Kilmallock won three Limerick senior hurling titles in a row in the 1970s. Jerome O’Connell talks to two of their players from that glorious era in the club’s history.
KILMALLOCK were chasing their third Limerick senior hurling title when they clashed with Patrickswell in the county final of 1970.
The Well were defending champions but with plenty of survivors from their victories in 1960 and ‘67, Kilmallock were quietly confident of overturning the champions.
Not so - Patrickswell handed out a 2-14 to 0-2 trouncing.
“Don’t mention those two points to me,” laughs Moss Dowling.
“In 1970 we were beat out the gate by The Well - it was ridiculous. That game still sticks in my mind,” he explained.
That defeat was the foundation for what was to be the club’s only three-in-a-row. All vowed never again to revisit a defeat like that. The following year they lost the South Final to great rivals Garryspillane.
But 1972 was to rekindle optimism.
“We thought in ‘72 that we could have won it,” recalled Dowling this week.
Bernie Savage played alongside Dowling in the Kilmallock attack of that era.
“Pat Heffernan and Tony Roche from Kilfinane were playing with us but in ‘72 they went to The Bouncers,” recalled Savage.
“But in ‘72 we beat the Bouncers in the south final in a replay.”
Kilmallock progressed to play Claughaun
“We were up by five points with a few minutes to go in the quarter-final and they got two goals to beat us. But that gave us a fair idea that if we got it together that we were not too far away - all we needed was a bit of confidence,” said Savage.
Fortunes were to change the following year. And, it all started with a players meeting, which was called by Mossie Dowling.
“It was my year to be captain and I was on the county team and maybe I thought we needed to encourage each other a bit more,” he explained.
“Maybe there were a few of them slacking!”
Bernie Savage credits the meeting with a change of attitude towards training.
“It was the only players meeting that I was at in my whole career,” he joked.
“Fellas just asked each other to do whatever was necessary to win the county title. Moss was the captain and I suppose was away with the county team and knew that we needed to work harder for each other.”
And, so they did.
“In ‘73 we knuckled down to it - we trained harder than most and that is why I would say we won the three-in-a-row. We had the players but all we needed was the dedication,” said Dowling.
“The year before we played Claughaun up in Caherconlish and it was only a comedy of errors that stopped us from beating them - we knew that it was coming.”
“We definitely upped in for ‘73,” agreed Savage.
“When I became a selector with Limerick later with Tom Ryan and Dave Mahedy I remember saying that we used to train harder with Kilmallock in the ‘70’s. We would play backs and forwards for a half hour or more and then we would do more training for another hour,” recalled Savage.
“We would go into the pub after training of course,” added Dowling.
“We would have worked hard all day and then straight to training and after that we felt that we almost deserved a drink. And, sure it was all hurling talk.”
But when training there was no slacking and that is credited to Willie O’Brien.
“Willie O’Brien was the trainer - he was an army man and had us in great shape. He brought this club to county titles in 1960, ‘67, ‘73, ‘74, ‘75 and ‘85 - he was a great man to talk and always made sure that he had a happy camp. I suppose you’d say that he had the gift of the gab,” said Savage.
“He trained the club from 1960 to 1985 and not once did anyone say that we needed a new trainer.”
Dowling describes O’Brien as an “institution”.
“Willie was a total institution in his own lifetime. You would not find a person that would have a bad word about Willie and all the teams that he trained. He was one of those characters that you could not fall out with and still he got the results,” said the captain of the ‘73 team.
Another trump card for Kilmallock was their willingness to travel to Cork for tournament games.
“We would always be going down to Cork and playing their best teams like The Bars, Blackrock and Glen Rovers,” explained Savage.
Back in the ‘70s the county championship was run through the divisions with two finalists progressing to the county quarter-finals. Kilmallock went undefeated for the three years but had a couple of lucky escapes along the way.
“The south was always hard won - there was The Bouncers, Bruree and Bruff were always tough,” explained Savage, who made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1962.
“The thing about those three wins was that in every match we played we nearly had the same players in all the years. Tony Smith came to us from Tipperary for two years and he was centre forward. He was a big strong man and I always remember he could score points from out in midfield. Jackie McCarthy was with us from Ardpatrick and he was centre back,” he outlined.
While there were some fresh faces like a teenage Paddy Kelly, the Kilmallock team of the ‘70’s was far from ‘green’.
“We had about half of the 1967 team and sure Tommy Hanley was still in goals since the 1960 win,” recalls Savage.
Dowling illustrated the importance of their previous county title. “In ‘67 there were six or seven of them U-21 and they were all in their prime for the three-in-a-row - we really had a fabulous team in Kilmallock.”
He recalled how Sean O’Donovan (father of current Clare defender Domhnaill) departed after the wins to take up residence in Clonlara.
Year after year new records were created for county final attendances with Limerick hurling on a high.
“Oh we had great crowds at our games. There was a Kilmallockman’s Association in London and they would all come home for the finals,” recalled Savage. But no one was getting carried away.
“We got stockings one year and we were all delighted and that was about it,” said Savage.
For Dowling, 1973 will always be his year of the double as the only Kilmallock man on Limerick last’s All-Ireland winning panel.
“To do them both was great.”
It will be 40 years next September since an All-Ireland senior medal returned to Kilmallock but before all that Dowling is hoping for the return of the Daly Cup to his small townland on the outskirts of Kilmallock.
“Paudie O’Brien is of course the captain and he only lives over the road from me.
“There are three houses in the townland of Proonts and wouldn’t it be great to bring back a second county cup.”