WaybackWhensday Niall Cannon Pt 1

Today Niall might be better known to people as an Entrepreneur, the founder  and MD of Eirpoint an Irish & UK software development company based in Clare. But  in Killimodaly he will be forever remembered for his hurling prowess in the mid eighties, especially for his 1986 County final performance where he was part of a fantastic midfield double act with Eanna Ryan.
He kindly agreed to kick of a series that we will run getting former hurlers to share their experiences of Club and hurling and we can't wait for part two.

In His Own Words
Growing up in Knockroe and travelling to Kiltullagh NS was always going to be my destiny, given my good mother was a teacher there. All the kids my age from the “Killimordaly end of the parish” were attending Attymon or Brackloon -whereas we travelled the 3 miles to Kiltullagh every morning. My aunt Breda (Noone) worked in Esker NS and so between the two sisters from Gurteen they had that end of the parish well covered...!
This put me and my siblings in an enviable position of making good friends in both parts of the parish from an early age. Back then there were no mobile phones, no texts, no Facebook and no Twitter. Communication excitement for the young was limited to wondering if Sean Cannon might deliver a Valentine’s card once a year! Unfortunately my older, cooler and more female-friendly brother received many cards. I was too interested in sport and consequently received very few!
Kiltullagh school was small, a two-teacher school with a total roll call that went from the low 20’s to the mid 40’s during my time there. My 6th class consisted of just four of us! You can imagine how difficult it was to field a 7-aside hurling school team with such limited resources. Over the road Brackloon was cleaning up in the national schools 11-a-side. We were happy just to get a day out for the inevitable hiding in the first round of the competition.
That said, I played with some very skilful players in Kiltullagh at that time. I recall watching with wonder the fast and accurate stick work of one Reggie Concannon (RIP) whom had a gift with the stick that was never completely fulfilled. Leaving Killarive to go to school, if Reggie had turned right and travelled to school in Brackloon instead of turning left for Kiltullagh perhaps he would have become a stalwart of parish hurling . Then again, keeping Kiltullagh school open during those times meant that each and every family that opted to enrol in Kiltullagh was welcomed with open arms.
My first introduction to juvenile parish hurling was at U-14 level. Indeed, I think this was the youngest grade of underage competition back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I was not blessed with strength or stature but tried to make up for it in stamina and resolve. I started out as a corner forward with very specific instructions to “bat the ball down; don’t let it go wide!” I am sure this is still good advice for today’s budding corner forwards!
Strange as it may seem now, the parish was a big place back then. I only met and hurled with some of my Killimordaly contemporaries when I started first year in Presentation College Athenry in 1980. During my underage exploits I moved from corner forward, to full forward, to left half forward -eventually ending up playing midfield for the U21’s and Seniors in 1986. The intervening juvenile years were very successful for the parish.
Under the encouraging, ever present Frank Burke I played in some great underage teams winning four county underage championships between the years of 1980 and 1986. The group of lads I played with in those years weren’t part of the famous “bikes” teams of the mid-late 1970’s – save for one notable exception, the colossal and talented Eamon Burke.
Back in the early 80’s Eamon stood at about 6’4” and I was 4’6” : that was about as close a connection as I can make in terms of stature! While hurling is a team game and the full panel counts, I believe that in our U-14 years Eamon gave us a distinct advantage over any opposition. For someone so tall and strong he was blessed with Canning-like skills. I recall one underage match in Craughwell. Wearing his usual number 6 Eamon made a break from the half-back line, soloed to the 21 yard line before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the back of the net. The reason I recall it so well was that the opposing goal keeper dived for cover just as Eamon was about to pull the trigger.
From match report on '86 final
I believe the greatest achievement of that U-14 team, and the most memorable for me, was not in the winning of any county title. In 1980 the parish hosted the famous Na Piarsaigh club from Cork as part of the Feile Na nGael competition. They arrived to stay in our houses on the Friday night. We eyed them with suspicion as they were the king-pins of underage hurling in Ireland at the time. They spoke with a weird accent, ate way too much of our food and looked like they were all overage. We played them in the “bord” field at around 10am on the following Saturday morning. We were not at all fancied to beat them. As they were the guests of the parish we gave them the use of the CIE cattle truck we used as a dressing room. We got togged out in the cover of the ditch inside the gate!
As it transpired we beat them – a shock to them and indeed ourselves if the truth be known. In the victory lay the belief that would serve us well in the following years. I recall very little about the game itself. My lasting memory came after the game and was a symbolic gesture by one of the greats of the parish. As we were togging back in after the match the great Paddy Mitchell thought it fitting to tell me “Cannon, sit down there, rest a minute and I’ll take off those boots!” And so he did, he unlaced my boots, smiling from ear to ear. That win, that morning meant a lot to the people watching. Perhaps back then we were too young to appreciate the magnitude of it all. 


enda creaven said...

Great article - and a good idea for a series.

KHC GAA said...

Thank you, glad you like