The GAA Gene - The Jacobs
The GAA is built on tradition, and there is nothing more traditional in Gaelic Games than great family dynasties.
Trace the history of any county team in Gaelic Football or Hurling and you’ll see the same surnames consistently reappearing as you move back through the decades.
In our series – The GAA Gene – we profile the families that have given outstanding service through the generations.
This week we focus on the Jacobs of Wexford.
By Sinead Kehoe
Oulart is a small rural village on the outskirts of Enniscorthy. It has all the trappings of any other small rural area, the local school, a shop, two bars and the church, but at the heart of it all is a vibrant and pulsating GAA club.
The powerful local interest in the club is evident when you look at the figure for registered members. A tally of 43 playing adults and 93 non playing adults participating in some capacity in a rural club shows the passion for hurling in this area. For a very long time it has been the epicentre of club hurling in Co. Wexford. It has produced some of the counties finest hurlers and indeed camogie players such as Wexford boss Liam Dunne, the hero and captain of ’96, Martin Storey, recently retired Wexford stalwart Keith Rossiter, as well as the Leacy sisters to name a few.
Adding to this impressive list is one of the most celebrated GAA families in the country, the Jacob’s of Wickmore, a townsland in the parish of Oulart. Helena, Ursula, Michael and Rory have each served club and county to the highest of standards and their pursuit for even more success with their beloved club continues. They have all worn the purple and gold and played on the hallowed turf of Croke Park but the GAA way of life did not begin with this generation.
Their father Mick and uncles Christy and Robbie who all hurled with Wexford paved the way for them in spectacular fashion. They were a part of the cherished team of 1968 who brought joy to every hurling person in the county when the Liam McCarthy made its long awaited return to Slaneyside. They were also inspired by their aunt Bridie who won an All-Ireland senior camogie medal with Wexford in 1975. This lady provides the Jacobs with a link to another famous Wexford name as she is married to a brother of the iconic Tony Doran. However, the GAA gene goes even further. Michael Snr’s grand-uncle, Jim Mythen, starred on the 1910 senior hurling team that won the All Ireland for the county for the very first time.
The current generation of Jacob siblings having now drawn a line under their inter-county duties but they haven’t had much time to look back and reflect on some of the great hurling moments they have produced over the years. They are all still hugely tied up with their club roles and their efforts were handsomely rewarded last year when Oulart the Ballagh won the Senior Leinster Final in both hurling and in camogie.
The four Jacob siblings have now collectively won a highly impressive 40 senior county titles. The two brothers and two sisters are no strangers to the sensation of winning but that hasn’t always been the experience of the club. Although Michael Snr. has one Senior All Ireland medal with Wexford, he has never won a Senior County Final with Oulart. Yet, in his own way, he put the club on the map with his deeds in the purple and gold. He won the County’s very first All-Star back in 1972 and over the course of his career he would go on to win two more. Little did he know that his daughter Ursula would, many years later, surpass his tally and win four of her own.
So many club teams around the country are made up of families, with multiple brothers and cousins lining out on the same team. But there are very few who can boast that they hurled competitively alongside their father. Amazingly, Michael Snr. hurled at club level until he was 56 which happened to coincide with his son Michael’s emergence onto the intermediate team as a 16-year-old. Michael Snr. celebrated his 70th birthday in January and still shows no signs of slowing down. When it comes to his commitment to the club, his foot is still firmly on the pedal as he currently lends his assistance to the under 14 team in Oulart.
Each member of the family have their own personal highlights from their hurling careers but it’s evident that they take huge pride in one another’s achievements. Michael Jacob is best known for the famous goal he scored against Kilkenny in 2004 in the Leinster Semi Final. The dramatics that led to it and the elation that followed had everything you could ever want from a hurling blockbuster.
It came in the dying moments of the game when Adrian Fenlon delivered a ball from a side line cut into the Wexford full forward line. It was a last gasp attempt to qualify for a meeting with Offaly in the final. Hope diminished momentarily for Wexford when the sliotar fell into the hand of a Kilkenny defender. But Michael became Wexford’s saviour and hero all in one when in one brisk motion he blocked down the Kilkenny back, retrieved the ball and fired it to the back of the net. It’s a moment that set Wexford hearts alight.
Michael himself is hugely humble about the goal. “It was a great day on the day but I try not to live too much in the past,” he says. “We had great belief that day, going up on the bus that we were going to win that match. Wexford hadn’t been going well in the league that year but after the league we got it going and coming up to the Kilkenny match we knew ourselves we were flying but we were complete outsiders from everyone else’s point of view, so it was a great win. It was great to follow through then and win the Leinster title. Wexford have only won a certain amount of Leinster finals and there are a lot of great Wexford players from maybe 77-96 that haven’t won a thing and we were lucky enough to get there that year and win it”.
His sister Helena has vivid memories of the day. “I think it was almost more special for us seeing it happen,” she says. “The week before the match, the talk was all about Kilkenny and it was almost like Wexford weren’t in the game. I remember Ursula stayed at home for the one match ever to study for her leaving cert. We were on the phone to Ursula continuously but when Michael scored the goal, Daddy hugged Mammy so hard he almost broke her ribs.”
When you are born into a family where there is a huge tradition of GAA there is often great expectation on the sons and daughters of famous hurlers or footballs to replicate what they have achieved. This, however, was not the case with the Jacobs of Oulart, with each of the siblings in agreement that there was never any pressure from their parents when it came to hurling.
“We never felt any pressure with the hurling,” says Helena. “Even when we were younger, Mammy always made sure that we tried other things as well. Rory won a community games gymnastics medal for example but it was something we all went back to ourselves because it was our favourite sport”.
You get the sense that the role that the GAA plays in the Jacob’s life has more to do with geography than genetics.
“The way it is in Oulart, if you’re not involved in hurling, you’re not involved in the community,” says Rory Jacob. “The place is based around the hurling pitch. You look around the house, it’s all pictures of hurling. It’s not that there’s any pressure, it’s just what we do”.
The Jacobs consider themselves extremely fortunate to have grown up in a household where every effort was made by their parents to support and nurture their children’s desire to play gaelic games. While many mothers would gasp at the idea of their little ones pucking around a sliotar indoors, Breda saw the value in allowing her 4 to express themselves with their hurls indoors or outdoors, even if that meant the odd window being broken.
“I’ve memories of them hurling up and down the living room,” she says. “I indulged it because their Daddy encouraged it too, you know, and the most important thing for us was that they were having fun”.
When the four children were growing up, they were managed and mentored by their parents during every stage of development.
“Mammy and Daddy were over us the whole way up along,” says Rory. “Since we were 7 or 8 we were travelling to matches and back then you could have had 10 people in the car.”
The time and effort their parents put into Michael Jnr and Rory paid off as both wore the purple and gold with distinction. The innate understanding they had developed from hurling together all their lives was very apparent when they played together for Wexford.
“We would always be looking out for each other when we were playing, we travelled to training, travelled to all the matches together,” says Rory. "We knew what type of ball to deliver to each other and how each other operates and things like that, that’s the way we’d be”.
The Jacobs belong in the pantheon of great Wexford GAA families with the likes of the Rackards, the Quigleys, the Floods, and the O'Connors. They gave great service to their county and continue to do so for their club. Their passion for their sport, their sense of community, their commitment to their teammates and their support for the next generation of hurlers and camogie players in Oulart the Ballagh is unparalleled.
Long may their legacy continue.