The game of seven-a-side hurling was common in East Galway in the nineteen-thirties, forties and fifties, and spilled over into North Tipperary and even South-West Offaly as well. Lorrha teams participated in many of these tournaments in which seven-a-side was the game and played for prizes such as medals, suit-lengths, ten shilling notes and even bicycles!
Today we're mostly used to the game of hurling as fifteen against fifteen, and it has been so as long as anyone can remember. But it's only so for 100 years and what is that in the context of a game to which the earliest historical reference goes back to 1272 BC!
When the G.A.A. was founded in 1884 it was agreed that the number of players a side would be 21, and it would be interesting if we had the minutes of the meeting that decided on that number. Undoubtedly there were people arguing for a much greater number as some would have come from a tradition in which the game played was between parish and parish.
What is interesting is the speed with which clubs accepted the new rules, which were drawn up at the end of 1884, especially those relating to the number of players. The number of 21 lasted only a few years and was reduced to 17 in 1892 and to 15 in 1913.
The value of lowering the number was recognised early on as it reduced the tendency of players to gather in a bunch. As the amount of open space increased with the reduction in the number of players, it became easier to move the ball faster, with the resultant improvement in the quality of the games.
The idea of reducing the number of players still more was discussed about 1970. There was a perception that the game had got dogged and rough and not enough goals were being scored. It was decided to introduce thirteen-a-side in colleges games and the experiment lasted for about three years. It produced a feast of goals as the game was speeded up and with the absence of a full-back and full-forward, it opened up the space in the goal area. Much greater mobility was required by backmen and this tended to reduce the difference between backs and forwards.
After the period of experiment the 13-a-side idea was scrapped. It was never tried at inter-county level. Some experts believed it gave forwards too much power as the extra space was exploited. While the extra goals made the games more exciting, there was another experiment going on simultaneously with the length of games extended to 80 minutes and this in itself ensured plenty of goals. In the first three 80-minute All-Ireland finals a total of 29 goals were scored! Whatever the reasons, the 13-a-side experiment wasn't continued.
Although 15-a-side became the norm for G.A.A. games from 1913 onwards, another game of seven-a-side has a long history in the G.A.A. Tom Barry, who is the editor of the program for the Kilmacud-Crokes All-Ireland Hurling Sevens, has researched the history of this parallel game in the history of the G.A.A. The first account of a seven-a-side competition he has come across goes back to Kilbeacanty (Co.Galway) in June 1918. Nine teams, six from Galway and three from Clare, took part with Tynagh victorious.
The competition was to raise funds for a presentation to Fr. Michael Ryan, who was about to be ordained a priest and was due to be sent to Australia. The purpose of such tournaments down the years has been invariably to raise funds for church, parish or club causes.
Barry's research has turned up a large number of such tournaments down the years to the 1970s, when the Kilmacud Crokes Club started a national sevens tournament in 1973, with an entry of 21 clubs. This tournament was given official G.A.A. All-Ireland status in the late eighties and celebrated 40 years of success in 2012.
During this period Tipperary clubs have won on fourteen occasions, with Borrioleigh the most successful club with five wins. Other successful clubs were Nenagh Eire Óg in 1996 and 2008, Mullinahone in 2002 and 2005, Roscrea in 1979, Kilruane MacDonaghs in 1984, Portroe 1999, Moycarkey-Borris in 2009 and Kildangan in 2011.
Sevens in the Thirties
Lorrha took part on a number of occasions in the Kilmacud Sevens but they had no success. In taking part they were carrying on a strong tradition of teams from the parish taking part in sevens competitions.
Michael O'Meara of the hill has one of the longest memories of one such tournament and it was played in Killimor and he thinks it was over two years, 1934 and 1935.
He's a bit vague as to the lineout but recalls that Tom Duffy was on goals and gave out to all and sundry from between the posts! As well as Duffy, other members of the team were Jack Lane, Jerry Whitaker, Tom Smith (the first year), Son Ryan, Mick Kennedy (of Eglish, later of Ballymona between Ballingarry and Carrig), Mick Hoctor, Mick Cronin and Tommy Burke.
The reason that Tom Smith only played the first year was that he was put off in a match against Knockshegowna and wasn't eligible for the final. At any rate Killimor, Tynagh and Lorrha came through and a draw had to take place to decide on the semi-final. The two Galway teams were drawn out and were none too pleased with the draw. Their semi-final ended in a draw and, according to the Lorrha version of events, it was deliberate. As a result the final couldn't be played until the following year.
Lorrha beat Killimor, who came through in the the replayed semi, by a goal in the final. The winning score was got by Jerry Whitaker. The team received eight medals for their victory and there was a bit of a row about their distribution. The seven members who played got medals and Tommy Burke, who came on as a sub. Tom Smith, who was under suspension, was excluded.
Tom Duffy was notorious for speaking his mind and he was derogatory towards one of the Tynagh players, Jim Power, who won an All-Ireland with Galway in 1923. He let him know that he had won an All-Ireland in a year when he (Duffy) 'and all the good men of Ireland were in jail.'
Mick O'Meara was involved in another seven-a-side tournament at Woodford in 1939 and a photograph of the team exists. With him were Mick Donohue, Michael Hoctor, Tommy Ryan, Joe Gardiner, Tom Lambe, Son Ryan, Joe Abbot
A Set of Bicycles
Tom Lambe's memories of sevens tournaments also stretches back into the thirties. He recalls a tournament for bicycles at Loughrea in 1938. Lorrha had a team in it and were beaten in the first round. He recalls that the bicycles, all racers, were on display in the field during the games. He is also of the belief that there was no way that the organisers were going to allow the bicycles to cross the Shannon into Tipperary!
Asked about the nature of the hurling in these competitions, he stated that it could be very rough: 'If you were winning they'd have a fierce go at you but if you were losing they'd be the nicest under the sun!'
Were there many injuries? He doesn't remember many. One was to Ned Waters who got his collarbone broken in a tournament at Meelick in 1940
For him sevens tournaments were all the go in Galway. Asked if it were difficult to pick seven or nine players to represent the club, he said it wasn't, as not everyone wanted to go. He recalls that one of Lorrha's best players, Mick O'Donoghue, would seldom travel.
He played in other tournaments in Tyrnascragh in 1941 and 1942 and remembers being beaten by Mullagh. He believes that the latter, Tony Reddin's home club, had a great team at the time.
Playing for Ten Shillings
Eugene O'Meara, who also has clear memories of playing sevens, was one of the Lorrha team that played in the suit-lengths tournament at Portumna in 1948 and was scorer-in-chief, scoring 8 of the 9 points in the final. The ninth was scored by Tony Reddin in a clearance from his goals.. Lorrha beat Kilruane MacDonaghs in the semi-final and Tyrnascragh in the final.
The suits were a magnificent reward at a time, when a new suit was a rare purchase. Lorrha won the suitlengths and the picture of the winning group of players, shows nine in all, as two subs were allowed. As well as Eugene, the other members of the successful team were Jimmy O'Meara, Des Donohue, Mick O'Meara (B), Tom Lambe, Tony Reddin, Billy Hogan, Brendan Donohue, Dan O'Meara.
Tony Reddin recalls cycling home from the final with the suit-lengths draped on the handlebars of the bikes. They did a lot of shouting along the way and stopped off at Sean Grogan's at Grange – he was a tailor – to get their measurements taken.
Billy Hogan wore the suit when he went for his first passport photograph. A picture of Billy in the suit features in my recent publication, 'A Lorrha Miscellany'. On the same day as the final Tony Reddin won the long puck competition with a strike of 106 yards.
Eugene recalls playing with Redwood, in an earlier tournament at Portumna in 1941, when the prize for the winners was ten shillings each. You could get seven large packets of Players cigarettes for it at the time, so it was a very desirable prize. Redwood beat Killimor in the final but the ten shillings each failed to materialise. He believes they had to make do with ten shillings between the lot of them!
Another tournament he played in was Rathcabbin in 1943. It was in connection with acarnival and sevens tournaments were often the highlight of such entertainments. Eugene played with the Lorrha number 2 team and they beat Borrisokane in the final, 'and, I have the medal to prove it!' The medal has his name on it in Irish: 'Eóin Ó Madhra' and also the inscription : 'Rathcabbin LDF 1943'. They took great pleasure out of winning because the Lorrha number 1 team was beaten!
Actually this tournament commenced in 1942 but was unfinished. Michael O'Meara, who didn't take part the first year, remembers it well. Lorrha Number 1 and Number 2 got through to the second round. The latter beat a good Tynagh team that included Connie Boyle, who played inter-county hurling with Galway. The next day Borrisokane were to play Lorrha Number 1 and Lorrha Number 2 were to play Ballinderry. However, both visiting teams had illegal players and weren't allowed to play. The matches were postponed after a few squabbles and rows.
The tournament was finished the following year, when Ballinderry had a proper team entered but they were beaten by Lorrha Number 2. In the second semi-final Borrisokane, who had a very good Seven, including Dinny Doorley, Ted Joe Foley, Dinny Hayes, Son Kelly and two or three of his brothers, many of whom had represented North Tipperary in the Millar Shield competition, defeated Lorrha Number 1, and then Lorrha Number 2 defeated Borrisokane in the final as stated above. The winning team was as follows: Mick Donohue, Matt Cahalan, Seamus O'Meara (R), Eugene O'Meara, Michael O'Meara (R), Billy Hogan and Paddy Sullivan (goals).
Another tournament he played in was at the Banagher carnival in 1943. At that stage he played with Belmont (Offaly), where he worked for D. E. Williams, and he remembers playing Shannon Harbour. Lorrha had a team in it and a team from Eyrecourt was also involved. The games were played in the evenings and Michael O'Meara remembers they would meet at Rathcabbin and cycle to Banagher. Lorrha defeated Carrig in the semi-final and Eyrecourt in the final. Tom Ryan, a county Galway hurler, played with Eyrecourt. Mick Brophy marked him in the final and gave him a hard time. As well as Brophy the other members were Hubie and Billy Hogan, Michael and Seamus O'Meara (R), and probably Matt Cahalan and Johnny Deely.
Eugene has a memory of a parish seven-a-side held in Abbeyville about 1940. He was too young to play, being still in short trousers! About six teams took part and the final was played between Abbeyville and Roughan. The latter had a powerful team and won. The players were Seamus, Eddie and Michael O'Meara, John Deely, Matt Cahalan, Billy Rigney, Mick Donohue and Paddy Sullivan.
It wasn't a Sevens tournament but two of the best games Michael O'Mears remembers were eleven a-side games between Lorrha and St. Rynaghs in the late sixties. The first game was a draw and Lorrha won the replay by two points. Mick Liffey was captain and Liam King and the two Lanes were playing at the time. Podge Mulhare was with St, Rynaghs. Tipperary played Galway in Portumna the Sunday after the replay. Michael met Eamon Lynch a few days after and he said that the county match was only 'pitching pins' compared with the Lorrha-St. Rynaghs game!
A Faster Game
The modern sevens game is a much faster game than the ordinary game of hurling. It emphasises speed, accurate striking, maintenance of possession and taking the scoring opportunities offered, in fact, most of the characteristics the Clare team revealed in their recent, brilliant All-Ireland win. The same characteristics are to be seen in that new game, Super Elevens, that was unveiled during the year.
I don't believe the sevens games of seventy or eighty years ago put such emphasis on speed of foot, of hand, of striking, of catching, of scoring, but they were entertaining and they brought a bit of variety to hurlers' lives at a time when there were few games outside of the championship and the occasional tournament.
I'm not sure if the material benefits to be gained in the event of victory were an enticement to take part but, at a time when the material rewards of living in rural Ireland were meagre, there must have been some inducement in a prize of bicycles, which were the main means of transport at the time, or of suit-lengths, when a suit was purchased only on major occasions, or a ten shilling note when it would buy you eleven pints of Guinness!
The Lamp (Lorrha & Dorrha Historical Society, 2013 Edition, December 2013) pp 19-23