Classy, Skillful,Elegant,Graceful. These are just some of the typical adjectives that trip off the tongue when people recall the hurling of John Kennedy. Together with Declan Ryan and Joe Hayes this trio scaled the heights to All Ireland honours and in the process gave their club a profile unmatched since the time of Tony Brennan.
John Kennedy’s senior inter-county career was brief and broken. Yet, at his best, his hurling had an artful quality that drew the admiration from tem-mate and opponent alike. In racing parlance he was a classic thoroughbred. Sleek and slim line he was a sweet striker left or right with beautiful balance. All he lacked was durability, in part caused by susceptibility to injury which interrupted his career at crucial junctures.
In his early years he was part of a successful Clonoulty juvenile crop that eventually graduated to capture the club’s first ever county minor title in 1981. That was a side coached by Borrisoleigh’s Timmy Delaney, then teaching in Ballagh, and contained many names that would eventually carry the colours to higher honours. The previous year John won an All-Ireland colleges ‘B’ title with Cashel C.B.S and already the silky talents were in evidence.
That minor win in 1981 earned John Kenendy a unique distinction in 1982 when he captained Tipperary to an All Ireland minor title. It was the county’s second win in three years and further evidence of a resurgence that would eventually hit the big time at senior level in 1987. In the All-Ireland U21 final Kennedy formed an all-Clonoulty midfield partnership with Joe Hayes,but the side once more lost to Kilkenny. It was third time lucky for Kennedy at U21 level when he finally secured an All-Ireland medal in 1984. The team beat Clare in the Munster final and were back in Walsh park Waterford for a final tilt with Kilkenny. It was tough going but held out in the end for a one point win, 1-10 to 2-6. He now had minor and U21 All-Ireland medals – only the senior remained to complete the coveted career collection.
John was inevitably going to progress to the senior ranks for the County. He was a sub at Ennis in 1986 when Tipp lost to Clare. It would be May of 1987 when finally Kennedy finally played his first game with the Tipp seniors, a challenge match against Kilkenny in Cashel. ‘Babs’ was now in charge and when a line-out for the first round of the championship, versus Kerry at Killarney was chosen, John Kennedy was listed at wing back. It was his championship debut.
In early 1989 Kennedy broke his finger and lost out to Conal Bonnar for most of the championship. He watched from the subs bench as Tipperary again ruled Munster and then finally turned the tables on Galway in a controversial All Ireland semi-final. Ironically the controversy handed the Clonoulty man the greatest ‘break’ of his career, a career which had many hard luck twists. After the Keady affair, an issue had arose over the eligibility of Paul Delaney who had also played on foreign soil. In the circumstances Tipp decided prudently to omit the Roscrea man and in came kennedy for an All-Ireland Medal versus Antrim. A lucky break for sure, but deserved over the span of a career that had more than its share of ill-luck. By now John Kennedy had completed his collection of All Ireland Medals.
John won another All-Ireland medal in 1991 but was unable to retain his place due to injury. Shortly after the All-Ireland John Kennedy played his last game for Tipperary in the spring of 1992, when he travelled to Ballycran to play Down in the league. An injury to the other knee shortly afterwards knocked him out for the 1992 season and that was the end of his inter-county career. There was one famous last hurrah with his club when in 1997 he was on the team that beat Mullinahone in the County Senior final. Kennedy was at left wing back and by general opinion did a good job on Paul Kelly. John Kennedy’s last game with his club was the Munster championship match against Patrickswell following the Co. final win that year.
Always a stylish player with an array of textbook skills at his disposal, John Kennedy was one of the most admired Tipperary hurlers of his generation. He loved to solo run, something that often left him vulnerable to injury. John was a consummate hurler admired by all who appreciate class in a player. At present he works with Tom Hogan Motors in Clonmel where he has been since 1999 following ten years with the bank Of Ireland. – J.J Kennedy