29 March 2011
rior to departing for Kilkenny on Sunday morning last, the not unexpected word came through that Andy Fleming had passed away peacefully in W.R.H. at the venerable age of 95 after a short illness. A man who my late father had often described as a man of iron had finally succumbed to Father Time breaking, probably, the last link with the historic Waterford team that brought the McCarthy Cup across the Suir for the first time in 1948.
In these days of mass communication the great deeds of our hurlers and footballers are retained for posterity and the admiration of future generations through video and DVD recordings of almost every game of any consequence. The great players of the past are remembered in print through scrap books cuttings and photographs by more especially in the word of mouth as handed down by those who witnessed first hand their great deeds. I deem myself fortunate to have grown up in a house where such players, especially those of Waterford and Mount Sion, were spoken of in revered terms.
For a youngster of seven or eight years of again the early fifties such players were living legends and though I had seen those players playing prior to the through going to games with my father I can only recall seeing some of them play in the twilight of their hurling years.
The three players most mentioned and who made the greatest impression on me in those formative years were John Keane, Vin Baston and Andy Fleming. I can vaguely remember seeing John Keane playing hurling and more clearly playing football with Mount Sion in the mid fifties. Vin Boston from Passage was a great friend of my fathers from his school days in Mount Sion and was always mentioned in admiration as a hurler and a person. Then there was Andy Fleming.
Where Andy was concerned it was always as though I could recall him playing such was the impression made on me by the stories retold by my father of great games in the thirties and forties involving the Mount Sion club and Waterford. From the time Andy Fleming joined Mount Sion in 1939, a year after the club had won the senior hurling championship for the very first time, his place in hurling history was secured.
Andy's journey to hurling stardom was really quite a story in itself.
Andy Fleming was born in 1916 in county Offaly where his father worked for the Great Southern Railway of the pre independence times. From there the family moved to Durrow in county Waterford where Mr. Fleming was transferred to as Station Master while Andy was still at a very young age and as he was growing up in national school Gaelic Football was the preferred sport and Andy proved very capable at it. When the time came to move on to secondary school it was decided that Andy would go to the Christian Brothers in Mount Sion as it was easy to travel to Waterford on the early morning train and return in good time that evening.
It as in Mount Sion that Andy took up the hurley for the first time having been encouraged to do so by Brothers Malone and O'Connor and he adapted to the game in style to the extent that he developed into one of the best players in the school, up there with the man who was to become his great friend and colleague with Mount Sion, Waterford and Munster, John Keane. Indeed the publication last year of David Smith's biography of John Keane gives an invaluable insight into hurling at that time and in it Andy relays some great recollections of those schooldays involving himself and John Keane.
On leaving school Andy took up employment on the railway with what had become C.I.E. and continued to play his football with Stradbally. Hurling however was now his primary game and to develop and achieve his potential it was decided that he would join up with his former schoolmates in Mount Sion who had won the senior county title for the first time in 1938. The championship of 1939 saw Andy make his Mount Sion debut in one of the greatest half back lines ever to grace a hurling field in Waterford or indeed anywhere, alongside John Keane and Paddy Dowling. It was a line that was to feature for Mount Sion and Waterford into the early forties and indeed almost carried on into representing Munster in the Railway Cup. Again David Smith's book and the research carried out for its makes for some very interesting reading in that regard.
These days, a players worth is often calculated on the number of All Star awards that come his way in the course of his career. from its inception in 1927 the Railway Cup, played for by the best players representing the four provinces became the benchmark of a hurler's and footballer's greatest. In each province the best of rivals came together in a spirit of comradeship and lifelong friendships were formed. Andy Fleming's standing as one of the greats of his era was confirmed by eight appearances i the provincial blue of Munster in the company of such as Christy Ring, Mick Mackey, Jack Lynch and John Keane on eight occasions including his debut in 1943 and his last outing in the final of 1951 winning the coveted Railway Cup medal in seven of those finals.
The amazing thing about Andy Fleming's career was that he did not play senior hurling until he was 23 years of age in 1939 while almost all of his contemporaries had grown up with the game and represented their counties at minor level. When he came to Mount Sion in 1939 he was already a very capable footballer and in that same year he played a big part in Mount Sion's winning of the county Junior Football title for the first time. Andy was keen on the football however and when Mount Sion declined to go up into senior football, preferring to concentrate on going for three senior hurling titles in a row. In 1940 Andy exercised his right at the time to transfer back to his native Stradbally for senior football while continuing to play hurling with Mount Sion as in every club at that time the hurling and football teams were affiliated as separate clubs, a situation that still held up to the sixties as far as I can recall. He played his part in the great Stradbally teams that won five senior football championships in a row between 1941 and 1945 to add to his six senior hurling championships with Mount Sion, his seven Railway cup medals ad the supreme achievement of the All Ireland and Munster Championship medals won in 1948.
When Andy Fleming won his last Railway cup medal in 1951 on St Patricks Day he shocked all and sundry with his decision to retire from hurling completely. Indeed if ever a man went out at the top Andy Fleming did. It was an irrevocable decision at thirty five years of age taken by a man who was now putting the rearing of his young family before all else. Andy Fleming had achieved all that was there to be achieved.
Andy went on to more recent years to have his achievements recognised with Hall of Fame awards from Munster Council and Waterford county board. He was recognised on the Munster team of he century as an automatic choice as well as the Mount Sion and Waterford teams of that same time. In his retirement he was instrumental in the amalgamation of the two GAA Clubs that existed in Ferrybank to form the club that is thee today and he served as club chairman for a number of years.
As I have said I felt I knew of Andy Fleming all of my life and when I came into contact with him in my early teens when he was a ticket checker on the Tramore train and we spent our summer holidays with monthly train tickets going to and from Tramore at will, I became even more aware as to just what a real gentleman he was and I took great pride in informing my companions of just what a great man he was and how famous he was as a hurler.
My most abiding memory of Andy was more recent when about four years ago I drove himself and Larry Fanning to Lismore for the funeral of one of their old comrades of 1948, Ned Daly. They were joined in Lismore by Johnny O'Connor and after Ned had been laid to rest and due respects paid the three former colleagues sat down to talk of old time sand old friends. For me it was a great experience to hear first hand the great stories, that I had already heard versions of in my young days, coming from the mouths of those who made hurling history. Now just a short few years later all three have departed and now with Andy's leaving there is a full team of Waterford players in that great hereafter to take on Ring, Mackey, Langton and company once again.
Andy Fleming will be remembered as a great hurler, a footballer, a great sportsman in every sense of the word and above all a great gentleman. The sympathy of all GAA people and the wider community in which Andy was well known goes out to his sorrowing family who will greatly miss him.
Courtesy of the Waterford News & Star
March 29, 2011