By Matt O’Callaghan for The Weekly Observer 2010
By Matt O’Callaghan for The Weekly Observer 2010
|The last of the Maiden Street hurlers By Matt O’Callaghan|
He proclaimed himself the last of the Maiden St hurlers. Paddy Sammon was born on the street and through his prowess on the G.A.A. fields with his native Newcastle West, Crokes in Birmingham, the Limerick team in New York and back home with Western Gaels has become one of the true legends of the game in West Limerick. He makes a frank admission that he did not have a great interest in school and professed a much greater interest in cattle and sheep and herding on his father’s land outside the town. “I went there and got through it, that is all I can say about school” he admitted. On leaving primary school he started with his father who was a butcher in Bridge St. His love of cattle saw him go around to fairs around Limerick Cork, Kerry and Clare with Christy Doherty a cattle dealer in the area at the time “My main education was in the university of life, which is where you really got it” he said.
After six or seven years in the butcher stall and learning the ropes of cattle dealing, he got itchy feet and headed to England. Some friends in England Seamus Casey and Seamus Monaghan invited him to Birmingham to play hurling with the Crokes club and in return they helped Paddy find employment. During his stint in Birmingham, the Newcastle West man helped Crokes to the Warwickshire final where they lost out to St. Finbarr’s from Coventry. The Coventry side included the Boothman brothers from Dublin Achill and Bernie who would later feature on the Dublin team beaten by Tipperary in the 1961 All-Ireland senior hurling final. That St. Finbarr’s team later provided 12 of the Warwickshire team beaten by Cork in the 1955 All-Ireland junior hurling final. .Paddy spent about a year commuting over and back from Birmingham for matches “Of course I was not legal to play at all” he admitted. By the end of 1954, Paddy headed for America “I had a job lined up in New York before I left Ireland. I got involved with hurling immediately on arrival there, the standard of hurling was very good at that time, there were some great clubs there and I joined the Limerick club. In that time if you got a better job with the Cork or Kilkenny clubs, you would play with them” he recalled. Paddy was enlisted for military service while in New York and was posted to Colorado. The Limerick club would fly him back to New York for all the matches at the time. “I was lucky while in the army, the government were cutting the numbers and as I had only eleven months to serve, and anybody with less than twelve months service left, I was discharged early”. While in the States Paddy also worked in Chicago but maintained his affiliation with the Limerick club in New York whom he helped to two All-American finals, only to lose both. Paddy was selected for the New York senior hurling team and on one occasion came up against Mickey Rattler Byrne when the Exiles played a touring Tipperary team to the Big Apple. “He rattled me, and I rattled him, we were rattling all round us” quipped Paddy.
Paddy returns home
The Newcastle West man returned home in 1960 just in time to throw in his lot with Western Gaels who were bidding to win the Limerick senior football championship for the second time. “We beat Treaty Sarsfields in the final at the Gaelic Grounds and I was not legal, we had to go to Jackie O’Connell the then County Secretary that night to get me signed up. There is not much that anyone can do about it now “said Paddy tongue in cheek. It was the start of a great run for Paddy that was to yield three Limerick senior championship medals in a row as he was very much an integral part of the Western Gaels hurling sides that claimed back to back successes in 1961 and 1962. Paddy was also a member of the Western Gaels team beaten by Cappamore in the 1954 county final and was despite a six year sojourn abroad the only survivor from that team that was part of the back to back successes. In the 1954 hurling semi-final, Paddy came on as a substitute on the Gaels team that defeated favourites and four in a row seeking Treaty Sarsfields. “I remember that day I went as a substitute and was marking Micker Fitzgearld of Treaty who asked me when I came in if had said goodbye to my mother”. In an ironic twist Sammon had the last laugh by scoring the winning goal. Paddy loved all sports and had a particular liking for rugby, and he played with the local junior rugby team as a sixteen year old at scrum half. It was the days of the ban and it necessitated Paddy during his career being reinstated no fewer than three times.
The first two reinstatements did not cause much difficulty but on the third occasion as a repeat offender, Paddy had to apply to the Mercy Committee that sat at Annual Congress, and which usually dealt with cases where there was a serious or repetitious breach of the rules. “I also played rugby in England and in America with New York Rugby club, but hurling was my first love, then rugby and Gaelic football” Paddy said. Paddy protests that he was not that lucky in hurling and football. “I was beaten in a lot of finals by a point. A couple of West Limerick finals, we lost by a point, the same in New York, we lost by a point or two despite having players like Kevin Long and sometimes Mick Tynan in our team. The hurling was enjoyable but hard in New York, it was no place for a parson’s son” Paddy did however win two county junior football medals with Newcastle West as well as West minor hurling and football medals with the club. One game stands out in the memory of the man from Maiden St., it was a West minor hurling final against Dromcollogher at Knockaderry. “Nine minutes to go and we are down four goals. We got a point and then four quick goals to win it by which time Dromcollogher had the cup gone to the local pub to celebrate and we had to follow them and get it back. That was the greatest escape that we ever had” Paddy played mainly as a corner forward and was renowned for his goal scoring exploits and he explained “If you took you’re ease, hung on and watched what was going on, you would get a couple of goals, corner forward was a trade in itself”. But he says that he got it hard playing hurling “I was only 5’4” and if you get a goal off a man that is six foot, he is very sore, he is not going to kiss you anyway. I had habit of upsetting backs; it was my policy. I had a great burst of speed over ten or fifteen years, which done me, there was no need to run a mile”. The diminutive all round sportsman enjoyed a very long career in hurling. “I was able to stay on longer at the hurling as I was hurting at the football. In my latter years, I was nearly always used as a sub, and what I used to do was sit on the bench and size up the six backs. When I was called on to go in, I would pick the back that suited me, some fellow that might be very open and when I got the better of him, they would all say that I was a great sub” he mischievously recounted.
Sammon got to wear the Limerick senior jersey just once as a substitute against Waterford in the Munster championship at the Cork Athletic Grounds in the early sixties. Prior to that the Newcastle West man had been part of the 1954 Limerick junior squad that won the All-Ireland championship beating London at Mitchem Stadium. During his long career the Newcastle West man recalled some of the great players that he played with locally like Paddy Devine, Jim O’Grady, Séamus Monaghan, Seán Herbert, Seamus Casey, Ned Fox, Basil Scanlon and Billy Bailey. “We had the finest of hurlers in Newcastle West down the years” he insisted. With Western Gaels, Paddy Sammon rated Martin Geary, Kevin Long and Jack Enright very highly. While playing with New York, Paddy was one of eight from Newcastle West on the Limerick team in the Big Apple, the others were Joe and Mick Devine, Paddy Dowling Ned Vaughan, Jim O’Grady, Séamus Monaghan and Dan O’Connor.
On returning to Ireland, Paddy picked up again on the butchering trade, but the advent of the supermarkets forced him to take a change of direction in his career and he bought a pub in South Quay. He ran the pub for a number of years before disposing of it about ten years ago.
These days Paddy is very involved with the Calvary Cemetery Committee. Paddy wife is the Secretary of the Committee and in recent years they have expended a considerable amount of money in improvement works. “I really believe that we should make every effort to maintain places like that to the highest standard, burial grounds are sacred, and they should be treated as such” according to Paddy. Now a septuagenarian, the former sportsman still lives a very active life and does swimming at 7.00 a.m. for an hour up to four mornings a week. “Did you ever meet a Sammon that could not swim?” he jocosely asked. Does the popular larger than life character have any regrets elicits an emphatic ‘No. I hate people with regrets, they are the worst thing that a person ever had, they would pull you down, carry on with your life and forget about regrets, what you done, you done and what you did not do, you did not do”. Paddy feels very sorry for young people and the lack of job opportunities due to the economic downturn. “We had to go abroad in the fifties, it was bad again in the eighties but hopefully we will get over it. There is too much talking about it, they would want to shut up and get down to straightening out the country”. Paddy Sammon has lived a very full life from the butcher boy in Bridge St. to the bright lights of Birmingham and New York before returning to the butcher’s stall and eventually into the pub trade. A sportsman extraordinaire who maintains his love of sport to the present day. A man of quick natural wit, the last of the Maiden St. hurlers is a true legend of Newcastle West.