Date of birth: 14 October 1941
Place of birth: Inistioge , County Kilkenny
Occupation: Retired Bank Manager.
1959-1977: Kilkenny 50 championship appearances
Leinster Titles: 10
National Hurling League: 3
(All) Inter-county games with Kilkenny: 211-1426
All Stars: 4 Cú Chulainn; 5 All-Stars
Texaco Hurler of the Year, 1972.
Texaco Hall of Fame 2009.
RTE Hall of Fame 2003.
GAA Hurling Team of the Century, 1984.
GAA Hurling Team of the Millennium, 1999.
Location certainly has a lot to do with it. DJ Carey reckons that if he had been born five miles east, he would have been classed as a Carlow man and would thus have been unlikely to pursue his passion for hurling to any great depth. Likewise the fate of DJ’s childhood hero Eddie Keher was dictated when his father, then a young Garda, was transferred from his native Roscommon to County Kilkenny in 1932.
Eddie would go on to become arguably the greatest hurler of the 20th century, helping Kilkenny win six All-Irelands and 10 Leinster titles in a remarkable 18-year inter-county career between 1959 and 1977. He remains hurling’s all-time championship marksman, with an almost untouchable tally of 36 goals and 337 points in 50 games.
The Eddie Keher story begins in the lush pastures and rolling countryside due west of Roscommon town. Peter Keher tended his flock of sheep in the fields which surround Donamon Castle on the banks of the salmon-rich River Suck. In 1884, the year the GAA was founded, the 21-year-old shepherd was married and his wife Ellen bore him nine children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Amongst these was Eddie’s father, Stephen Keher, who was born in 1898.
During the 1920s, Stephen and his brothers hurled for the local Donamon club. However, Stephen preferred football and played on the Roscommon senior football team on a few occasions.[i] Indeed, despite his son’s success, Stephen always preferred football to hurling.
In 1932, Donamon Castle was taken over by the IRA and converted into a training ground. However, by then, Stephen Keher had joined the Gardaí Síochána and, that same year, he was transferred to the Kilkenny district where he served in Kilkenny City, Tullaroan and Inistioge, a pretty tree-lined village which sprawls through the Nore Valley, some 15 miles south of Kilkenny city.[ii]
Inistioge was to be the setting for the romance between the young Garda from Roscommon and his bride to be, Noreen Browne. They were married in 1935. Their second child Eddie was born on October 14th, 1941.
From the age of eight, the boy showed himself to be a hurler of note, battling it out in evening matches played between Inistioge’s ‘up streets’ and ‘down streets’, or between lads from the village and the surrounding country. In July 1952, the 11-year-old played for Inistioge NS when they won the (Primary Schools League) Under-14 Roinn B Hurling County Final. They won again in 1955 and that time Eddie Keher was Man of the Match.
For many decades, St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny has been considered Ireland’s foremost hurling nursery. Its past pupils include Brian Cody, DJ Carey, Henry Shefflin, Eoin and Philly Larkin, and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick. But none have had more impact than Eddie who began his secondary education there in September 1954.
Perhaps the greatest influence in Eddie’s life was Father Tommy Maher, who became a teacher at St. Kieran’s in 1955. A remarkable hurler in his own right, Fr. Maher coached St. Kieran’s to back-to-back victories in the Leinster Colleges Junior championship in 1956 and 1957. Eddie, who played on the team, was also deemed skilled enough be selected for the schools’ senior team, helping them win a Leinster championship hat-trick in 1957, 1958 and 1959. In 1957, he struck home three second-half goals to help St Kieran’s win the All-Ireland senior colleges' final. Two years later, the 17-year-old captained St Kieran’s to win his second All-Ireland title.
In 1956, he was called up to play for the Kilkenny Minors, with whom he won four Leinster Medals, losing to Tipperary in the All-Ireland Finals of 1957 and 1959, and to Galway in the 1958 Semi-Final. Although the Cats were beat, Eddie’s performance against Tipperary in the 1959 final impressed the Kilkenny selectors so much that he was summoned again for the county in the All-Ireland Senior Finals against Waterford. The Cats fell again but it was noted that the two meagre points they scored in the second half both came from the stick of the youngster from Inistioge. Eddie remains the only man to have appeared in senior and minor finals in the same year.
After St. Kieran’s he studied banking at Rosse College which was then on St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. He then began working for the Allied Irish Bank at their Dublin branches on St. Stephen's Green and Capel Street. The 1960s had begun and Eddie was about to become the most famous bank official in the country.
In 1962, he was on the Kilkenny team when they won their first League title since 1933. The following year, Telefís Éireann broadcast the second ever live All-Ireland Hurling Final and people from all across the nation tuned in to watch Eddie play an out-and-out blinder, skipping through the Waterford defence to smash home a record fourteen points and ensure Kilkenny finished up champions.
Eddie’s triumphant performance was no fluke. Like DJ Carey a generation later, he mastered his excellence by practice. The evening before every game he played, he was out in the field in Inistioge, hitting the ball, perfecting his method long into the night. ‘I kept experimenting for hours on end’, he says, ‘until I evolved a system of rising and hitting the ball that I knew must succeed’. And succeed he did, as Kilkenny won the All-Ireland in 1967, 1969 (with Keher as captain), 1972, 1974 and 1975.[iii]
In the summer of 1972, Eddie met Muhammed Ali in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, and taught the heavyweight champion how to hurl. ‘He was a hero of mine,’ said Eddie, ‘but I was surprised how quiet he was … until we met with the press.’ Eddie’s father Stephen had been a passionate boxing fan for a long time, and was fascinated by Ali. ‘I still remember getting up in the middle of the night to listen to the Ali-Sonny Liston bout with him on the radio’. Eddie took his father to see Ali fight Al Lewis later in the week. It wasn’t a great match but the Kehers enjoyed it. ‘When Ali went in for the kill, there was no stopping him’, recalls Eddie.
Two months later, Eddie’s career defining moment came during the All-Ireland Final against Cork. With less than 20 minutes to go before the full-time whistle, the Leesiders were leading by eight points. All seemed lost until, almost out of nowhere, Eddie was spotted leaping into the sky, grabbing the sliothar and sprinting up the sideline. As he pucked the sliothar, it looked like it was looping upwards for a certain point. Then it stalled just short of the bar and, as if redirected by the Gods, shot past the startled Cork goalkeeper into the back of the net. It provided the impetus for one of the greatest turnarounds in All-Ireland final history.
Eddie retired from hurling in 1977 to concentrate on his banking career. In 1979, he teamed up with fellow player Pat Henderson to manage Kilkenny and, once again, the Cats lifted the All-Ireland trophy. Eddie had less success coaching Kilkenny single-handed for a season in 1987 when the team were ousted from the championship early on. That same year, he became manager of the AIB branch in Callan, County Kilkenny. By the early 1990s he was also playing a good deal of golf; as of September 2012, he's an 8 handciapper.
In 1978, Eddie joined Fr Tom Murphy, Garda Eamonn Doyle and Bobby Kerr (owner of the Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny, and father of Bobby Kerr jun. of 'Dragon's Den' and Insomnia fame) to co-found the No Name Club in Kilkenny. The club aimed to tackle Ireland’s spiralling drink and drugs situation by providing young people with a credible option for nightly entertainment to the increasingly degenerate pub culture. The club now has over forty branches nationwide and upwards of 15,000 members.
Eddie was closely involved with the fundraising campaign for the GAA Community Centre in Inistioge, named Cois Abhainn, which was officially opened by President McAleese in 2011.
[i] Stephen’s nephew Seamus was a prominent hurler and footballer with Roscommon Gaels.
[ii] Stephen was originally assigned to Kilkenny City. From there, he went to the station in Tullaroan, the home village of hurling greats Lory Meagher and, more recently, Tommy Walsh. In 1932, he was transferred to Inistioge. He was finally appointed a sergeant in Ballyhale.
Inistioge became famous in the 1990s as the location for the Hollywood film of the late Maeve Binchy’s book, ‘Circle of Friends’.
[iii] In 1968, Keher played a vital role in helping his local club, the Rower-Inistioge, lift the county title.
In 2000, he was one of the GAA stores immortalized by An Post on a postage stamp.
In 2006 Keher was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Science at the University of Limerick. He is also a patron of the GAA All-Ireland Golf Challenge.
With thanks to Eddie Keher, Jim Fennelly and others.