagues. He kept up the contact and visited those who were confined to their homes or nursing homes. Tom attended funerals far and wide and I know from my own personal experience that he kept in touch with the bereaved.  When Tom asked you how you were keeping you knew that he meant it.

As a club and a parish we are proud of Tom’s achievements. We have been privileged to know him.  In his message of condolence a  former Tipperary hurler paid this brief but eloquent tribute: Tom epitomised greatness and humility in equal measures in a life well lived.   On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs Club, a club he has been associated with for seventy years I extend sympathy to his wife Marie, daughters Eleanor & Mary, son Jack, his brother Paddy, sister Alice, grandson Ronan, son-in-law James, daughter-in-law Bairbre and extended family.

 

Hurling was an integral part of Tom’s life so I think it might be appropriate to finish with the Hurler’s Prayer.

Grant me, O Lord, a hurler’s skill

With strength of arm and speed of limb

Unerring eye for the flying ball

And courage to match whate’er befall

May my stroke be steady and my aim be true

My actions manly, my misses few

No matter what way the game may go

May I part in friendship with every foe

When the final whistle for me is blown

And I stand at last before God’s judgement throne

May the great referee when He calls my name say:

Tom, you hurled like a man, you played the game.

 

Solas na bhFlaitheas ar a anam uasal.

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