Jimmy Harding was one of the clubs leading dual players.
He won football championships in 1976, 79, 81 and 82 and figured in the Leinster title win of 1977 and was part of the panel for the All-Ireland club win of 1983.
He was also one of the stars on the senior hurling four in a row team from 1981-1984.
Absolutely brilliant in hurling and football he was also an outstanding referee.
Here is some high praise for Jimmy from his fellow players.
I left Ireland in 1987 to seek my fame and fortune, I haven’t found them but I’ll keep looking. I’m retired and live in the South-East of England with my wife Emily in a town called Folkestone, which is on the coast. We’ve got 3 children and they work locally.
I must be the only former town player still alive who didn’t win an underage county title. I managed to win junior and Intermediate football titles with Portlaoise in the early 70’s. I didn’t manage to make it onto the senior team until I was 23 years young. I won Senior football titles in 1971 as a sub, ‘76, ‘79, ‘81, and ‘82 while playing.
I feel we left a few more behind us in that period too. I was also fortunate enough to win 3 Leinster club title in football, 2 of those were won as a sub and 1 all Ireland in 1983 as a sub. At the age of 32, I retired from playing senior football in 1983 after our great rivals Saint Joseph’s beat us in the Championship. We had some great battles with them down through the years. They had some brilliant players, and you’d need to be firing on all cylinders to have any chance of coming out on top against them.
I was honoured to have been chosen to line out for Laois Footballers in the late ‘70’s. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for me at all, and I found out after a few games that there is vast difference between playing club and inter-county football. I’m grateful for the opportunity given to me to play for the county team but I came up short. Some players will say that they didn’t get a fair chance, justifiably so in some cases but I wasn’t one of those players.
After about 12 games with the county, I informed one of the Laois selectors, the late Bill Phelan RIP, not to put my name forward for future selection and that was the end of my short inter-county career. To make a long story short, I simply wasn’t good enough to play at that level. I had lost my confidence completely, which in turn affected my club form in both codes and it took me about a year to regain it. Back then, Laois had some great individual players, but they didn’t really gel as a team until the mid ‘80’s when they won the league title.
On a different note, I think the GAA is neglecting families in a big way by allowing county team managers to have 5 training sessions a week and a game at the weekend also. Many young families must suffer on the back of this due to players being away from home for long periods. I think they have forgotten the fact that they are still an amateur organisation. It’s totally different for professional soccer players as they have free time to spend with their family during the day. I would suggest a maximum of 3 training sessions during peak periods and just 2 otherwise. Too many people have a vested interest for this problem to be solved internally. I think it will have come as a directive from the suits in Croke Park.
From a playing point of view, I don’t think the game is better than it was back in the day. It’s more possession based now and negative to point of boring in some games. Players are fitter now because of the number of hours put they into training. I don’t see a marked improvement in skill levels, especially in football. It’s run, run as fast as you can and so on. I won’t start on the new advantage rule, better move on.
I have to say that hurling is my number one sporting love, it came a little bit easier to me than the big ball game. I was fortunate to play in 6 senior hurling finals and ended up winning 4, my final one was in 1984, beating the Harps after a replay. It also turned out to be my last game for Portlaoise. Breaking the stranglehold our great rivals Camross had on senior hurling in the county was a massive achievement for us and a big thanks is due to our dedicated management team for making this possible. I think the four in a row team was good enough to have won a Leinster club title but for some reason it just didn’t happen.
The biggest disappointment I had in a Portlaoise jersey was not getting any game time in the All-Ireland club final in 1983. I thought with 5 minutes to go we had the game in the bag and I felt it wasn’t a risk to bring me on. But the selectors felt otherwise, winning the title was rightly paramount in their minds.Introducing a player for sentimental reasons wasn’t in their plans. Of course, I was delighted for the club and my team mates to win the biggest club football competition in the country, however, not having any part to play in the game leaves an empty feeling after the final whistle.
I was very lucky and grateful to have gotten the opportunity to play for the town in both codes. I wasn’t blessed with natural ability like most of my team-mates but through hard work and dedication I managed to get to a decent standard, and it was a dream come true to have played with and against some of the greatest players in the country. I played with many gifted players in both codes. I think it wouldn’t be fair to single them out and I know that they will understand that without their team-mates in the trenches doing the heavy lifting they wouldn’t have had the platform to perform to the level that they did.
I’d like to pay a big thanks to our thousands of supporters for their dedication to travelling all over to get behind us through thick and thin. It has been brought home to us in a big way how important fans are in a stadium to generate atmosphere since the pandemic has kicked in. Sport wouldn’t survive very long without those supporters who are taken so much for granted but are so important to clubs and counties throughout the country.
I can’t finish without remembering one of our many legendary fans, the late Lar Coss RIP. I worked with Lar for a few years in the ‘70s, a more passionate town supporter you couldn’t find. One Monday morning after we were beaten by O Dempsey’s, I was chatting to Jimmy Bergin and Lar ambled over as usual to give us a dressing down. He looked at me and said, ‘you know Harding, I’ve been following football and hurling for 55 years and I can safely say that you are the worst player I’ve ever seen in a Portlaoise jersey’. Jimmy Bergin burst out laughing, Lar looked at him seriously and said, ‘I don’t know what the f… you’re laughing at, you’re not much better’. Jimmy walked off with his tail between his legs. Lar finished by saying, ‘Don’t mind me Harding , I love ye all’.. A nicer bloke you couldn’t meet than Lar.
Tommy Conroy has been a stalwart of Portlaoise GAA throughout his life. He played senior football for the town for 17 years, winning six county championships as well as a Leinster title in 1987. He made his name when he broke onto the great town team of the 80’s with Colm and Gerry Browne, Curly and co still setting the standard. He soldiered through the barren years of the ‘90s and then a golden generation of new stars arrived like Ian Fitzgerald, Martin Delaney, Woolly, Fitzy etc and gave an an ageing sportsman a new lease of life. Here are some of his personal memories of the club.