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The Hurling Artist - Jimmy Kennedy

Chapter 23

The great Boherlahan and Tipperary captain, Johnny Leahy, declared in 1949 that in a life time of hurling he had seen all the greats, but that Jimmy Kennedy had given the greatest display of artistic hurling ever seen in the Munster final of that year. " Kennedy's artistry ", remarked Johnny, " would be talked about for many a long day ". Jimmy Kennedy had all the attributes of the great half forward: dashing speed, brimming self confidence and an unerring accuracy from all angles and positions. Martin Kennedy had been the great goal getter, but Jimmy was primarily a points scorer, either from frees or from play.

Jimmy Kennedy grew up in the village of Puckaun at a time when Kildangan hurling was at its height. His boyhood hero's were his uncles, Christy and Matt Coen, and Danny and Rody Gleeson of Peterfield. He recalls that they were always eager to encourage a young fellow and help him to improve his hurling skills. There were no juvenile or minor competitions during Jimmy's young days and the first team he played on was at St. Flannan's College, Ennis. But the young boy spent hours at home practising at shooting the sliotar between the rungs of a ladder in the hay barn. However, the charming story that he used to shoot at a bucket in an apple tree in untrue.

Jimmy played on the St. Flannan's team that won the Harty Cup for the first time in 1944 and afterwards went on to take the Individual Colleges title. He was also one of four Flannan's players on the Munster side that won the Colleges Inter Provincial title later that year. He won his only North Tipp. Board medal playing for the Kildangan junior team of 1944. He did not line out in the final against Erin's Hope as he had already left to study in Dublin.

In Dublin, Jimmy joined the UCD club where his fellow parishioner, Mick Darcy of Grange, was a prominent mentor and official. Mick had played on the Dublin team beaten by Limerick in the 1921 All Ireland final, while his brother Jack was a member of the Tipperary team beaten by Kilkenny in 1922 decider. Both matches were played in the year 1923, having been delayed by the Troubles. Mick and Jack Darcy were both members of the Tipperary team that won Munster and All Ireland honours in 1925. The Nenagh Guardian in its match report selected Mick at centre field as the outstanding hurler on the day. It remarked that he gave a rare exhibition and had most to say to the substantial margin secured by Tipperary.

Jimmy Kennedy credits Mick Darcy with perfecting the technique that made the deadliest free taker of his generation. Mick advised him " never to move his feet while lifting and striking the ball " a practice Jimmy faithfully adhered to throughout his hurling career. Jimmy Kennedy made his inter county debut for Dublin in 1946 and was a member of the team beaten by Kilkenny in the Leinster final of the following year. Dublin won the Leinster title in 1948, but lost by 6-7 to 4-2 to Waterford in the All Ireland final. Reports of the All Ireland agree that Jimmy was the pick of the Dublin forward line. " One of his goals from a free, which penetrated a packed Waterford goal line was a beauty " remarked the Nenagh Guardian.

In the spring of 1949, a large deputation arrived in Dublin to persuade the young Puckaun man to declare for his native Tipperary. It consisted of County Board Secretary, Phil Purcell, ex President of the GAA Seamus Gardiner of Borrisokane, Dinny Costelloe of Kilbarron, Fr Johnnie Minehan of Knigh and his own father Dan. Jimmy was reluctant to abandon Dublin where he had won a secure place, had made many friends and had every prospect of further success. He had also been honoured with the captaincy of Leinster in the year's Railway Cup campaign. But after hours of persuasion and agonizing, he finally agreed to throw in his lot with his native county.

His most remarkable display in 1949 was in the replay against Cork in the first round of the championship. The drawn game had ended at 3-10 each and Kennedy had scored 1-4 of Tipperary's total.

In the words of the Irish Press of the following day " He had given a superb exhibition of clever and accurate hurling and his effortless style had been a pleasure to watch ". In the replay at Limerick, the Corkmen were leading by a goal in the dying minutes. Their supporters, assured of victory, were streaming from the grounds, when Sonny Maher grabbed a ball out near the side line, flicked it across the goalmouth and the in rushing Kennedy flashed it to the net. Jubilant Tipperary supporters chaired their hero from the field; he had not only saved the day for Tipperary, but remarkably had scored his team's total of 1-5. It was a blazing hot Sunday and before the start of extra time the Cork players lay out in the field under the sweltering sun. Meanwhile the Tipperary mentors rushed their men to the dressing room and doused them with churns of spring water brought by the famous athlete family, the Blakes of Coolquill near Ballingarry, Thurles. In extra time a fresher Tipperary team went on to win narrowly by 2-8 to 1-9.Jimmy was brilliant too in the Munster final against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds in Cork, scoring 10 points from frees, some from seemingly impossible angles. Banner headlines in the Irish Press proclaimed it " Jim Kennedy's day of glory as Tipp triumphs ". He scored 2-4 against Antrim, and in the All Ireland victory over Laois he was again top scorer on the day. A pre All Ireland final pen picture in the Nenagh Guardian described him as 22 years old, 5'-11" tall, 11st. 7lbs in weight and " the deadliest forward playing ".

Jimmy transferred from UCD to his native Kildangan in 1950 and had another marvellous year at inter county level. He scored 1-6 in the National League final in May when Tipperary defeated Kilkenny. His highest score in a championship match was against Limerick in June of that year when he recorded a total of 3-6. In the Munster final against Cork at Fitzgerald Park, Killarney (which had a record attendance of over 50,000) Jimmy, now at corner forward, had an outstanding game, scoring 10 points. " His will-o-the-wisp like habit of turning up in places where nobody could reasonably have expected him to be must have been heart breaking for the Cork defence ", remarked the Irish Press. He took severe punishment in the All Ireland semi final against Galway at Tuam, but did manage to score 2 points. Playing at corner forward in the All Ireland final against Kilkenny, he was closely guarded as the known Tipperary marksman and had a quiet game. Although he scored 2 points, the Nenagh Guardian remarked that " He seemed to lack that self confidence he possessed all through his games and it was not the " Jimmie " we saw in all his other matches.

1951 began as if it would be another glorious year, but Jimmy's form and confidence declined as the season progressed. Some attribute his loss of form to an unsuitable training regime, while others blame the selectors for playing him in the corner rather than at his natural position of wing forward. In the first round of the championship against Waterford he had an excellent game and scored 1-2 of Tipperary's total of 2-10. But in what the Irish Press called " the surprise of the year ", he was dropped for the match against Limerick at Thurles. When he was brought on towards the end he received a tremendous ovation from the Tipperary crowd. Jimmy was retained at left corner forward for the Munster final against Cork at Limerick, but he failed to display his old scoring flair. He had in fact damaged his ribs some time previously and was finding it difficult to breather under exertion. He was among the substitutes when Tipperary went on to complete their historic treble, defeating Wexford by 7-7 to 3-9.

Due to an inexplicable decision of the Tipperary County Board, Jimmy Kennedy was not awarded an All Ireland medal for his part in the 1951 campaign. Disillusioned at the way he was treated, he decided to retire from inter county hurling despite the fact that he was still only twenty-five years old. However, he continued playing for Kildangan until his marriage in 1954. During his short but distinguished career Jimmy won one Leinster, three Munster and two All Ireland medals. He gained an Oireachtas medal with Dublin in 1948 and two more with Tipperary in 1949 and 1950. He also won a National League in 1950 and was a member of the Munster team that won the Railway Cup that year. Throughout his career he never once played on a losing Tipperary side. Jimmy Kennedy now lives in retirement in his native village of Puckaun.

"The Hurling Artist"
Jimmy Kennedy





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