20cm x 35cm. Thurles Co Tipperary
“Jimmy Doyle would have seen many things, and watched a lot of hurling, in his 76 years. But the Tipperary legend, who died last Monday, was possibly most pleased to watch the sumptuous performance of his native county, against Limerick, just the day before. Simply put, the way Tipp hurl at the moment is pure Jimmy Doyle – and no finer compliment can be paid in the Premier County.
Eamon O’Shea’s current group are all about skill, vision, élan, creativity, elegance: the very things which defined Doyle’s playing style as he terrorised defences for close on two decades. Indeed, it’s a funny irony that the Thurles Sarsfields icon, were he young today, would easily slip into the modern game, such was his impeccable technique, flair and positional sense.
There may have been “better” hurlers in history (Cork’s Christy Ring surely still stands as the greatest of all). There may even have been better Tipp hurlers – John Doyle, for example, who won more All-Irelands than his namesake. But there was hardly a more naturally gifted man to play in 125 years.
The hurling of Doyle’s heyday, by contrast with today, was rough, tough, sometimes brutal. His own Tipp team featured a full-back line so feared for taking no prisoners, they were christened (not entirely unaffectionately) “Hell’s Kitchen”.
While not quite unique, Doyle was one of a select group back then who relied less on brute force, and more on quick wrists, “sixth sense” spatial awareness, and uncanny eye-hand co-ordination to overcome.
During the 1950s and ’60s, when he was in his pomp, forwards were battered, bruised and banjaxed, with little protection from rules or referees. It speaks even more highly, then, of this small, slim man (“no bigger in stature than a jockey”, as put by Irish Independent sportswriter Vincent Hogan) that he should achieve such greatness. What, you’d wonder, might have been his limitations – if any – had he played in the modern game?
Regardless, his place in hurling’s pantheon is assured; one of a handful of players to transcend even greatness and enter some almost supernatural realm of brilliance. This week his former teammate, and fellow Tipp legend, Michael “Babs” Keating recalled how Christy Ring had once told him, “If Jimmy Doyle was as strong as you and I, nobody would ever ask who was the best.”
Like Ring, Jimmy made both the 1984 hurling Team of the Century, compiled in honour of the GAA’s Centenary, and the later Team of the Millennium. We can also throw in a slot on both Tipperary and Munster Teams of the Millennium, and being named Hurler of the Year in 1965 – and that’s just the start of one of the most glittering collections of honours in hurling history.