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Conspiracies and legends in the cold - the controversial Hurling Team of the Millennium

DJ Carey and Nicky Rackard were shock omissions from the hotly debated side.

Updated Jul 5th 2020, 12:00 PM

dj-carey-2022000 DJ Carey during the 2000 National Hurling League Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

A SNAPSHOT OF the year 2000 in hurling.

Brian Cody won his first All-Ireland as Kilkenny manager. Offaly’s Johnny Dooley finished top of the scoring charts. Joe Deane scored 10 points as Cork retained their Munster title. DJ Carey was named Hurler of the Year. Noel Hickey claimed Young Hurler of the Year.

Brendan Cummins and Henry Shefflin picked up their first All-Star awards. Charlie Carter and Joe Rabbitte collected their last ones. And Brian Whelahan became the only hurler of the modern era named on the Hurling Team of the Millennium.

Football’s Team of the Millennium was selected the previous year but sparked nowhere near the same controversy as the small ball code’s version.

The millennium selections are not to be mistaken with the Football and Hurling Teams of the Century, which were chosen in 1984 to mark the GAA’s centenary year. 

There were two changes between football’s century side and the millennium team selected 16 years later. Kerry’s Joe Keohane and Laois man Tommy Murphy replaced Paddy O’Brien of Meath and Louth’s Stephen White.

Team

On the hurling front, Offaly star Whelahan came in for Tipperary’s Jimmy Finn on the half-back line and Cork’s Ray Cummins edged out Wexford legend Nicky Rackard at full-forward.

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The hurling selection committee drew severe criticism for the omissions of Rackard and Kilkenny forward Carey, who was at the height of his powers in 2000.

The team was announced by GAA president Seán McCague on 24 July 2000 at a function in Croke Park.  It was sponsored by An Post, who issued special commemorative stamps of the millennium team members. 

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The committee comprised of five past presidents from established hurling counties – Joe McDonagh (Galway), Con Murphy (Cork), Paddy Buggy (Kilkenny), Pat Fanning (Waterford) and Séamus Ó Riain (Tipperary), director-general Liam Mulvihill (Longford), and four GAA journalists: Paddy Downey (Cork), Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin (Dublin), Mick Dunne (Laois) and Jim O’Sullivan (Kilkenny).

Bobby Rackard was retained at corner-back but Nicky’s absence really irked the Wexford public and still does to this day.

Speaking about the matter on Off The Ball in April, former Wexford manager Liam Griffin called it a “GAA three-card trick.”

“They took two people off the Team of the Century who had never played a game (since 1984). Can you imagine the insult that was when Nicky Rackard was taken off?” he asked.

“Now you can say what you like about Christy Ring and he was an absolutely magnificent hurler, I’m not taking from him or any of the great Kilkenny players, Lory Meagher or anyone else.

“But where Nicky Rackard had come from it was an absolute aberration to think they could take him off that. I remember being incensed when I saw it to be honest. But sure lookit, that’s the way it works, that’s what happened and we move on.

“But we know where he is, we know where he came from, we know what he did and that’s all that matters to me and the people of Wexford I imagine.”

liam-griffin Former Wexford boss Liam Griffin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

An outraged Wexford hurling supporter was quoted in the Irish Independent the day after the team was announced as saying, “It’s very obvious how Nicky Rackard lost his place.

“He was up against the Cork vote. What chance had he? These boys look after their own.”

Rackard was replaced by Rebels great Cummins, in his own right a phenomenal hurler and a four-time Celtic Cross winner, but his career was already finished when the Wexford man was originally chosen in ’84.

Carey’s omission stunned hurling enthusiasts who had marvelled at his brilliance since he burst onto the scene in 1989.

By that stage he held the record for the most hurling All-Stars, seven, had over 30 championship goals to his name and was hotly tipped to seal one of the half-forward spots when he was nominated.

It sparked such an outrage that there were even rumblings about it in Kerry. A piece in the Kerryman article following the All-Ireland final that September labelled his absence “a pure disgrace”. 

Funnily enough, it didn’t generate the same disappointment in Kilkenny for the simple reason that another Cats hero Jim Langton was chosen ahead of Carey.

Carey himself recently admitted he was disappointed but accepted he was up against stern competition. 

“It’s like everything else, whether looking to be selected as an All-Star or waiting on a Friday night at a training session to see if you’re playing, there might be no chance you’re on it, but you’re still hoping up to the last second that you’re going to be on that team,” Carey said last month on Brian Carroll’s podcast A Hurler’s Life.

“That was probably the way at the time as well that of course if you’re in for something, even if there’s no chance you’ll be on it, you want to be on it. Naturally, if you’re not disappointed over something you’re passionate about well then you’re not really that passionate about it. 

“But you also have to accept that I never put myself up on much of a pedestal. I played the game as good as I could, I enjoyed it, I got an awful lot out of it and whatever else comes from that is brilliant. 

“But when you come to a Team of the Millennium, you’re coming up against fair opposition. I have a granduncle on it, his name was Paddy Phelan and he played in the ’30s. I think he won four All-Irelands between 1930 and 1940. 

“Now, whoever picked that team needed to be 80 years of age to remember Paddy Phelan playing. Not alone, Lory Meagher playing. So you’re going back an awful long time when you’re picking teams.

“Look, if you’re to pick a current team, even if you’re to pick your own county it’s a very, very difficult job when you actually knuckle down to it.”

Screenshot 2020-04-29 at 11.38.36 a.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

The interesting subplot to this story is that near the tail end of the ’90s, there was a narrative around Carey that sure, he was a great player, but he didn’t do it on the biggest days.

Before the 1997 All-Ireland semi-final between Clare and Kilkenny, Banner boss Ger Loughnane started the mind games in an interview. 

He was asked for his thoughts on Carey, who ripped Galway apart and scored 2-8 in the quarter-final.

“DJ will prove himself to be an outstanding player when he plays really well against one of the best players in the country in a big match,” Loughnane began. 

“Next Sunday, he will be playing in a really big match against Brian Lohan, and if he plays really well against Brian, he will prove himself to be a really great player.

“But I won’t regard him as a great player until he does it against somebody like Brian on the big day.”

ger-loughnane-manager-clare-hurling-861997 Ger Loughane in 1997. Source: © Patrick Bolger/INPHO

Then Kilkenny boss Nickey Brennan reportedly taped the interview and played it on the team bus on the way to the game. Carey put 1-6 past Clare but the Banner progressed by four points and went on to claim All-Ireland glory.

Carey finally put those doubts to bed in the 2000 All-Ireland final, two months after the millennium side was selected. Kilkenny trounced Offaly 5-15 to 1-14 and Carey bagged 2-4 in what became known as ‘The DJ final.’

Hurler of the Year and another All-Star followed that winter for the Young Irelands star.

Even Loughnane was impressed. 

“Everybody knew DJ was a special talent,” he later said. “The perception though was that he had never delivered on the big day, which is the ultimate test of greatness.

“I have no doubt that perception cost him his place on the Team of the Millennium. In the final he took control from the start and scored a goal early on which meant Offaly were reeling.

“He was unmarkable that day and proved to everybody that on the biggest occasion he was a class apart. That is why that final has special significance for hurling fans and hurling historians alike.”

dj-carey DJ Carey with his trademark celebration in the 2000 All-Ireland final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Carey’s omission from the millennium team was also viewed as a real slap in the face for the modern game. This was because Birr clubman Whelahan was the only player selected from the ’90s, known as hurling’s revolution years, when a bunch of non-traditional counties broke through and enjoyed tremendous success.

Cummins was the only other player to have featured in the ’80s and even then his career drew to a close in ’82.

There were no places for the Clare side that lifted two All-Irelands in the ’90s, despite Lohan being tipped to replace Wexford’s Nick O’Donnell.

Many felt the selection suggested that the selectors didn’t really rate Whelahan’s contemporaries. Others believed it hinted at a bias toward’s hurling’s traditional big three of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary.

Half of the All-Irelands won in the ’80s and ’90s were delivered by counties outside the big three, yet Whelahan was the only player from the era chosen. Offaly picked up four All-Irelands during that period, Galway won three, Clare two and Wexford one.

In comparison, the 1930s featured particularly well as Kilkenny’s Lory Meagher, Paddy Phelan and Jimmy Langton, Waterford’s John Keane and Limerick’s Mick Mackey all made the cut.

An RTÉ online article called the team “a damning verdict on the state of the game outside of it’s traditional strongholds.”

Galway were particularly annoyed they had no player chosen. The selection committee were accused of belittling the county by not recognising any of its heroes. Tony Keady, John Connolly and Joe Cooney were the three men they felt had legitimate claims to be included.

The Tribesmen did technically feature though as Tipperary goalkeeper Tony Reddin was from Galway and made his championship debut for his native county in 1941.

tony-reddin Tony Reddin at the Hurling Team of the Millennium event. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

He was second choice goalkeeper behind Seanie Duggan until 1947. By the time he had failed to add to his solitary championship appearance. As his 30th birthday approached, he came to the realisation that he might never be the number one netminder in Galway. 

So he transferred clubs from Mullagh to Lorrha in Tipperary. After some impressive performances in the club championship, Reddin went straight into the Premier’s starting team the following season.

The Bord na Móna employee played for Tipperary until 1957, winning three All-Irelands, three Munster crowns and five National Hurling League medals.

He’s the closest Galway got to a position on the team.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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