Mick O Meara
(1919 – 2011)
Just over a week short of his 93rd birthday, the passing of Mick O Meara marks the end of an era in the long and proud history of the Kilruane MacDonaghs club as he was the last surviving member of the senior hurling team which won the 1940 and 1944 North finals. Mick came from a family steeped in the traditions of the GAA. His father John O Meara won a county medal in 1902 and seven North Tippeary medals when the De Wets ruled the roost in Tipperary hurling at the beginning of the twentieth century. By a strange coincidence when John O Meara died on May 8th 1964 he was the last surviving member of the De Wets. Mick’s uncle, Bill Cleary, was also a member of that legendary side and of course his brother, the late Fr. Niall O Meara, was chairman of the North Tipperary Board in 1956 and also served as vice-chairman from 1973 until his death in 1975.
Mick was born in 1919 when the Black and Tan War was raging and the country was in turmoil. Times were difficult, the future was uncertain, money was scarce, and hardship was the norm. Mick attended the local national school where his uncle Denis O Meara was principal. Hurling was the one of the few pastimes and Mick developed a passion and a love for the game that never dimmed or diminished during his lengthy life. He trained in Spains in Kilruane, Ned Gavins in Glenahilty and McCarthys in Ballycapple. Prior to donning the famed green and gold jersey of MacDonaghs as a senior hurler, he had only played two other games for the club, one as a minor and the other as a junior. Mick went on to give eighteen years sterling service as a tough and tenacious defender.
The 11th of August 1940 is a day that will be forever etched in the memory of the club. On that Sunday in Borrisokane, Kilruane MacDonaghs ended a thirty two year famine by defeating Kildangan to bring the North title back to the parish for the first time since 1908. Right wing back on that team was Mick O Meara from Carriganagh with his cousin Micksie O Meara at corner forward. This long awaited success was celebrated in style throughout the parish. A writer to the Nenagh Guardian said that ‘The cheers that rent the air at the conclusion were borne away on the breeze, carrying with them the tidings of that splendid victory. They flashed eastward across the Irish Sea and westward too across the broad Atlantic the cheers were re-echoed.’ Local scribes commemorated the triumph in song and in poetry with one verse going as follows:
‘Our backs they would stop an invasion
Our mid-field a wonderful pair
Our forwards I wish you could see them
With them there were none to compare.’
Four years later, Mick collected his second senior medal as MacDonaghs overcame Duharra in Nenagh. He also played in the finals of 1947, 1952 and 1953 but on each occasion Kilruane were thwarted by a powerful Borris-Ileigh side that included the Kennys and Jimmy Finn. The defeat in ’47 was particularly galling as only three points separated the sides and MacDonaghs had spurned some glorious opportunities to clinch the title. Mick played his final game for Kilruane on Easter Sunday 1954 in a suit length tournament against Drumcullen in Birr. Unfortunately, he was on the losing side so the old suit had to do for a few more years. Mick was regarded by friend and foe alike as an outstanding hurler. He was skilled and fearless, revelled in the robust exchanges and relished the physical encounters that were typical of hurling in the forties and fifties. Mick’s talents didn’t go unrecognized and he was selected on the North Tipperary team which defeated a star studded Mid Tipperary side to win the Miller Shield. Very few survive their hurling career without an injury of some shape or form and Mick was no exception. He received a serious blow to the head which left him with impaired hearing but I’m reliably informed that if anyone was criticizing Fine Gael his hearing never failed him. On his retirement Mick gave his boots to a young Tom McLoughney. They were a bit big for Tom but he grew into them and wore them in many important games for club and county, including the Tipperary’s triumph in the 1960 National League final.
Mick was noted as having an economical style as a hurler and he was economical in pursuit of a wife. He just crossed the field and married his neighbour Sally O Connor on March 1st 1965, or as Sally says on the day the crows build their nests. Sally’s uncle Tim O Connor was also a member of the De Wets though I’m not sure if that was a contributory factor in forging the new alliance. Mick concentrated on farming and raising his family but still maintained his passionate interest in hurling. In weather both fair and foul, in grades both young and old, Mick and Sally and family were a familiar presence at matches involving Kilruane MacDonaghs.
Mick was a shrewd judge of a player, was quick to identify a good one and could spot a dud at a distance. He was a clever operator on the line and it came as no surprise that in 1977 he was appointed selector with the senior team which went on to record a hat trick of North and county titles overcoming Borris-Ileigh, Roscrea and Thurles Sarsfields to claim the Dan Breen Cup. Mick would have derived particular satisfaction from the wins against Borris-IIeigh and Thurles, sides that had proved to be a stumbling block to further success in his own career.
Mick was an active and effective member of the club committee for many years. He was a quiet man at a meeting but absorbed everything like a sponge. His interventions were infrequent but were always direct and given with honesty and sincerity. Mick only spoke when he had something to say and never spoke for the sake of saying something. He also acted as a steward in Thomas MacDonagh Park and you could always depend on Mick to do his duty quietly and efficiently. In 1988 he was appointed vice-president of Kilruane MacDonaghs and in 2004 his contribution to Gaelic Games in the parish was recognized at county level when he became the first club man to receive the prestigious Sean Ghael award.
In his long life Mick had his priorities in order. His family, his faith, his farm and his friends in the club and the community were important to him. Mick always put his family first and their welfare was top of his list. In matters of faith he led by example and Sunday would always find him in his regular spot in the church. He loved the land and farming and wasn’t afraid to stand up for the rights of farmers. He was a member of the NFA and the IFA and participated in the famous farming protests in the 1960s. Mick was on the first Board of Management appointed in Kilruane School in 1975. He was also elected a member of the inaugural parish council and represented his area with typical dedication and commitment. In his community work Mick shunned the limelight and skillfully evaded the spotlight. The grandfather of Indira Ghandi, former Prime Minister of India, told her: There are two kinds of people in the world those who work and those who take the credit. He advised her to belong to the first group because there is less competition there. Mick was a worker who belonged to the first group, never expecting reward or remuneration, never seeking appreciation or admiration.
Although hurling was Mick’s favourite pastime, he had many other interests as well. He enjoyed his weekly game of Bingo and was an avid reader. The daily, the Sunday and the local papers were read from cover to cover and in case he’d miss out on anything he read the Clare Champion, The Cork Examiner and Ireland’s Own. Fittingly the last book that Mick read was Michael Duignan’s autobiography ‘Life, Death and Hurling’. Mick was a lifelong Pioneer and was a recipient of a commemorative pin to celebrate seventy years of association membership. A man of substance and a man of principle, humble and modest to the last.
Bishop Michael Harty in his homily at the funeral of Fr. Niall spoke the following words: ‘We will remember his splendid talents, his good humour and humanity, his undying love for his native Kilruane and his delight in all the skills and thrills associated with our Gaelic Games.’ Don’t those same words apply to Mick?
The club, the parish and the community have lost one of its most respected members. On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs club, the club Mick served so loyally and faithfully, I would like to extend sympathy to his wife Sally, his son John, daughters Kathleen, Mary and Anne Marie, his sisters Nora and Annie and extended family. Mick was a man of firm faith so it is appropriate that I conclude with a prayer:
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 them what’er befall
May my aim be steady my stroke be true
My actions manly my misses few
And 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 at God’s judgment throne
May the great referee when he calls my name say:
Mick you hurled like a man you played the game.
(Profile By Gilbert Williams)