Nick O'Donnell
Nick O'Donnell
Personal information
Irish name Nioclás Ó Dónaill
Sport Hurling
Position Full-back
Born Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny
Club(s)
Years Club
St. Aidan's
Inter-county(ies)
Years County
1947-1950
1951-1962
Kilkenny
Wexford
Inter-county titles
Leinster titles 6
All Irelands 3

Nick O'Donnell (1925–1988) was an Irish sportsperson. He played hurling at various times with his local clubs Éire Óg in Kilkenny and St. Aidan’s in Wexford. He was also a member of both the Kilkenny and Wexford senior inter-county teams from 1947 until 1962. He is widely regarded as the greatest full-back in the history of hurling.

O’Donnell’s status as one of the all-time greats is self-evident. In a senior inter-county career that lasted for fifteen years he won three All-Ireland titles, six Leinster titles, two National Hurling League titles and one Railway Cup title.

O’Donnell has also been the recipient of many awards and honours off the field. In 1960 his hurling prowess earned him the prestigious Texaco Hurler of the Year award. He was later honoured in 1984 when he was named, by popular demand, in the full-back position on the GAA Hurling Team of the Century. O’Donnell was named in the same position on the GAA Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000.

Contents

Biography

Nicholas O’Donnell was born in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny in 1925. He was educated locally and was known as a shy and retiring gentleman. O’Donnell lived in Graiguenamanagh until 1950 when he moved to Enniscorthy, County Wexford to work with Roadstone Ltd. He remained in his adopted county until his death in 1988.

Playing career

Club

In O’Donnell’s early hurling days he played with Éire Óg, a club based in Kilkenny. Here he enjoyed some success as he won senior county titles in 1955, 1945 and 1947. After moving the Enniscorthy O’Donnell joined the St. Aidan’s club in the town. He enjoyed much success here throughout the 1950s, winning county titles in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959.

Inter-county

O’Donnell’s skills at club level brought him to the attention of the Kilkenny inter-county selectors. He joined the inter-county junior hurling team in 1946 and went on to win an All-Ireland title in this grade following victories over Galway in the Home Final and London in the final. In 1947 O’Donnell earned a call up onto the Kilkenny senior hurling team. That year he was a substitute when his native-county captured the Leinster title. O’Donnell was a substitute again when Kilkenny later defeated Cork in, what has been described as, the greatest All-Ireland final of all-time. ‘The Cats’ won the game on a score line of 0-14 to 2-7. Only twenty winners’ medals were presented, however, since O’Donnell was only a non-playing substitute he got no All-Ireland medal. It was a disappointment that remained for many years after.

Following O’Donnell’s move to Enniscorthy in 1950 O’Donnell was informed that there was no longer a place for him on the Kilkenny senior team. As a result of this he was invited to join the Wexford senior hurling team, making his debut against Dublin in 1951. That year he won his first Leinster medal following a victory over Laois in the provincial decider. O’Donnell later lined out in his first All-Ireland final, with Tipperary providing the opposition. The Tipp forwards ran riot scoring 7-7 to Wexford’s total of 3-9. Tipp’s Tony Reddin gave an absolute exhibition of goalkeeping skills as he fought off the challenge of Nicky Rackard. Three years later in 1954 O’Donnell captured a second Leinster title before later lining out in his second championship decider. Cork provided the opposition on this occasion as a record crowd of almost 85,000 people turned up at Croke Park. The game ended with a victory for ‘the Rebels’ and a record eighth All-Ireland medal for the legendary Christy Ring. O’Donnell was forced to leave the field with an injured collar bone following a clash with Ring.

In 1955 Wexford gave their adopted son the honour of being their captain. That year Wexford completed a provincial double with O’Donnell collecting his third Leinster medal following a victory over Kilkenyn in a replay. O’Donnell subsequently lined out in his third All-Ireland final, however, he had yet to end up on the winning side. Galway, who had been given a bye to the final without ever playing a game, provided the opposition. At half-time the men from the West led by 2-5 to 2-3 courtesy of two goals from 18-year-old schoolboy Paddy Egan. Wexford turned things around in the second-half and sealed the deal with a 3-13 to 2-8 win. O’Donnell had finally captured his first All-Ireland medal and was the first Wexford player to receive the new Liam McCarthy Cup. In 1956 Wexford continued their dominance with O’Donnell collecting a first National Hurling League medal. He later won his fourth Leinster title as Wexford defeated their great rivals Kilkenny for a second year in-a-row. This victory lead to a subsequent All-Ireland final meeting with Cork, the team that defeated Wexford just two years previously. Once again a huge crowd of over 83,000 people packed into Croke Park to witness history in the making. Cork’s legenfary Christy Ring was hoping to capture a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal while Wexford were hoping to complete a famous two-in-a-row. The game turned on one important incident as the Wexford goalkeeper, Art Foley, made a miraculous save from a Ring shot and cleared the sliothar up the field to set up another attack. Wexford went on to win the game on a score line of 2-14 to 2-8. In spite of Cork's loss O'Donnell and Bobby Rackard of Wexford, in an unparalleled display of sportsmanship in any game, raised Ring onto their shoulders and carried him off the field. Wexford had won the game but there was no doubt in their minds that the real hero was Ring.

Wexford surrendered their provincial crown the following year, however, the team returned in 1958 with O’Donnell collecting a second National League title. Two years after in 1960 he won his fifth Leinster title as Wexford got the better of Kilkenny once again in the provincial decider. O’Donnell, who wa scaptain of the team once again, subsequently lead his men out in Croke Park for an All-Ireland final meeting with Tipperary. It was only the third ever meeting between these two sides in the championship. Tipp were the red-hot favourites and a certain over-confidence seemed to creep in. The game ended in remarkable circumstances as the crowd invaded the pitch with a minute to go, mistaking the referee’s whistle for the end of the game. When the crowd were finally moved off the pitch Tipperary continued playing with only twelve men, however, Wexford won the game on a score line of 2-15 to 0-11. O’Donnell lifted the McCarthy Cup for the second time and collected his third All-Ireland medal. Wexford surrendered their provincial crown to Dublin in 1961, however, the team bounced back in 1962 with O’Donnell collecting his sixth provincial title. The team later squared up to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final, however, Wexford were not the force of old and the side got off to possibly the worst start ever by a team in a championship decider. After just ninety seconds the Leinster champions were down by 2 goals, however, the game turned out to be much closer than people expected. Tipp eventually secured the win on a score line of 3-10 to 2-11. This defeat brought the curtain down on O’Donnell’s inter-county career.

Leinster

In 1956, having previously been told that there was no place for him on the team, O’Donnell took over the full-back position on the Leinster inter-provincial team. That year he captained his province to victory, and was accompanied on the team by nine of his fellow Wexford players. He continued to play with Leinster until 1961, however, Munster were the dominant force in the Railway Cup at the rime.

Post-playing career

Away from the playing fields O’Donnell was regarded as a quiet and a shy individual. In 1984 he was back in the limelight again when he was named in the full-back position on the Gaelic Athletic Association’s Hurling Team of the Century. His reputation as the undisputed greatest full-back of all-time was further cemented in 2000 when he was named in the No.3 position on the Hurling Team of the Millennium.

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Padge Kehoe
Wexford Senior Hurling Captain
1955
Succeeded by
Jim English
Preceded by
Wexford Senior Hurling Captain
1960
Succeeded by
Achievements
Preceded by
Christy Ring
(Cork)
All-Ireland Senior Hurling
winning captain

1955
Succeeded by
Jim English
(Wexford)
Preceded by
Frankie Walsh
(Waterford)
All-Ireland Senior Hurling
winning captain

1960
Succeeded by
Matt Hassett
(Tipperary)
Awards
Preceded by
Christy Ring
(Cork)
Texaco Hurler of the Year
1960
Succeeded by
Liam Devaney
(Tipperary)

Teams

See also

References

  • Brendan Fullam, Captains of the Ash, (Wolfhound Press, 2004)

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