Thursday 28 February 2013

Jimmy Smyth: A Hurling Giant

I—and, I feel certain, many others—will have been greatly saddened to learn of the death of former star Clare hurler, Jimmy Smyth.

Jimmy Smyth in action against Wexford in 1953
Jimmy was one of the all time greats. He had a unique record in minor hurling with Clare. He first played on their county minor team at fourteen years of age and played for a further four years afterwards. He won three Harty Cup medals while playing at mid-field with St.Flannan's College, Ennis, and went on to win All-Ireland college titles with the school in the same years. He won eight Railway Cup medals while playing with Munster between 1952 and 1965. He also won five Clare senior hurling titles with his club Ruan. Jimmy first played for the Clare senior hurling team when only seventeen years of age. He was a member of the Clare junior hurling team beaten in the All-Ireland final by London Irish in 1948. From that time until the mid sixties he was a star performer on the Clare senior team. In a Munster senior championship match against Limerick, played at Ennis in June 1954, he put up a championship record score of 6-4. In the same year, he won an Oireachtas medal with Clare, beating Wexford in a replay.

In the GAA magazine, Gaelic Sport, of January 1973, Jimmy—then an executive officer at GAA headquarters—had a long chat with Owen McCann. I will quote some of the comments he made:

Having been a contemporary of some of the biggest names in hurling, he had no hesitation in putting one above them all—"Christy Ring, whom I regard as the supreme artist". He rated Eddie Keher as the outstanding man of the previous twelve years, and made former Tipperary ace, Galway-born Tony Reddan, the best goalkeeper.

As a forward, Jimmy came up against many great backs. He recalled wistfully the skills of Matty Fouhy and Tony O'Shaughnessy of Cork, and John Doyle and Tony Wall of Tipperary. Dan McInerney—a team mate of his in the Clare side—he puts in a special class as one of the greatest leaders Clare hurling has ever produced. McInerney played at full back of course.

Jimmy had a high opinion, too, of Ray Cummins, Cork: "One of the great full forwards". After much thought and consideration, he came up with his top eight hurlers:
1. Christy Ring
2. Nicky Rackard
3. Eddie Keher
4. Jimmy Doyle
1. Pat Stakelum
2. Bobby Rackard
3. Jimmy Finn
4. Mick Roche
On the club theme, he made the point that: "Like most inter county players, I gained more satisfaction from playing with the club than the county".

May the green sod of his beloved Ruan rest lightly on this noble son of Clare.

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