One of my early memories is of a lazy-hazy Sunday afternoon at Rathcabbin sports in Mr. Brackek's field. There we were lying on the grass and watching a three mile race. There were only two contestants, Mick Cleary of Moneygall and local hero, Patsy Carroll. Cleary was in the lead from the early stage by up to about ten yards. Occasionally Carroll would make a burst to catch up but when he did so Cleary accelerated. I was disappointed when Cleary crossed the finishing line in front not knowing then that Patsy Carroll had won the three mile championship of Ireland at Ballinree, Co. Carlow a few days earlier and hadn't yet recovered from the ordeal.
My most recent meeting with the man was last August. As we drank tea he recounted the high and low points of his life. Then suddenly he was under staring orders again. This time it was no gun but the call of commitment to travel to Tullamore for a training session with the Offaly under-21 hurling team. Since 1983 he has been official masseur with the Offaly senior team and now with the under-21 side. Nothing unusual about that until you realise that Patsy Carroll is seventy years of age, having been born on 18th February 1922.
The high period of his athletic achievement was between 1945 and 1951. In these seven years he won seven senior cross-country medals with the county, running under N.A.C.A rules. During that glorious period he was never outside the first twelve on All-Ireland day and was always in the scoring six, the only one to achieve that high level of consistency.
With no athletic ancestry Patsy first became interested in running when he joined the L.D.F. in the early forties and began to run in their races. They were later to become F.C.A. races. Crosscountry running was taking off in a big way at the time and 250 people took part in the first crosscountry race in Lorrha in January 1943. Mick Donoghue of Ballinderry won and Patsy came second. The race was out of Lorrha, up the Minister's Hill and around for four miles. According to Patsy there was great interest in running - people had little else to occupy their free time.
To cater for this growing interest St. Ruadhan's club was formed in 1944 and duly won the County Tipperary novice and junior cross-country championship. The novice was run in January and the scoring four were Francey and Mickey Hourigan, Syl King and Patsy Carroll. The junior was run the following month with the same four plus Paddy Hourigan and Tom Lambe.
They beat a great Nenagh squad captained by Jack Fitzelle, uncle of 'Pa' of Cashel fame. On the last Sunday of the month St. Ruadhan's went to Dunleer for the All-Ireland inter-club crosscountry junior championship and came sixth out of a field of over sixty teams.
The Annual Congress which was held at the end of the year, brought the inter-club All-Ireland to an end. From 1945 onwards teams for the inter-county were picked by trial. In January 1945 Patsy Carroll and Francey Hourigan, coming fourth and tenth respectively, qualified for the Tipperary team. As there was no Munster championship they went straight to Belfast for the All-Ireland junior inter-county on the third Sunday in February. There were three hundred starters and Tipperary, who had the first four home, had a runaway win. The four were John Joe Barry of Ballincurry, Patsy Carroll of St. Ruadhan's, Mick Blake of Coolquill and Gerry Kiely of Aherlow. The other two were Jack Fitzelle and Roddy Teehan of Moneygall.
Patsy Carroll qualified for the county senior team the same year, coming tenth in the trials at Littleton, despite having injured his foot with glass. The All-Ireland took place at Mount Merrion, Dublin and Tipperary beat a great Kildare team to take the senior title. The Lorrha man was the tenth man home and the fifth Tipperary man. For the next six years he was to play a major part in the county's continued success.
If one is to find a peak in Patsy Carroll's achievements it must be 1949. The list of his successes is phenomenal. He won the Southern Command three miles. He dead heated (both got gold medals) with Mick Cleary of Moneygall AC. in the Munster four miles. (Neither would let the other lose!) About 6,000 watched that race at Kanturk and the crowd included intrepid Lorrha supporters like Bobby Dillon, Joe Sutton, Jack Cleary, Tommy Carroll, Paddy Corcoran and Mick O'Meara of Roughan. Patsy won the Army three miles at the Curragh, after being runner-up in 1948, and was to be successful again in 1950. He also won the All-Ireland three miles at Carlow and was second in the national five mile championship run at Moneygall. Other sussesses were achieved at Moyglass and Galway. He was second in the Guinness four miles on a Saturday and won the three miles at Killaloe the following day.
There was little training as we know it today and less talk of pulled muscles, torn ligaments and groin strains. According to Patsy it was up to yourself to get fit. He did his day's work on the land and later worked for Bord na Mona. At the end of the day he went off running around Mr. Bracken's field. He used to take a drink but took the pledge from Fr. Clune about 1945. He remembers the latter with affection and in particular for his ability to cure people and the fierce set he had on Martin Luther! He had no coach but he did have a manager in the person of Denis O'Brien of Nenagh. He also had a physio, Tom Fallon of Templemore.
Getting around was a major chore. At the very north of the county Rathcabbin was far removed from places. For the trials in Littleton in 1945 he cycled to Nenagh, a distance of twentyfive miles, and got a lift with the Nenagh lads. He remembers cycling to Mountmellick, return journey, sixty miles, running, cycling home and dancing all night. Ah! when men were men!
Because St. Ruadhan's club ceased to exist in 1946 Patsy Carroll joined Moneygall A.C. the following year and was to stay with them for most of his athletic career. The exception was 1949 when St. Flannan's Athletic club came into existence in Lorrha for one year. He remembers Moneygall as a very well run club under the guidance of Jim Ryan.
Another club man he admired was Mick Cleary. Other rivals he remembers with respect are Mick Blake and Gerry Kiely. He recalls with particular affection Martin Egan of Shanaglish, Co. Galway. For him the Healys of Coolcroo were very special people and looked after the runners very well in Belfast in 1945. He also reminisces about Jim Sweeney, Jack Caesar and Mick Ryan of Moyne.
Patsy is adamant that the most important person in his life is his wife, Celia. He married Celia Dowd of Ballymacegan in 1949 and the couple have five girls and two boys. He cherishes the warmth of a good home life particularly since his own childhood was blighted by the death of his only brother, Martin, at the age of three, his mother's death when he was only twelve years old and his father's blindness, the result of the belt of a caveson in the eye from a rearing horse. His own family haven't been free from suffering either with one of his sons suffering a serious head injury in 1983.
Patsy was always interested in the G.A.A. and played on the Lorrha junior team but, having taken the athletic road, stayed away from the hurling field to avoid injury. Becoming involved in physio at a very early stage he began rubbing Lorrha teams as early as 1948. In those days it was a mixture of olive oil and wintergreen and it's an odour I will never forget. I can vividly recall Patsy lashing it on and the smell filling the upstairs room in Foley's pub in Borrisokane during the early rounds of the 1956 championship. Patsy has an interesting point of view on all this rubbing. He believes that much of its success has got to do with belief in its efficacy!
As he continues rubbing today, whether in Offaly or Tipperary, Patsy Carroll can look back to a very successful and full life. He still believes in what the N.AC.A stand for, 32 county athletics. His reasoning is simple and practical: this country is too small a unit to be divided for any sport and our rare successes in the international field gives substance to this point of view. He represents the amateur ideal at its noblest, a life of honest endeavour in the field of sport with little or no material reward to show for such effort. But he does have this reward, the knowledge that he was once great and that he proved that greatness by winning numerous All-Ireland athletic medals.
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1993, pp 53-54