In 1961, Rice College Ennis, then known as Ennis CBS, achieved their only Dr Rodgers Cup success when winning the provincial title at the expense of Cork school, Coláiste Iognaid Rís (Sullivan’s Quay) in a game played at Kilmallock.
Ruan native PJ O’Connor was the Ennis school’s goalkeeper. He won the nod ahead of the late Pascal O’Brien, who went on to play for Clare and Munster.
At the time, PJ’s Ruan clubmate, Frank Custy, was the Ruan senior hurling goalie and after training on the evening before the final, PJ cycled to Frank’s home in Dysart to ask for a loan of Frank’s hurley for the college’s final.
“Having had my tea with Frank’s Mam and Dad, I then cycled to my home in Ardcarney, Ruan. Next morning I cycled, as usual, to the CBS and then it was on to Kilmallock, by train, for the game. Our win was the first by a CBS team in any Munster competition since 1941,” PJ explained this week.
After the game, the victorious team returned by train from Kilmallock to Ennis and then it was back to the bicycle and PJ cycled home to Ruan. He remembers being stopped by Sergeant Hegarty, a well-known garda in Ennis, who noted that he had no light on the bicycle.
“He enquired where I was coming from and when I told him that I was returning home after being part of the CBS team that beat Sullivan’s Quay from Cork in the final, he told me to carry on.”
“At a Clare Association function in Dublin in 2009, I recalled the story to Frank. He told me he still had the hurley and asked if I would like to have the hurley for keeps. Needless to say, I was gobsmacked and Frank gave me the hurley when I attended the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of the late John Moroney at Ruan pitch last year.”
A year after that Corn Mhic Ruairí success for the Ennis school, they won their only Harty Cup title, beating neighbours St Flannan’s in the final.
“The goalkeeping spot on that team was between myself and Michael Hayes from Clooney and he got the nod. Eleven of the 1961 winning side were part of the Harty Cup squad a year later,” recalled PJ.
Those teams were trained by Brother Jim Hennessy from Mount Sion in Waterford, who later went to Limerick CBS, where he trained their four in-a-row Harty Cup winning teams (1964-67).
PJ played his first senior game with Ruan in 1963 against Scariff in Tulla, where his direct opponent was the late Emmett Henchy. A member of An Garda Síochána for over 30 years, PJ played most of his hurling as a central defender or at midfield. He won a number of Kildare championships with Leixlip, where he resides.
PJ said he “is chuffed to be in possession of this hurley 50 years after our success. Frank played with this hurley, made by his brother Sean, in the county senior final in 1960 when Ruan were victorious.”
According to PJ, “In those years there was a limit to the size of a goalkeeper’s hurley, unlike nowadays. The goalie’s hurler could be a little bit bigger and there is a little insert in this hurley by Terence O’Brien, the then secretary of the Ruan club.”
PJ maintains a keen interest in Clare GAA affairs and regularly travels to games involving Clare county hurling sides. He also maintains a keen interest in the fortunes of his native Ruan.