John Lyons

John Lyons

 

It was as a result of an incident that occurred one Saturday evening in 1978 at Na Piarsaigh's club in Limerick City that I first became aware that John Lyons may have been a special player.

 

We were having snack at the Na Piarsaigh Club after a challenge game. I was with a group of players that included Martin O'Doherty the Cork full back, All-star and All-Ireland winning captain, who was at the peak of his hurling power at that time.

 

An elderly local man joined our company. He looked around the group hoping to recognise some of the players. When he seemed satisfied that he did not know anybody, he addressed us with the statement "So ye're the Glen?" Martin O'Doherty was standing next to him and replied "we are".

 

The man rubbed his jaw and then said "I'll say one thing for ye; ye produced the best full back I ever saw." Upon hearing this statement Martin O'Dohery asked expectantly "and who was that?" Without hesitation the man replied "John Lyons". We all laughed because, just like Martin O'Doherty, this was not the answer we expected. As our host did not seem to recognise Martin we decided to pursue the situation and asked "what about Martin O'Doherty?"

 

The man replied "Oh he's a good player too, but he wouldn't lace Lyons' boots. He was a prince, tough, solid and always in charge around the square."

 

When it comes to judging Glen Rovers and its players, I have always been at a disadvantage. When you hung around the Glen Field as an impressionable teenager in the 1970s, as I did, you met legends every night. Chirsty Ring was always there, "Fox" Collins was a regular, Dr Jim Young and Joe Hartnett were never far away. Even Jack Lynch might look in. Johnny Clifford was probably taking charge of a training session, while Denis Coughlan, Martin O'Doherty and Fr Paddy Barry were among the players training.

 

The selectors included they likes of David Creedon or John Lyons. They were always weighing up players, pondering possibilities or hatching plans. The people mentioned above won 33 All-Ireland senior hurling medals with Cork and almost countless county medals with Glen Rovers.

 

Perhaps that is why, at that time, I never took much notice of John Lyons. He was there, he was always there but he was just another giant, albeit with 11 county medals and three All-Irelands. In the land of giants you can sometimes fail to appreciate their enormity.

 

He was soft spoken and mild mannered. When you listened to the older fellows, recount tails of Cork against Tipperary and "Hells Kitchen" in front of goal, or vicious battles between the Glen against the Barrs, it was hard to imagine that John Lyons was the rock that our defence was built on, and where Tipp, the Barrs and many others floundered.

 

It was only when you got to know him, and to work with him, that you began to see the real John Lyons. He became a senior selector with the Glen in 1978. It was my first year on the Glen senior team. He was a shrewd selector. He did not mince his words. If you played poorly, he told you; but he also told what you should do to improve. When you are 19 you resent the first part and ignore the second. That is something you live to regret.

 

As time moved on I began to realise that John Lyons made more and more sense. He was not involved as a selector in the mid 80s but he returned to that job between 1988 and 1991. By then I was involved in the backup team and in a far better position to appreciate his ability.

 

He never appeared to be upset by a crisis. Instead he identified the crux of matter and dealt with that. No matter how tough the issue or the crisis, he never seemed to lose control. In those situations you could see that he had been to "Hells Kitchen" and back and, although he did not like to show it, he had learned how to deal with any situation that might develop there. 

 

If diplomacy was called for, John Lyons was the man the Glen sent forth. He was a good listener and he had the art of being able to walk with kings or the common man and treat them both as his equal. He was a lifelong friend and playing colleague of my father, it was only natural that he should deliver the oration at my father's grave.

 

His record as a player borders on the incredible. As well as his three All-Ireland winners' medals, he won ten senior hurling county medals with the Glen, three of these as captain. He also captained St Nicks when they won the football county in 1954.

 

He was secretary of St Nicks for 12 years during the 1940s and 50s. I have read his reports to the AGMs. Each one is a fascinating epistle that portrays a deep loyalty to the club; frustration at how events turned out (St Nicks lost three county finals in five years between 1947 and 1951) and warnings as to how the club might develop if the members were not prepared to work.

 

Yet, all this was only one aspect of his life.  He enjoyed a game of golf, and was a popular member of the Guinness staff in Cork. Above all, he was a family man and while we all will miss the influence of John Lyons, it is they who will miss him most.

 

John Lyons was that rare type of person who seemed to hold the affections of everyone who knew him. He truly was a great hurler, gentleman and father. He will be fondly remembered by all those who were fortunate to have shared some time with him.

 

John Lyons born 1923, died 2005. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís.

 

 

 

 


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