John Keane (hurler) : biography
The following day his remains were brought back to Waterford and Mount Sion where the thousands waited silently in the wind and the rain to say a last farewell to the man who had made them all feel so proud and on the following day he was buried in the cemetery overlooking the broad sands of Tramore.
Keane was posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984 and the Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000. He was picked for the centre-back position on both teams, marking him out as the greatest number six in the history of the game.
In 2009 the Waterford City Trust erected a blue heritage plaque on the house where John was born in Barrack street, Waterford and in 2010 a long overdue biography of John was published – THE UNCONQUERABLE KEANE: John Keane and the rise of Waterford hurling by David Smith.
All through his life John was heavily involved in the administrative side of the GAA with both club and county. At various times in his career as a player with his club, he was chairman, selector, coach and captain. With the county he filled the role of team selector, team coach and, for two years, county treasurer.
Keane played his club hurling with the famous Mount Sion club in Waterford city and enjoyed much success. He won his first senior county title in 1938, the first senior title won by Mount Sion. Keane captained the club to further county titles in 1939, 1940, 1943, 1945, 1948, 1949 and 1951. On his retirement from hurling in 1951 he was the only man in his club who had played on every championship winning team. He continued playing football for his club until 1955, winning two county senior medals.
He first wore the Waterford colours when, on Sunday May 15, 1932, he played at centre field as the Waterford minor hurlers defeated Cork in the Munster championship.David Smith, "The Unconquerable Keane" p. 23. He was only fifteen years-old, the same age as Jack Lynch who was making his debut appearance with Cork. The year 1934 marked Keane’s first emergence on to the national stage when, although still a minor, he starred at full-back as the Waterford junior hurling team won the All-Ireland title for only the second time ever. He made such an impression that the selectors called him up as a right half-forward to the senior team on 10 February 1935 in a National League game versus Cork and so, at seventeen years of age, Keane was started on his memorable career.
Keane’s name became a household word throughout the nation when, in 1937, and at only twenty years of age he gave an outstanding individual performance against the great Mick Mackey in the Munster championship game with the Limerick team that beat Waterford by two points, 3-4 to 3-2. At the end of that year he was selected as one of the outstanding hurlers of 1937 together with Timmy Ryan of Limerick, Jimmy Cooney of Tipperary and Paddy Phelan of Kilkenny.Irish Weekly Times, 8 January 1938.
His first Railway Cup honour came his way that same year when he was only nineteen years old and, in all, he played in nine finals for Munster, winning seven medals. The following year, 1938, saw him collect his first Munster title as Waterford defeated Clare in the provincial final. Waterford later lined out in the All-Ireland final with Keane, at 21 years of age and playing in his stockinged feet, starring at centre-half back as his side were beaten by Dublin. In spite of playing in defence Keane was the side’s top scorer with four points of Waterford’s total. He was to repeat that feat in the All-Ireland final of 1948 when he was again top scorer for Waterford.
The early and middle 1940s saw Waterford play second fiddle in Munster as Limerick, Cork and Tipperary all won All-Ireland titles.
All this changed, however, in 1948 as Keane’s side powered their way through Munster, hammered Galway and, finally, overwhelmed Dublin’s “greyhounds” on a score of 6-7 to 4-2. Keane was the engineer and chief architect of that victory. Playing at centre forward he scored three goals and two points and made most of the other scores. His performance was that of a master craftsman who had learned all that there was to know about hurling and who, now, was giving a master-class in centre-forward play.
He considered retiring from inter-county hurling but was prevailed upon by both selectors and fans to continue playing for the county. He eventually retired from inter-county hurling in 1951.
John Keane was born in Waterford, on 18 February 1917, into a family that was steeped in the traditions of Gaelic Ireland. His childhood years were spent among like-minded neighbours in the city’s Barrack Street. Keane was educated at Mount Sion School, a great hurling nursery and a cradle of all things Gaelic and nationalist where he became the star hurler – going on to represent the Munster colleges team for three successive years.