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Tracton’s Terry Kelly From Knocknamanagh To Croke Park

By John Twomey

In Terry Kelly we can reflect on a splendid and gifted hurler whose traits and attributes saw him take the field and play and compete with the finest of his day. Late last year he was called to his reward, surely another hurling legend had left us to mourn and lament his passing.


For this true sporting son of Tracton it all started in his local National School at Knocknamanagh near Minane Bridge. His first introduction to hurling came in this school where the then Principal was the famous Blaney Barry, himself an outstanding athlete and sportsman. Terry liked the camán and quickly improved his skills and style that would be one of his great features in later years. Having completed sixth class he was sent off as a boarder to Farranferris College, the Cork Diocesan Seminary to pursue his secondary education. It was a whole new world but the Tracton garsun was at the ready.

Farranferris – Farna

Even though Farranferris was a City College nearly 80% of the students came from West Cork. About 90% were boarders and there was plenty of spare time. Hurling was the number one game and it was not uncommon for lads to play hurling after breakfast, during lunchtime and in the evening. This suited Terry and soon he caught the eye and he would go on to be one of the College’s greatest hurlers ever. In his time in Farranferris he played on several championship winning hurling teams. The big one just eluded him. On St. Patrick’s Day 1952, Farranferris faced St. Flannan’s College Ennis in the Harty Cup Final. It was Farna’s first final and the Tracton lad was their Captain and leader. On a bitterly cold day in Kilmallock and after a very tough competitive contest, the Ennis School won on the scoreline 1-5 to 1 – 3. In the second half a great shot heading for the St. Flannan’s net hit a bump and went wide. Luck was not on their side. Terry was picked to play with the Munster Senior Colleges team twice and won two interprovincial titles with them. In 1951 at seventeen years of age he was picked to play on the Cork Minor Hurling team that won the All Ireland Title. Cork defeated Galway 4-5 to 1 -8 and Terry scored a great goal that day. Also on that team was Paddy Drievers of Carrigaline and Johnny Clifford from the Glen was Captain. Paddy Sisk from Shamrocks was a Team Selector.

A Man For The Red Jersey

After his Harty Cup exploits in 1952 he was again on the Cork Minor Hurling team and also a member of the Cork Junior Hurling team. The past pupil of Knocknamanagh NS was going places and he was a man for the red jersey. The following year, 1953, he was elevated to the Cork Senior team at the age of nineteen and stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the great Cork hurling legends of the day, Christy Ring, Willie John Daly, Paddy Barry, Dave Creedon, Josie Hartnett and Vincie Twomey, to name but a few. Terry was ready and quickly into the white heat of Munster Senior Hurling Championship when lining out against the ‘ould enemy’ Tipperary in the final before over 46,000 enthusiastic followers in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds. His baptism into this cauldron was not with cold water but with fire as his marker was none other than Tipp’s all-time great corner back, John Doyle. Kelly was not found wanting and after a mighty contest Cork won 3-10 to 1-11. Croke Park beckoned and Cork faced Galway in the final in front of a crowd of 71,295. Though he did not start that day he shared in a great victory with Christy Ring winning his seventh All Ireland medal.

Sharing the bench that day with Terry were Mick Cashman, Johnny Clifford and Jimmy Lynam.

Dublin. Work commitments saw Terry move to live in Dublin in 1954. Due to lack of knowledge or oversight, he did not declare for his home county being a non-resident. This situation prevented him from playing with Cork that year. He played Club hurling in Dublin with Garda and Young Irelanders. He played Junior and Senior Hurling with Dublin. He really enjoyed this experience in the Capital. He was back in the red jersey and Cork in 1956 at the age of twenty three. He led the Cork attack in that year’s Munster Final against Limerick. He was joined in the half forward line by Willie John Daly and Paddy Barry. His goal in that game was vital and Cork took the spoils 5-5 to 3-5.

The Slaneysiders, the mighty men of Wexford faced Cork for All Ireland honours. The Rackards, Bobby, Willie and Nicky, brave full back Nick O’Donnell and ‘keeper Art Foley were some of the great players on that Wexford side. Croke Park was packed with a record attendance. Ring was going for his ninth All Ireland Medal. Terry Kelly lined out at full forward. It was a pulsating game with the Wexford ‘keeper in great form and Nicky Rackard at the other end faultless. Wexford took the title on the score 2-14 to 2-8. It would be Christy Ring’s last All Ireland Final. In a wonderful sporting gesture Nick O’Donnell and Bobby Rackard shouldered Christy Ring from the pitch after the game. A great and historical day for hurling with Tracton’s Kelly giving his all.


Terry was honoured by Munster and played in their Railway Cup Teams collecting three winner’s medals. In 1960 he was chosen as a member of the Ireland Hurling team. That was one of the highest accolades a hurler could attain in those days. It was later followed by the ‘All Stars’ awards. Earlier he captained his Alma Mater, Farranferris in the Dr. Harty Cup final. He was chosen twice on the successful Munster Colleges Senior Hurling inter-provincial team. Kelly was stylish, fast, skilful and possessed a great hurling brain. He was widely acknowledged and admired by his contemporaries and opponents alike, the mark of a great sportsman.

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He missed Tracton’s Junior Hurling County Championship triumph of 1957 but on his return to the Club he hurled at Intermediate level. Terry would play in any part of the field, always a very willing contributor displaying all his skills and hurling panache. In those days there were some wonderful championship games in the Intermediate grade particularly against local and great rivals Carrigaline. Terry’s brother Sean was a key member of the Tracton team of that era. Sean followed Terry to Farranferris and wore the Cork jersey too, winning an All Ireland Junior Hurling medal in 1958 wearing the Captain’s armband.

Terry moved to live in Ballinlough and went on to join Blackrock where he played Senior Club Hurling. The Rockies were one of the top clubs in Cork in those days. He played in the County final of 1963. But home fields are greener and he reverted to his old roots and Tracton in 1968 to complete his Hurling career where it all started in Knocknamanagh NS all those years ago. Terry Kelly played hurling at all levels, locally, countywide and nationally.

He epitomised everything that was expected from a great hurler and sportsman.

Terry’s chosen career was in An Garda Siochana where he rose to the rank of Superintendent. In his retirement he gave generously of his time to community and charity work. The energetic Tracton man would never give up. Such people are rare and never plentiful. Hurling lovers will not forget this genial giant from Tracton.

I was encouraged to write this article by a St. Finbarr’s Gael and life long Club worker, Tadgh Drinan. I met Tadgh before Christmas and he told me that he is a regular reader of The Carrigdhoun Newspaper and added; “you should do something on Terry Kelly”. Thanks Tadgh.

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