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'That night is a great memory, it was remarkable we'd all managed to meet a few months before he died'

The late Paddy Doyle made a major impact on Tipperary hurling circles, not least in Borris-Ileigh in their memorable 1986-87 season.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

TOM TIERNEY FELT it was time to take matters into his own hands.

The year was 1986. The Borris-Ileigh chairman had just witnessed his club’s flagship hurling team play a North Tipperary semi-final and suffer ‘an unmerciful hiding’ as Richie Stakelum, defensive anchor on that side, describes it.

They had been defeated by Kilruane MacDonaghs, no disgrace considering their status as the Tipperary kingpins the year before and having been crowned as All-Ireland winners a few months previously in March, but the scale of the loss to local rivals meant this result stung.

Tierney sprang into action, searching for a remedy after that early summer encounter.

“We got beaten by 18 points or something,” recalls Stakelum.

“That very evening, unknown to us, Tom Tierney, who was a gas man, but a very forward-thinking individual, he apparently got into his car and left Nenagh and drove straight to Paddy Doyle’s house.

“This would be a typical Tom Tierney move, deciding that something needed to be done. Borris would have had a name as easy come, easy go, lots of good players, but the beer would be very sweet in the summer time.

“The idea of really and truly dedicating yourself in a kind of monastic way didn’t necessarily always appeal to us.

“There was a level of frustration as well within certain parts of the club saying, ‘Jesus you know, for God’s sake these lads need to deliver a bit more’.

“But anyway Tierney decide that he needed something different and he headed for Thurles. Paddy in fairness I understand, didn’t exactly jump across the counter mad to manage the team. Maybe he was playing hard to get but anyway there was another delegation a couple of days later that might have included Bobby Ryan, so eventually Paddy decided to come on board.”

He arrived and made his mark. Over the following nine months he would steer that Borris-Ileigh bunch to glory in the Tipperary, Munster and All-Ireland arenas. By March 1987 they enjoyed the rank of national kings.

Last Monday Paddy Doyle passed away at the age of 79. On Thursday when the funeral of a man embedded in the Thurles Sarsfields club took place, a sizeable representation came from eight miles out the road on Borris-Ileigh, paying their respects in a socially distanced fashion to a figure who had overseen their remarkable transformation over three decades ago.

Paddy’s hurling roots were formed in Thurles, links at home drawing him inexorably to the Sarsfields club. His father Gerry was a sub goalkeeper on the Tipperary All-Ireland winning teams of 1937 and 1945, his uncle Tommy finished up with a haul of five senior medals from his 16-year Tipperary career that endured until 1953.

Then the family name was lit up by the playing exploits of his brother Jimmy, starting out between the posts at the age of 14 for an All-Ireland minor final, finishing up in the same position in 1973 and packing 22 major senior medals in Tipperary colours in between.

He was the victorious captain in 1965, the same season when Paddy had been recognised with a county call-up.

The lesser known of the Doyle brothers had also picked up a pair of All-Ireland minor medals in his playing days and was at the heart of an all-conquering Thurles Sarsfields team in the ’60s that held a monopoly on the Dan Breen Cup.

Other sporting passions cropped up. He sat in Tipperary senior football dressing-rooms, was part of the Thurles Crokes team that won a county football title and was immersed in golf and badminton in his native town. 

jimmy-doyle-882001 Jimmy Doyle, who passed away in 2015, pictured here in 2001 at the Thurles Sarsfields club. Source: INPHO

Filling an array of post-playing roles with Thurles Sarsfields was natural, replicating the success he had achieved on the pitch proved elusive though with this club. He was sought by others due to his hurling acumen, guided neighbouring Moycarkery-Borris to a senior crown in 1984 and took the Laois senior boss for a spell during the 90s.

When he landed in Borris-Ileigh, his impact was swiftly made.

“It was a bit of a culture shock,” recalls Stakelum.

“Paddy knew he was going to have to be a little bit distant, like all good managers. He was coming with the credentials so he wasn’t going to have much difficulty in getting the Borris lads like myself to listen. That was exactly what was needed.

“I know he wasn’t in the same league as his illustrious brother Jimmy, not too many people were, but Paddy himself was a very good hurler and also had developed a name as a good coach. Also he was from Thurles Sarsfields, the kind of bluebloods of Tipperary hurling, there was always an element that Paddy would then bring a bit of swagger and confidence.

“He set about it in his own inimitable style. He managed to keep us at arms’ length so nobody really got too close or pally with him, and he managed that very well. We were hugely grateful to him and had huge respect for him.”

Stakelum is better placed than most to compare the shifts in hurling eras. In the 80s he was a club and county winner in Tipperary, in the 2010s a sideline operator with Anthony Daly in Dublin. The orator in Killarney when in 1987 when a Munster famine ended, the selector in Croke Park in 2013 when a chapter of longer Leinster anguish was closed.

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anthony-daly-and-richard-stakelum Anthony Daly and Richard Stakelum pictured at a Dublin game in 2012 Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That context elevates his views when he assesses Doyle’s coaching skills.

“He had an absolutely meticulous attention to detail. Way ahead of his time. Nowadays every single aspect of a team seems to be managed really tightly and that’s what’s expected. We’re going back to the 80s and in hurling when you saw it, you hit it and quick. The idea of giving pinpoint passes to somebody’s breast pocket, that wasn’t part of the game. 

“Paddy was very much a thinking man when it came to the game. His preparation for matches was something we had never witnessed before. When we got to some of the bigger games, he would go through the opposition player by player and outlining what to expect. His training sessions were in the same genre, so this was an eye-opener to us.”

For the 1987 county final, Borris-Ileigh were renewing acquaintances with Kilruane MacDonaghs, 10,000 spectators filed into Semple Stadium to witness round two. Doyle had a plan for how they would reverse the earlier result.

“Paddy decided to do something that at that time wasn’t really done,” says Stakelum.

“Kilruane were a tough team. They had a very strong inside backline. So Paddy decided he would take Philip Kenny and put him as full-forward but he wasn’t going to play there and he allowed him to roam all over the field. Philip had great speed and was to run down the middle of the Kilruane defence.

“Now that might seem as something that everyone does nowadays with nobody staying in their positions. But this was a time when it was 15 against 15, everybody was marked.  So he deployed Philip in that roving role and that had an enormous impact on the game. Philip was man-of-the-match and scored 0-6 from play. When Paddy outlined that to us, it all made perfect sense. When you beat the All-Ireland club champions and pull off something like that, that breeds huge confidence that this fella knows what he’s at.”

They bounded on from there to take down Clarecastle in the Munster final and Rathnure in the All-Ireland equivalent. It was not Doyle’s solitary coaching experience in Croke Park in 1987. He was back that September with a Tipperary minor team that got held off by two points by Offaly.

Liam Sheedy, Michael Ryan, Conal Bonnar and John Leahy part of a group that progressed on one side with John Troy, Brian Whelehan, Dooley and Pilkington brothers, and Joe Errity the notable graduates on the other.

It was all part of the standing he built up.

“Johnny Leahy appeared from kind of nowhere and Paddy was managing that minor team,” says Stakelum.

“Johnny was there at that funeral and he turned out to be one of Tipperary’s marquee players over the 90s. But it was under Paddy’s watch that this guy emerged.

“He had a very strong imprint on hurling around Tipperary for a long number of years. Paddy was his own man, a hugely respected individual around Thurles. He had a barbers’ shop just up the road from the cathedral. He was very good at his job, he was immaculately turned out.

“That barber shop, the amount of hurling done in that shop, you could just imagine it. Fellas would come in, sure they weren’t coming in to get their hair cut at all, it was to come in to talk to Paddy Doyle.”

There has been plenty hurling reminiscing around the Borris-Ileigh community of late. When the class of 2020 journeyed to the All-Ireland final in January, comparisons were naturally made with the trail-blazers from 1987.

borris-ileigh-team-celebrates-victory Borris-Ileigh players celebrate their Tipperary senior final victory last November Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Last December as Christmas drew near, the two squads gathered in Stapleton’s Bar, the hurling past and present of the club all together under the one roof.

“We had an event, our team from the 80s put a few bob into an envelope for the current team and presented it,” outlines Stakelum.

“I remember making a phone call to Paddy before and said, ‘Look Paddy would you come out?’

“We were talking for ages and ages on the phone, it was like old times. I met him that night, we’d a good chat and he rang me a couple of days later to say that was a fantastic thing to do. He’d really enjoyed the night and it was great to meet up with everyone else and have the chat.

“That was the last time I spoke to him.

“A number of the lads on Thursday referred back to that. He was in great form and he was really thrilled to come out that night.

“It was a long time we’d all sat down together and met each other. It’s a great memory, it really is, it was quite remarkable we had managed to meet up a few months before he died. That was one of the things we spoke about on Thursday. In life the years roll on and you lose touch but that was a great night and it was great that Paddy was there.”

It joins plenty moments that will be treasured.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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