Des Dillon (1926-1964), Clare Hurler and More
In his column in the Irish Press soon after his death, Padraig Puirseal had this to say about Des Dillon: 'He might easily have been either the greatest handballer or the greatest hurler of our time. He had the size, the strength, the acquired skill and the immense natural ability to become a dominant figure in eather game, or possibly in both. To my mind the only reason he failed to reach even greater prominence in either game than he did, was because sport always remained sport to him.'
Born in Lisdoonvarna in 1926 it appears the family moved to Birr when his father became a Garda Sergeant in Lorrha. Des went to school in Mount St. Joseph's, Roscrea, where he excelled as a hurler, as well as other sports, on college teams between 1941-1945. He won two Offaly senior hurling championship with Birr in 1944 and 1946 and lost a final in 1947, while at the same time turning out for Offaly in the championship between 1945-47.
In the latter year he went to U.C.D. (1947-54) to study medicine. He won four Fitzgibbon Cup medals in 1948, 1950, 1951 & 1952 during his term there and a Dublin senior hurling title in 1948. He captained the Combined Universities against Ireland in the first game in the series in 1952. His performances with the college brought him to the attention of the Dublin county selectors and he was a sub on the team that lost to Waterford in the 1948 All-Ireland and played with the county in the 1949, 1950 and 1951 championships. He was also picked for Leinster in the inter-provincial series.
He retired from hurling in 1951 in order to concentrate on his medical studies and we next hear of him in 1954, when he made his debut for Clare at midfield in a Thomond Feis game on May 9th.
His hurling career with Clare was very short – a mere 14 senior hurling games in all, including three championship games in 1955 – but he left lasting impressions on those who remember him. As a student in St, Flannan's in the early fifties, I recall him as a big man, black haired and legs that appeared to have been perma-tanned, striding with power and skill through the field of play. He won an Oireachtas medal following a brilliant display against Bobby Rackard at the end of 1954.
His last game for Clare was another Oireachtas game against Wexford in October 1955. In the same year he won a Railway Cup medal with Munster.
Although still only 28 years of age, he retired from hurling to concentrate on his second great love, handball. In 1955 he won the Gael-Linn trophy for the first time and repeated his victory in 1957. In 1955 he also won the Munster senior doubles with John Slattery. His profession took him away from the game for a couple of years after that. He also won many Dublin titles but an All-Ireland medal always evaded him. He was beaten in the All-Ireland singles final in 1962. In 1964 he qualified with Joey Maher (Louth) to play in the World Championships in the U.S.A.
He spent some of his professional life in England, in London, Liverpool and Wigan. When he returned from England he set up a pharmacy in Booterstown and it was at the railway station there that he was killed tragically by a train on November 24, 1964. He was survived by his wife, a seven year old daughter and an infant son.
Des Dillon was a larger than life personality, who excelled in other sports as well as hurling and handball and who left an indelible impression on all who knew him during a short life. For him sport was a pastime to be enjoyed and his carefree attitude to games was greatly at odds with the modern attiitude to sport.
Munster Senior Hurling semi-final, Thurles, June 15, 2014