Journalist Donal Keenan profiles some of the famous brothers who have graced the football and hurling fields of Ireland. It’s fair to say that in approaching his subject the author was spoiled for choice and so he made the decision to limit one set of siblings to each county – the exception being Offaly.
Who could blame him I suppose, as the Faithful county have punched far above their weight in both GAA codes. In saying that, he still had a choice to make, but eventually opted to chronicle the contribution the Lowrys (football) and the Dooleys (hurling) made to the Association.
The siblings profiled will be familiar to most sports followers, as some are still playing, while others have just recently retired. Yet, their pursuit of the holy grail in terms of September glory, or the pride in bringing success to their clubs shines through. To widen the canvas, Keenan dedicates a chapter to brothers who are no longer with us – the Rackards, Foleys, Murrays and Mackeys were iconic names within their own borders but yet gained a wider resonance.
Included among them were the O’Reilly brothers from Cavan; four of them wore the county colours at senior grade – including John Joe who developed such a mystique that he became simply known as ‘The Gallant John Joe’ and was later immortalised in song and literature.
The age gap between brothers often saw the surname on county team sheets for an extended period of time. The Hendersons were synonymous with Kilkenny hurling from 1964 to 1991 with Pat, John & Ger all winning All-Ireland titles. Indeed Pat was to become Kilkenny manager, with his two younger brothers under his tutelage. An often difficult situation when you have to tell one of your own that they were subbed because they were ‘useless'.
The Earleys in Roscommon had the perilous Dermot – perhaps the greatest player never to have won an All-Ireland. He combined his exploits on the field with a successful career in the defence forces. Seventeen years younger was Paul; a player of much skill who also sought out pastures new with a short spell playing Aussie Rules.
There were brothers who embarked on a long road before finally winning a Celtic Cross. The O’Connors of Wexford, with George playing seventeen seasons with his county, and encountering many near misses along the way, before Liam Griffin’s stewardship finally brought a long overdue hurling success in 1996.
The Lyons’ from Meath began their footballing careers at a time when the stock of the Royal county was at a low ebb. Things hit rock bottom with a defeat by Longford in the first round of the 1982 Leinster championship. Sean Boylan’s arrival on the scene as manager changed everything. All-Ireland titles followed, along with many battles with Dublin and Mick Lyons was to gain a reputation as a no nonsense full-back.
The McHughs from Donegal and the Canavans from Tyrone tell similar stories about the often tortuous road to county adulation. The dedication of the amateur sportsperson is very much to the fore. Keenan also elicits the views on where the GAA is now. Alan Brogan ponders what life would be like as a professional player; Darragh Ó’Sé questions the role of the media and their sometimes intrusive nature; George O’Connor would like to see the hurling gospel spread wider, not just competitively, but also a recreational game that people can simply enjoy, while Martin McHugh is at pains to stress the importance of the club player within the Association.
‘Brothers In Sport – GAA’ is an enjoyable read and is well crafted by its author. Granted there are a few factual inaccuracies with regard to the dates of certain matches mentioned and who played who at a particular round in the championship. That entry in the debit account aside, this endeavour sets out what it intended to do by highlighting the importance of families within the GAA tradition, both on and off the field.