Tipp need to be positive against Kerry says hero of '44 win over Cork

Clonmel legend last survivor of famous win over Rebels 72 years ago

Tipp need to be positive against Kerry says hero of '44 win over Cork

By Eamonn Wynne

Tipperary travel to Killarney for Sunday's Munster Senior Football Championship Final against Kerry buoyed by their semi-final victory over Cork, which was the first time they had beaten The Rebels in the championship in 72 years.

That famous win at Semple Stadium three weeks ago was celebrated by all the county's football followers and for one person it had an extra-special significance.

91-year-old Sean Cleary is the only survivor from the Tipp team that defeated Cork by 1-9 to 1-3 in that Munster Championship semi-final played in Clonmel on June 24 1944.

"It was wonderful, we had been waiting a long time for it and it was worth waiting for", Sean says about that long overdue success.

Casting his mind back more than 70 years he says "Cork had beaten us in the Munster final in Fermoy in 1943 but we played well and there were only a few points in it".

With 19 year-old Sean Cleary as captain, Tipperary were primed for revenge twelve months later.

"We had a good team in '44 and we had two great centrefield men in Clonmel's Bunny Lambe and Mick Cahill from Mullinahone".

After a first round win over Waterford in Dungarvan, Tipp gave one of their best displays for many years to secure a 6-points victory over the Munster champions on what Sean Cleary describes as "a beautiful day".

However the weather took a turn for the worse when they played Kerry in the final in Limerick on July 9.

"It lashed rain all day and there was hardly anyone left in the ground at the end", says Sean.

Tipp were left to regret many wasted scoring opportunities as they suffered a 1-6 to 0-5 defeat.

"In the 1945 Munster semi-final in Dungarvan Cork beat us by a point before going on to win the All-Ireland. We were well up there at the time".

Sean Cleary is also regarded as one of the greats of Tipperary club football and he was the captain of the Clonmel Commercials teams that won the club's first three County Senior Championships in 1944, 1948 and 1956.

"They were great days too. In the early days during The Emergency, or Second World War we had to cycle to a lot of the matches".

Sean has lived in Galway city since 1960, when he moved to the City of the Tribes to take up an appointment as chief fire officer. In the 1940s he had served as a part-time fireman and from 1943 to 1960 worked in the offices of South Tipperary County Council in Clonmel.

A great follower of all sports, Sean was in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise last February to see his beloved Commercials beaten by Ballyboden St. Enda's in the All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship semi-final.

"That was disappointing, it was a game they should have won but they have a great young side.

People outside of the county don't realise the great interest in football in Tipperary, especially in the south of the county, which was always a stronghold".

When the Tipp team of 1944 beat Cork Sean never imagined that 72 years would pass before they again got the better of The Rebel County in the championship.

"If they could only follow it up with one more win that would be great. But the final against Kerry will be the difficult one. The team needs to have a positive attitude and has to think that they if they can beat Cork they can beat anyone".

For the record, the Tipp team that beat Cork in 1944 had nine army players in the line-up. As well as Sean Cleary it also included Tommy O'Keeffe, Clonmel; Mick Byrne, Killusty; Jim Williams, Clonmel; John Larkin, Army; Mick Cahill, Mullinahone; Dick Winters and William 'Bunny' Lambe, Army; Dick Sleator, Army; Pierce Larkin, Kilsheelan; Thomas Ryan, Army; 'Sapper' O'Neill, Army; Christy Sullivan, Army; Mick Casey, Arravale Rovers and Jimmy Hickey, Drangan.