Sean (Johnny) O'Meara


When one thinks back to Lorrha hurling during the fifties one player stands out as one of the most promising prospects ever to come out of the parish. He wasn't what you might call a big man but because of the size of his thighs, the strength of his body, the level of fitness he exuded and the skill level he brought to the game, he appeared something of a colossus. He covered the field of play from end to end, relieving danger in the backline and contributing to attacks up front. He had enormous energy, could keep going all day and was equally adept at hurling and football. His name was Sean O'Meara, more commonly known as Johnny, and he brought excitement to the game and the promise of success to Lorrha.

Johnny was born in October 1933, the second son of Jim 'the Private' and Margaret O'Meara. Brother, Paddy, was older and Kathleen and Seamus were younger.

He went to Lorrha National School, which his family bought at a later stage and where Paddy and family live today. At that time it was a mixed school for boys and girls with Mick Cronin as principal and holding sway with Miss Flynn and Mrs Mahon . Mick Cronin hadn't long finished playing with Tipperary but there was no hurling in the school. The amount of recreational space for the children wasn't much greater that a postage stamp. Usually at lunch time the boys went down to the local ball alley to play.

Johnny was only about three and a half years old when he went to school. As he describes it he used to sneak off with Paddy, who was a year and a half older. As a result he had to spend a year or two at the other end after completion of sixth class. He used get a chance to play hurling with his brothers and the Darcys in the field in front of the Parochial House. The Parish Priest, Canon Moloney, hadn't much interest in the game but he had no objection to them playing in his field. On one occasion he did get them to pull some weeds.

One vivid memory that Johnny remembers of the Canon was the morning he lost his finger. In the winter he used to take the car up the Line Road for a drive, especially in frosty weather. On this occasion when he turned off the engine the fan belt kept turning. He put in a forefinger to stop it and, off course, the top of his finger was whipped off! Rumours went round that the eminent man could never say Mass again. But, in the course of time, the finger healed and the Canon got over the embarrassment of the episode.

While at school he played for Lorrha for the first time. The year was 1943 and Lorrha entered a team in the juvenile (under-15) championship. They played Shannon Rovers at Kilbarron and were slaughtered. The man in charge of Shannon Rovers was Rev. John Cleary, C.C. and he was to take his team to four divisional titles between 1945-48 and one county title. Some years later he came to Lorrha as P.P. and took the juveniles to three county finals, winning in 1957 and 1958

 

Pallaskenry College

Johnny left National School at the age of fourteen years and went to Pallaskenry Missionary College, as it was then known. He was to spend five years there. During the first year they weren't allowed home and had to work on the college farm during the holiday period. There was no hurling in his section of the college but there was in the agricultural side. Because he was a promising hurler he, and a few of the better hurlers, used to be drafted in to play on the Agricultural College team. Fr. O'Mahony recognised his talents and wanted him to play with Limerick minors but he declined, on the advise of Fr. O'Meara, in the expectation of getting a run with Tipperary. However, nothing came of the latter. One of the things he excelled in while in Pallakenry was running. The prime competition annually was the mile race and he won it three years in a row.

Following his Leaving Certificate there was pressure on him to go the Salesian novitiate in Burwash, Sussex, U.K.. He stayed almost a year but changed his mind and left.

His next move was to Warrenstown Agricultural College in County Meath, where he spent a year. During that time he was part student, part staff member. He played senior hurling with Meath in 1954 and the team had the distinction of beating Carlow and Offaly before going down to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final. Johnny played centrefield and had as his opponents, Mick Ryan and Phil Shanahan of Tipperary, who were playing with Dublin that year. While in Meath he also got a trial for the Meath footballers against Cavan.
Johnny was back home in 1955 and played with Lorrha in the senior championship, losing out to Borrisoleigh in the North semi-final. In the same year he was selected with Tipperary hurlers for the championship, and he was also selected for the Tipperary footballers against Cork but couldn't play because of injury.

Later in the year he took up a job as an insurance agent in Banagher. The deal included a commitment to play with the local club, Shannon Rovers, so he transferred to Offaly. He played in the Offaly championship for two years, reaching the county final in 1957 only to be badly beaten by Drumcullen. At the same time he played football with Cloghan, the football end of the parish, and reached the county final in 1956, only to lose to Tullamore. Johnny, playing at centreback, and Garda Jim Rogers of Wicklow and Leinster, were the two outstanding players on the day.

Because of his commitment to Banagher he missed out of the divisional championship success with Lorrha in 1956. His presence with Lorrha that year would have been a huge asset and, even though the team performed badly in the county final, his addition might have made an impact on the result. He had started playing senior hurling with Lorrha in 1953.

 

Selected for Tipperary

Playing with Meath and Banagher had brought Johnny to the attention of the Tipperary selectors. He made his first appearance against Clare in the 1955 Munster championship, replacing Tommy Barrett at corner-forward. Tipperary were surprisingly beaten by Clare on the day. He played during the league campaign and partnered John Hough at centrefield in the league final at Croke Park on May 5th, 1956 when Wexford came back dramatically to defeat Tipperary after wiping out a fifteen-point half-time deficit. He was dropped in favour of Mick Ryan for the Munster championship semi-final, which Tipperary lost to Cork after leading by 2-6 to 0-1 at the interval.
Johnny was back with Tipperary for the 1956-57 league campaign and played at full-forward on the side that defeated Kilkenny in the final at Croke Park on May 12, 1957. He was in the same position for the Munster semi-final against Cork, a game that was lost by the unlikely score of 5-2 to 1-11.

As a result of his victory in the 1957 National League, Johnny got a trip to the U.S. with Tipperary in October. They played New York in the St. Brendan Cup, played four games in all, including one under lights. He decided to stay on in New York and was to remain for nearly ten years.

It was much easier then to get into the U.S. Up to then one had to apply for residence from abroad, which meant that you couldn't apply while on a holiday, but new legislation came in that year which allowed one to apply while on holiday. Johnny got a job with Johnson Wax as warehouse manager, applied for residence and got it quite quickly.

 

Playing in New York

It was understandable that a player of his ability would start playing there. He played with Cork in football initially as he had got his job through a Cork connection and won a championship with them. Later he played with Kilkenny and won a second football championship. But hurling was his first love and he won one championship with Tipperary in 1962.

Hurling was tough in New York. The smaller size of Gaelic Park provided little escape from vigorous physical encounters. Johnny could well look after himself on the field and revelled in the physical exchanges. However, some of the results were dangerous. He recalls a bad accident in one game. Soloing through in one game he was tripped by a chasing player. When falling his jaw collided with the opposing full-back's knee and it was broken in a number of places. It was one of his worse accidents as a result of which he spent weeks in a Yonkers hospital.

Johnny was part of the New York team which played Kilkenny in the St. Brendan Cup in the Polo Grounds on June 1, 1958. It was the last Gaelic match to be played in the historical ground and Johnny had an outstanding game, scoring 3-6 at full-forward over the hour. It gave him the unique distinction of having won St. Brendan Cups with Irish and New York teams and in consecutive years. He was to win his third later in the year, when New York defeated Wexford by 3-8 to 3-7 in another St. Brendan Cup final at Croke Park. The New York team was a star-studded lot at the time, including players like Ralph Prendergast and Kevin Long from Limerick, Jimmy Carney from Clare, Billy Duffy from Galway, Norman Allen from Dublin, Paddy Bermingham and Mick Furlong from Offaly, Paddy Fleming from Carrick-on-Suir and Paddy Dowling from Cork.

In 1960 Waterford travelled to New York and were beaten by a star-studded New York team on the scoreline of 7-7 to 3-4. Playing at full-forward, Johnny had an outstanding game and scored 3-2 off the great Austin Flynn, before an attendance of 29,000 people.
During his time in New York he made a number of hurling trips to Ireland, either with New York teams for league engagements or to play with Lorrha. For instance he played with the latter in 1965, when they were beaten a point by Kilruane
While in New York he married Peggy Egerton, originally from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, in May 1962. The couple have four girls, Margaret, who is married in the U.S., Marie, who is married in Naas, Olivia, who works in a hotel in Kilkenny, and Valerie, who is attached to St. Anne's in Roscrea. The latter two are twins. All the girls, with the exception of Olivia, have won All-Irelands in athletics and represented Ireland at international level. They were all good sprinters and Marie was a jumper as well. She held the Irish ladies' record for the triple jump at one stage.

Johnny returned to Ireland for good in 1966 and played with Lorrha in the senior hurling championship, winning a divisional title. Playing at centreback he was the central figure in a very effective line of defence, together with Liam King and Michael Gleeson. He was elected captain of the team for 1967 at the AGM later in the year. Lorrha were beaten badly by Moneygall in the 1967 North semi-final. In the same year he played county senior hurling and football league with Tipperary. Lorrha lost out to Roscrea in the 1968 championship. Johnny played at centreforward in 1969, which was the year of the beginning of the open draw senior hurling championship. He filled the same position in 1970. He played wing-forward in 1971. He was in the unlikely position of goalkeeper in 1972 and 1973, and at corner-forward in 1974. He replaced Michael Burbage at centrefield in the 1975 championship. He impressed at corner-forward in the 1976 championship. He was wing-forward in 1977 and centre-forward in 1978. and full-forward in 1979. He doesn't appear in lineouts after that. He appeared as a senior selector in 1980.

 

Also a Footballer

Having started playing senior hurling with Lorrha in 1953, he finished in 1979, a span of twenty-six years, omitting the years with Banagher and the years in New York. He is of the belief that he finished up playing junior hurling with the club and that they were beaten by Ballina. If that is the case the year was 1983 when Ballina defeated them in the quarter-final at Nenagh.

Johnny was also a keen footballer and had got a trial for Meath in that code as early as 1954. He was on the Lorrha junior football team that won the North title in 1966 only to lose the county final to Clonakenny. He won a county junior title when Lorrha went all the way in 1971, and defeated Moyne-Templetuohy in the county final. He was the outstanding man on the field in the North semi-final against Kilruane-MacDonaghs and got the Guardian Player of the Week for his performance. The citation read: 'No one expected top class displays or indeed fully fit teams but one could not help being struck, at the same time, by the fitness of Sean O'Meara, probably the oldest man taking part in that particular game. He was streets ahead of his colleagues and rivals and this fitness played a big part in the manner in which he repulsed several Kilruane attacks in the first half, when the white and black brigade were playing with wind advantage.'

When Johnny returned to Ireland he became sales representative with Johnson Wax and he remained with them until he retired in 1998. Having done so he returned to his first love, insurance, taking up a job with Canada Life, with whom he remained until he suffered his stroke.

Recalling his hurling years Johnny believes that centrefield was his favourite position. He played centreback regularly and in many positions in the forwards. Training was never a problem: he was always the first man to the field and never missed a training session with either Lorrha or Tipperary. In fact he was always running, having participated in sports all over the country from an early age. He took part in the first Dublin City Marathon in 1979, ran again in 1980 and has run once more since then.

Johnny was also involved in G.A.A. administration. He was registrar of the North board for seven years and a trustee of the county board for four years. Refereeing was another part of his life. He refereed at all levels, divisional, county, Munster and All-Ireland levels and had the unique distinction of refereeing five divisional hurling finals in the same year, senior, intermediate, junior, under-21 and minor. He served as Tipperary representative on the Munster Referees Advisory Council.

Comhaltas has long played a major part in his life. Ever since Paddy Madden, Canon Martin Ryan and Peggy Wilde started the Irish nights in the old hall in Lorrha in the sixties, Johnny has been involved. He used to travel from Nenagh with his daughters every Friday night and the entertainment played a major part in his and his daughters' lives. At one stage he was part of a half-set with Bernadette Turner, Tommy and Kathleen Houlihan and they won a number of Munster titles.

Johnny O'Meara has always been a most active man. During his sporting life he achieved a level of fitness that was exceptional in his time, when hurlers and footballers had a much more relaxed attitude to their physical preparedness. He was a robust player who revelled in taking on opponents in physical battle and not many enjoyed coming in contact with him. As a contemporary of his in New York, Johnny Murphy of Cashel, described him 'a man you wouldn't like to run into on the field of play.' Off the field of play the same energy drove him in his job and his recreational activities. He was never the person to loll about but was ever restless for new activities, new challenges. It was ironic, and very very cruel then that he should be struck down by a stroke six years ago which rendered him extremely limited in the kind of physical activity he so enjoyed. In spite of this he will always be remembered as the skilful bundle of energy on the hurling or football field giving his all for Lorrha, Tipperary or New York.



August, 2011