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'Nobody Told John Leahy I Didn't Have A Sister' - Remembering The Truly Legendary Galway-Tipp Rivalry

'Nobody Told John Leahy I Didn't Have A Sister' - Remembering The Truly Legendary Galway-Tipp Rivalry
By Conor Neville Updated
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'The great thing was, nobody ever told John Leahy I didn't have a sister. Nowadays he might have been able to google it and find out'

Pete Finnerty


When Tipp and Galway meet in big championship matches, or in this week's case, a League Final, it's written into GAA law that all publications and sports websites must cast their eyes back to the glory days of the Charlton era when the two teams were locked in one of the most intense and storied rivalries in history. With the help of two greats of the era, Pete Finnerty and Joe Hayes, we take you through the incredible saga that was the Galway Tipperary rivalry of the late 1980s and early '90s.

Act I

Extra-time in the 1987 Munster Final replay. Donie O'Connell handpasses the ball past Ger Cunningham from very close range, sparking what was then the obligatory pitch invasion. Donie runs into the net and pirouettes onto the ground whereupon the hordes leap in on top of him. Tipp win by nine points.

'The famine is over', Richie Stakelum cries from the stand in Killarney. It is Tipperary's first provincial title in sixteen years. Cork have had it all their own way in Munster for most of the 70s and 80s, save for a few Limerick raids on the All-Ireland series.

In the Duggan Park in Ballinasloe the following Thursday, the Galway players, reeling from two successive All-Ireland final defeats, decide that reports of the end of the famine are entirely premature - at least at All-Ireland level.


Pete Finnerty tells us the speech was perfectly pitched at a Galway team who were rapping hard at the door.

I remember Richie Stakelum made a statement that the famine is over. And it was the greatest motivational speech you could ever give to us. And there was a feeling that Tipp were going to steamroll everyone and take their divine right at the top of the table.

The semi-final is a classic, a match that should have been the final. The battle wasn't as poisonous and tense as it later became. Galway hit Tipp for 3-20, winning by six points.


It was a cracking game of hurling. While the first game was open, we played hurling, they came to play hurling, after that game every game was tactical. You looked at the opponent and how you broke him down rather than what you were going to do yourself.

Joe Hayes, Tipperary midfielder, tells us they were too giddy after winning the Munster championship for the first time in so long.

It was fantastic but we gave too long to celebrating it. It's was great to win in Killarney after 18 years but Galway put an end to the celebrations in quick fashion afterwards.

The final, played in very dark and damp conditions, is a relative anti-climax. After 1985 and 1986, Cyril Farrell decides he's happy if the game finishes 0-2 to 0-1 'so long as we're on 0-2'.

The match is more free-scoring than that but not by much. Galway win 1-12 to 0-9. In injury time, Noel Lane pulls on a loose ball to make sure of victory. Conor Hayes showcases his rather stylish tripping abilities and afterwards steps up to pick up the Cup.



Act II

Inevitably, the pair return for the 1988 All-Ireland final. Tipperary win a Munster Final without the necessity of a replay. Galway dispatch Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final. Someone decided it was a good idea to send 18 year old debutant Michael Duignan in to mark Brendan Lynksey. He stretched out his hand. Lynskey glared at him and said 'A mhaicin, what are you doing here? The minor match is over!'

The word 'sledging' hadn't migrated from cricket to hurling yet. Finnerty maintains that the word is the first thing hurling has adopted from cricket. Though the practice hadn't been officially named yet - 'mouthing' was about as close as there was to a generally agreed term' - Finnerty says it was going on 'wholesale' back in the 1980s.

He spent much of those years keeping tabs on John Leahy who did a nice line in in-game chats.


Is it a cricket term? That's the first thing the GAA ever adopted from cricket (laugh). I said on the radio that someone should have told John (Leahy) that I didn't have a sister. John would be saying things and I'd be saying things. It went on wholesale.

You wanted to get inside his head. He might be a sub coming in and you might say something to him like, 'Is it actually cold on the bench?'

Or he might be a young lad coming in and you'd say 'look, the minor game is over, there's no point in you coming in'.

There were some of them that went overboard. And you'd never talk to the person that said it. But most of them (sledges) were just giving and taking. Shake hands afterwards. And you might them in an All-Star do, or an All-Star trip and you might meet them for a pint after.

Scores came rarer than in the '87 semi-final. Galway hold the edge for most of the game. For the second year in a row, Noel Lane comes off the bench to fire home the only goal. He gives an impromptu piggy-back to a pitch invading young fella, without his consent or foreknowledge.

In desperation, Tipperary scrap their way up the pitch in search of a three-pointer. They win a free on the 21 metre line. The Galway defence aren't letting them go any further. Nicky English asks the ref how long is left. Sylvie interjects on the referee's behalf.

'You've 12 months now!' he tells English.

A sullen English blasts the ball over the bar, pointlessly reducing the arrears to four points. The whistle is blown immediately. Cue a more extensive Galway pitch invasion.

Joe Connolly, seated in the rickety old Nally Stand analysis booth, tells Michael Lyster that the result 'concretes the 1980s for Galway'. He chokes up and Lyster moves on.

Tony Keady, Galway's imperious centre back, gives a storming performance. The RTE analysts decide he's the obvious candidate for Man of the Match.

Straight after the game, Keady makes a bolt for the Hut pub in Phibsboro with his Dublin-based mucca, Brendan Lynskey. Cyril told Keady to make sure he got down to the banquet as the national broadcaster had some Waterford Crystal for him.

After a few pints, Keady and Lynskey decide the craic is too good in Phisboro to think about leaving. The pair were perched on stools in the Hut when Ger Canning announced on TV that Tony Keady had been selected as Man of the Match.

'There was a spotlight roaming around the room. Little did the spotlight know it had 12 miles to travel', Keady tells Laochra Gael in future years.

In mitigation, Lynskey does remark later on that taxis were hard gotten in Dublin in 1988. It remains to be seen whether it was this incident that prompted Galway TD Bobby Molloy to deregulate the industry years later.

Keady later told Off the Ball he believes RTE have to take some responsibility for this.

'I always say about the people in RTE, couldn't they not have given me the Man of the Match award at half-time while I was there, like?'


1989 and the only hurling controversy that we're aware of which has inspired a hard rock n'roll number. The number in question is 'The Tony Keady Affair' from Galway band 'So Cow'.

Galway beat Tipperary in a League final on May Day in front of 49,000. Galway's bare championship programme offers great scope for senior hurlers who desire to jet off and see a bit of the world in summertime.

As more or less everyone recalls, Gerry McInerney lived in New York throughout the glory years, returning to Ireland for a few months in autumn for a couple of hurling matches, namely the All-Ireland semi-final and the All-Ireland final.

Keady, 1988 hurler of the year, spends the summer in the States. While there, he plays for Laois under the name 'Bernard Keady'. A ball goes out near the sideline and an acquaintance says 'How're ya Tony? Is that you?'

Finnerty spent years in America in '86 and '87. Keady's head was turned by the All-Star tour in the US.

We won the League and we went on an All-Star tour then. And one of the stops was New York. And we were on the plane ready to come home and Keady said he wasn't coming home. Probably say myself and McInerney playing in the States in 86 and 87 and said 'I'd like a bit of that too.'

Lookit, everyone was doing it. It wasn't that Keady was the only one that offended. They just turned a blind eye to it. Suddenly there was a report into it from the Tipperary hurling board in New York. And that seemed to spark it off. And the GAA felt they had to do something about it.

The GAA maintain that they're trying to 'clean up the American scene' and ban him for nine months. Galway are outraged but generally confident about the appeal. They prepare as if Keady is playing. Ultimatums are being issued.

We were telling Croke Park 'lookit, we're not turning up for this semi-final. We don't care what ye do. If ye don't reinstate Keady on Friday, we're not turning up on Sunday.'

It was all coming from the frustration of Keady being suspended, other people playing (in New York), everybody knowing it. Not getting a fair crack with the delegates and everything was boiling and boiling and boiling.

Plus the pressure of going for three in a row and you knew Tipperary were coming at you with everything. And we felt it was going to be a hung Dail as such, and we needed every vote that we had. And if we didn't have Keady, it was going to be a negative.


On the Friday before the match, the GAA consider his appeal and decide to raise the ban to 12 months.

For all the innuendo about Tipp's role in snitching on him, it transpires that their rep actually voted in favour of lifting the suspension. Hayes' attitude attests to that.

I knew Tony and I didn't want to see him getting suspended. I thought it was shocking. He was probably being used by people over in America. But I think the GAA should have turned a blind eye... These men above in Croke Park don't care about anybody or what they contributed to the game. Tony Keady was an immense hurler at the time, sure he was the best centre back in the game.

Incredibly, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim are three of the counties that voted against Keady. There are conflicting accounts about whether Mayo voted against him too. Those who can get their heads around the Connacht counties' stunning pettiness suggest it may have it roots in some kind of hostility to hurling in the rest of the province.

This is what annoys Finnerty most.

The disappointing thing was that some of the counties in Connacht, who should have been totally pro-Galway and who wouldn't really understand the hurling situation as well as some other counties, they voted against us.

Keady is replaced by Portumna's Sean Treacy who, in the event, is one of Galway's best players on the day. But the distraction of the Keady affair did for them, according to Finnerty.

In hindsight, Sean Treacy played that day, was absolutely outstanding, got an All-Star. In hindsight, if Keady had broken his thumb or broken his collar bone and was out for the year, we probably would have won the three in a row. A lot of the bitterness came off the field.

Word filters through that Antrim have done the unthinkable and beaten Offaly. In the minds of the spectators, the Tipperary-Galway match becomes a de facto All-Ireland final. All due respect and all the rest.

The game is a violent affair. John Leahy pulls right across the body of Pete Finnerty early in the game. He is somehow let off with barely a stern word.

Eanna Ryan scores two goals but Tipp's danger men in the forwards, Pat Fox and Nicky English, are in smashing form. In the 2nd half, English goes down inside the Galway 14 metre line after an off the ball challenge. No cameras were trained on the incident. Sylvie gets the line and never returns to Croke Park as a player. Nearing the finale, Hopper McGrath hops into Conor O'Donovan and is also shown the line. Tipperary were given three penalties during the game, one of which was retaken, and from which they mined only 0-1. (English tapped over the third one). Down to 13-men, Galway hurl with vigorous abandon, putting it up to Tipp. In the end, there is only three points in it.

'It's Tipp for the final as they finally get the measure of Galway', Ger Canning announces at the final whistle.

Wexford referee John Denton remains a hate figure in Galway hurling circles, his name regularly referenced on fan forums to this day. The Irish Times' stately GAA correspondent Paddy Downey wrote the day afterwards.

Galway will argue for many a year that they were beaten by the referee as well as their greatest rivals of recent times. That may seem to be a harsh criticism of John Denton, who like all referees, had an unenviable task in a contest of some importance. But it must be said that several of his decisions were dubious and most of them went in favour of Tipperary.

Finnerty remains angry.

Some of his decision making, if you've time, pull out the 1989 semi-final on youtube. Some of the decisions he made against us were ludicrous. Brendan Lynskey was pulled one time for over-carrying the ball. He'd hardly taken two steps.

If you were to send off anybody that day, or if you were to show the video to a Chinese man 'who's the greatest offender here?' Sylvie, Mike McGrath - who was sent off for a body check on Con0r O'Donovan - or John Leahy, he'd put his hand up and say that man (Leahy) should get 10 months.

There was nothing about it early in the game. Leahy was laying down a marker against me. I wouldn't lay down for Leahy, no matter what. So I just went straight out through the tackle. Maybe, if I rolled and moaned and groaned... look I still think he wouldn't have got sent off.

We hurled well, we hurled ourselves back to two or three points. Mick McGrath was going through with a ball in the second half and he tapped it over the bar. If it was the year before, he would have gone head down for goal.

And I said after 'why didn't you go for a goal, Mike?'

He said 'I honestly thought he was going to pull me for over-carrying if I didn't let go.

He (Denton) didn't even just give the 50-50s to Tipperary, he gave them the 30-70s. And I'm not sorry to say it about John because he robbed us of 'three in a row' as far as I'm concerned.


Act IV

If Tipp's 1989 success was accompanied by controversy, there's little room for that in 1991.

In between, Galway somehow conspired to lose the 1990 All-Ireland final to Cork, a result which reassured Cork people that could win an All-Ireland at any time regardless of form of the team's condition at the outset of the championship.

Croker was bathed in sunshine and the scores came flying thick and fast. At half-time, Galway were cruising and led by six points. Joe Cooney's form was scintillating. Powered by an old style rant from Canon O'Brien, Cork somehow rustled up four goals in the second half with Tomas Mulcahy, Mark Foley and John Fitzgibbon all chipping in.

In the post-match losing banquet, the Galway players were still struggling to comprehend how they had lost the match. Galway's habit of tossing away All-Ireland finals is not confined to the present era.

Tipperary reclaimed the Munster title from the donkeys in 1991, but only after a replay. Aidan Ryan fired home the insurance goal, sparking a particularly wild pre-final whistle pitch invasion. Even in an era when stewards adopted a more liberal approach to pre-final whistle pitch invasions, this particular blue and yellow raid probably pushed at the limits of their tolerance. The Tipp fans pushed the boat out that day even by 1991 standards.

For the first time, sponsors adorn jerseys. Galway have 'SUPERMACS' pasted across their jersey for the first time. But the team are getting on. Tipperary, meanwhile, are hitting their pomp.

With Conor Hayes gone and Galway trying to figure how they'd shipped five goals in the 1990 All-Ireland final, Cyril Farrell tries Pete Finnerty at full-back.

Asked by RTE afterwards how he felt in the position, Finnerty replies 'Did I look happy?'

We were treated to the closest thing to a hammering in the sequence. Tipperary demolish Galway 3-13 to 1-9. Michael Cleary, in particular, makes hay, equaling Galway's tally of 1-9 on his own.

After the match, the last remnants of the Galway '80s team say goodbye, including Keady at 27. Cyril Farrell resigns and is replaced with Athenry's Jarlath Cloonan.

Act V

The 1993 semi-final is typically excluded from retrospectives on the period, largely due to the turnover in personnel in Galway. Perusing the record books, one could be forgiven for thinking Galway's 1993 campaign the last hurrah of the 1980s team. In fact, there were only five survivors from the 1988 victory in the starting line-up. Most of the starters were drawn from Galway's 1991 All-Ireland U21 winning team.

Following an indifferent League, Galway appear to be in transition and entered the game as outsiders. Tipperary had just won what at the time must have been considered one of the handiest Munster titles in history. Kerry upset Waterford in Walsh Park in May, winning despite a Paul Flynn hat-trick on his debut (Read about that game here).

On the other side of the draw, Clare emerge from years of slumber to beat Limerick and Cork, the latter result kick-starting a five year barren run for the Cork hurlers, and sending Brian Corcoran scurrying into the arms of Billy Morgan and the footballers.

Tipp were excellent that year. Actually, Tipp should have won the All-Ireland that year. They hammered us. They beat us 4-24 to 2-12 or something like that. But they hammered Clare in the Munster Final then something similar. And two years after, Clare were winning the All-Ireland.

Christy Walsh, Kerry hurler

Babs runs his mouth off once again beforehand. He is quoted as saying that hurling 'needed' a Tipp-Kilkenny final.

Hayes tells us that the Munster campaign probably didn't help them when a wound up Galway came at them in the semi-final in August.

We hammered Clare in the (Munster) final and it was probably the worst thing that ever happened. It was very similar to this year's Munster final. And then we ended with 4 0r 5 people injured. Nothing went right then in the match (semi-final). Ah, that was the beginning of the end of that team too.

It is anticipated that the game would pan out similar to '91 but Ken Hogan, playing in what turned to be his last championship match for Tipp, throws a ball into the net early on. Galway take this slice of good fortune and run with it. By half-time they lead by seven points.


Galway wing-back Padraig Kelly is a little star at wing-back. Kelly played three big matches in Croke Park that season and wins Man of the Match in all of them - the All-Ireland club final with Sarsfields in March, the All-Ireland semi-final, and, most extraordinarily, the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, which Galway lost. He remains the last player to win MOTM in a final which his team lost (excluding draws). As ever on these occasions, we appeal for anyone who has footage of Padraig Kelly picking up his clump of Waterford Crystal at the sombre losing banquet to put it up on youtube.

Though there are only two points in it at the end, it needs a Pat Fox goal with the final puck to bring it that close. Galway are underdogs for the final against reigning champions Kilkenny. They trail for most of the game but Joe Rabbitte plays the half of his career and Galway nose in front with fifteen minutes remaining. Ultimately, a late PJ Delaney goal seals it for Kilkenny. Still, the future looks bright...

1993 onwards...

Both teams slip into a coma in championship terms in the coming years. All was still well with the world in the 1993-94 League season. The teams met in the final in Limerick with John Leahy delivering a performance for the ages as Tipp won by eight points.

A month or so later, Tipp were out of the championship. Len Gaynor's Clare avenged their humiliation in the Munster final the year before. Leahy misses the game but wins an All-Star despite not playing a minute of championship hurling.

They are victims of hurling's revolution years between 1994 and 1997. Hayes is minded to quote the Bomber Liston - 'the circus moves on'.

 Galway's absence from the All-Ireland final is possibly more mystifying considering the huge underage success in the early 90s. All the promise and brio of 1993 drifted away. Tipperary entered into transition as the heroes of the late 80s/early 90s began to age. It was the turn of the century they met in the championship again...

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