The Irrepressible Mick Mackey
"Upon his native sward the hurler stands, To play the ancient pastime of the Gael, And all the heroes famed of Innisfail are typified in him...."—taken from an introduction by J.B. Dollard (Sliabh na mBan) for the book "The GAA in its Time" by Pádraig Puirséil.
Upon reading the above verse, the name Mick Mackey immediately came to my mind. For me, he was the Cúchulainn of modern day hurlers. He had that swash-buckling arrogance about him that endeared him to all who were fortunate enough to have seen him in action on the hurling field. My own memory of Mick was watching him as a young lad from the sideline, lumbering along with the ball hopping rhythmically on his stick heading for the Killinan goal. As the defender closed in on him, he caught the ball in his left hand and, with right arm raised and hurley held shield-like in front of him, he cut through the defence—leaving men falling like nine-pins in his wake—and as he got to within striking distance of the goal, struck with the speed of a cobra's tongue and the net bulged. I can still hear that roar of approval ringing in my ears from the thousands of supporters.
Mick Mackey (1912 - 1982)
Yes, Mick Mackey's fame will live for many's the day to come. The stories told about him are many and colourful, not just for his skill as a hurler but also for the character he was on and off the field.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mick at his home in Ard na Crusha, Co. Limerick, in the afternoon of July 1st 1981. I brought along four young lads from Thurles—Noel Scanlon, Ian Darling, George Shaughnessy and Stephen Purcell—to meet the legendary king of hurlers. I will always cherish that day and I know those boys—now young men—will too. Mick looked a picture as he came out to greet us. He had made a great recovery from a recent illness and was in great form. After the introductions we were taken into the sitting-room and made feel at home by Mrs. Mackey who gave us a lovely tea later in the evening. We sat back in our comfortable chairs. At first the play was tight as they say, but then I turned on a recording I had made with the following former Tipperary hurlers—John Maher, Ger Cornally, Tommy Doyle, Tommy Semple, Bunny Murphy, Tommy Butler and Mickey Byrne—all sending Mick their best wishes. As he listened, he seemed to relax and a twinkle came into his eye as he recounted the happenings of the glorious days gone by. I include here a few of the events he spoke of:
Q: Mick, what does the memory of Thurles hold for you?
Mick: It was my happy hunting ground. You would always meet someone in Liberty Square on Munster Final day. Thurles was a great town and if you couldn't hurl in Thurles, you couldn't hurl anywhere.
Q: Which of the Tipp men do you remember best?
Mick paused for a moment.
Mick: Well, myself and John Maher, we were marking one another several times, you know. We never had a cross word between us in all the years. He was a tough, bony divil—he was fair though—you'd know if you passed him, said Mick with a chuckle.
Mick spoke of his father,Tyler. He remembered seeing him hurl only once back in 1922. He was a very strong man and, pointing to the door, Mick said: "Do you see that door? If he (Tyler) came to that door he'd take it. He was very strong".
I asked Mick how did his father get the name Tyler. Mick replied: "My father had bought a strong pair of boots at Tyler's shop in Limerick and he was kicking football one day and scored a great point when someone shouted from the sideline,"Good Tyler there", with reference to the boots, and that stuck to him.
At this stage Mick was getting into his stride, and continued: "We never came home the day we went out", he laughed. "There was an old man, Davy Conway, with us one day we went to Thurles. Davy was in the Limerick team in 1910 and he was a founder member of the Ahane Club and he came with us. He was a man that never drank; all he did was chew tobacco. He was sitting in the car waiting to come home in the early hours of the morning. He was a postman in Lisnageragh. But, anyway, we arrived home in Castleconnell at seven-thirty in the morning, and my father (Tyler), Lord have mercy on him, was coming home after milking the cows. When the car pulled up, my father said: "I thought, Davy, you had a bit of sense". Davy never went to a match after that until the day he died, God rest him. When Tyler said that to him, he decided it was time he stayed at home". Mick laughed at the telling; he was clearly enjoying himself.
I asked Mick what he thought of the rules of the game now. "Well", replied Mick, "the frontal charge was there then. When you were coming in, they could take you. You wouldn't come in against John Maher and them, but they would take you anyway", he chuckled.
"I was twelve stone, ten pounds, and fit", he continued. "I had great strength then, thank God. I kept very fit by walking and running. I did a lot of walking. In 1940, I trained as no one ever trained before. I could have hurled two matches".
Referring to Tipperary's style of hurling, he commented that "they hurled shoulder to shoulder, and when they got going at all, they would come in waves to you".Finally, Jim Devanney (R.I.P.) of Borrisoleigh recalled how Mick was always ready to upstage you, like when he was waiting for a car to come out from Thurles to collect him and bring him in to play against Limerick in the Munster final final of 1936:
There was no sign of the car coming as Tom Delaney and myself sat outside Bill Maher's. This car came from the Nenagh direction and pulled up about a hundred yards down the Thurles road and reversed back to where we were sitting. The window was wound down and who stuck out his head only Mick Mackey. "Are you coming in?" shouted Mick. "I'm waiting for a car", replied Jim. Mick shouted back: "Get into the bloody car!" and we all went to Thurles together. Final score: Limerick 8-5 Tipperary 4-6. Mick Mackey scored a then personal best of 5-3.
The following week's headlines on the sports page of the Tipperary Star: "Limerick's victory over Tipperary in Munster final" and in bold headlines over the story of the game was: "The irrepressible Mick Mackey".P.S. The Jim Devanney mentioned in the article was father of Liam Devanney, star forward on Tipperary senior teams in the fifties and sixties.