Féile memories still burn bright for John Sheedy 50 years on
By John Harrington
50 years have passed since John Sheedy and his Portroe team-mates won a national Féile na nGael title in the inaugural year of the competition, but the memories shine as brightly as ever.
You couldn’t meet a more passionate hurling man than the former Tipperary goalkeeper, and he still regards that historic achievement for his club as a day of days.
“Absolutely, it was a huge deal for us at the time,” he told GAA.ie. “A crowd from Enniskillen in Fermanagh came down and stayed with us and we had a great weekend. It was absolutely unbelievable, I have to say.
“Along with every other team that took part we got to march through Thurles behind a banner so for young lads it was like Christmas Day had come!
“I was 12 years old in 1971 and it was an U-15 competition so I was the baby standing in the goals!
“It meant an awful lot to us at the time and we were actually the only Tipperary team to win a Féile Final in that first year of the competition.
“We beat Knockavilla by a point in the Final and it was a titanic struggle. I think the score was 1-1 to 1-0. Gerry O'Brien scored the winning point and I'll always remember that it landed on the top of the net. It only just about made it over the bar!
“We had a huge game as well in the semi-final against Loughmore in Nenagh.
“We were eight points down at half-time but had a great second-half and won by two or three. The memories of the whole thing are just great.”
Sheedy’s younger brother is former Tipperary hurler and manager Liam Sheedy, and for them and their siblings Jim and Mike, hurling was always a way of life.
Their father Johnny sadly passed away when Liam was just a year old, so love for the sport was fostered by their mother Bid who was a renowned hurling fanatic.
“My mother used always say that once you could hurl, anything else about you was a bonus,” laughs Sheedy. “But you had to be able to hurl!
“When you'd play well she'd be delighted, so she was ten foot tall after we won that Féile Final. She was great, I have to say. She instilled that love of the GAA in us all.”
Bid Sheedy wasn’t their only supporter who celebrated with gusto. Winning that Féile All-Ireland title was a red-letter day for the whole parish who came out in their droves to welcome home the conquering heroes.
“We came home to Portroe after the match and we were marched up through the middle of the village and we were taken to pub for a big celebration,” says Sheedy. “We were Kings of the Village for the evening!
“It was a really big deal for the club at the time and it's what started us going, really. It was the foundation we built on.
“In charge of that Féile team was Jim Madden who had come home from England after a good few years. He had a fierce influence on the club and took over the training of the teams and put fierce time and effort into it which really paid off.
“We won an North Intermediate Final in 1981 ten years after that Féile win. And I'd say there were seven or eight of that Féile team who played on the team. So winning Féile was definitely a launchpad for us.”
A special John West Féile na nGael hurling blitz will take place in Thurles today to mark the 50th anniversary of the competition.
Half a century has passed since his own day in the sun, and Sheedy couldn’t be happier that Féile means as much to people today as it did back in 1971.
“It's a great competition and it's still going strong,” he said. “I'm not surprised, because it was such a marvellous idea, something really unique.
“I still have great memories of it, and I've always meant to get in touch with the Enniskillen crowd that came down to us because we hit it off so well with them, and see if there are many of them still around or do they remember it.
“Because one of the biggest disappointments I had in my life came the year following Féile. We had it all arranged for us to go up to them in Enniskillen.
“I'll always remember it, I was polishing my shoes in the kitchen getting ready to go the following day and Father Moloney who was involved with our team at the time came to the house to tell us the trip had been cancelled because The Troubles had just kicked off in Northern Ireland.
“Oh my God, was I deflated, I'd be looking forward to it so much because we got on great with those Enniskillen boys.
“We beat them in the first match we played and by God, they support us the whole way after that. They followed us to every match until we won the Final. Great memories."