Profile: Niall Rigney

“We’ve won the cup”. Niall Rigney pictured with his son, Cormac, after the county hurling final win in 2004.

What were your first memories of Portlaoise GAA?
My earliest memories of Portlaoise hurling was watching them play Ballinakill in Durrow in 1981. The reason I remember it was watching ‘Pops’ Keenan break a hurley off a Ballinakill player because he had hit Jimmy Keenan and ‘Pops’ stood up for his little brother! Portlaoise went on to win the game and the championship final in Rathdowney that year against a strong Camross team, the town’s first win in 38 years. I was bitten by the hurling bug from that day!


Early Heroes?
Other than ‘Pops’ of course! John Taylor was a real hero in the Portlaoise and Laois jersey for years. He was a marvellous player. He possessed all the attributes that top players in the modern game possess – vision, speed, balance, touch, striking, reading the game. Taylor was just class and, yeh, Mickey Bohane, a hero of a messer!


Unsung heroes?
To win county championships all teams need players to make the ultimate sacrifices, and more often than not a player that might not have a big name to the hurling public often is an unsung hero on big match days. For me Sean Bergin and my brother, Des, were two of those players, Hurling for the town meant everything to those men and I loved that in them, great blokes and great town men. They put their bodies on the line for the team to succeed. Those players are hard to come by these days.


Best Players down through the years?
The best players I have seen wearing the Portlaoise jersey over the years and up to the present day are John Taylor, Sean Bergin, the three Bohane brothers of the 80s, Billy, John and Mickey (brilliant stick men!), the great ‘Zoom’ Pat Critchley, Cheddar Plunkett, Cyril Duggan, Paul and Liam ‘Chunky’ Bergin. Martin Cashin was a great stick man (pity he was an Offaly man!). The great Ger Hoey from Clare was a marvellous hurler who sadly passed away at the age of 40, Eoin Browne, Joe Phelan, Cahir Healy and arguably one of our greatest players along with John Taylor in my eyes would be Tommy Fitzgerald in today’s game, a real class hurler and a great town player.


The great characters in the club for me would have been at all our games and training sessions. Joe Styles is a man that comes straight to mind along with the great ‘Madness’ Maher (although ‘Madness’ was not into going to our training sessions!). A great character in the town for the last number of years, and continues to be, is the legend that is Liam ‘Stapo’ Brown (don’t ask!).


Funny memories?
My funniest memory was a night in the late ‘80s when we travelled one Wednesday evening to play Castlecomer in a challenge match. I forget the game completely, but not the journey home. For some unknown reason we stopped off in a public house in the Swan of all places. 18 players piled off the bus led out by Jimmy Keenan, who in turn asked the barman to fill 18 of his best pints of stout! Within ten minutes Jimmy was up on a table singing a song! Ger Hoey decided to share a pint with myself and after about nine pints Ger was in total shock as to the banter and the crack … a Wednesday night in a pub in the Swan. I think we got home about three in the morning … some preparation for championship! Oh, by the way, we went on to win it too, with great heart and fight … it was 1989!


Memories of Underage?
The only memory of underage I have is of being a sub on almost every team. I didn’t make a Portlaoise team until I was 16 years of age as I was a poor player at underage. I actually played in a minor final in 1985 against Camross/Castletown which we won, and Portlaoise made one substitute that day…me! So I don’t have great memories of hurling underage with the town!


Highlight of club career?
The highlight of my club career definitely would be captaining the club to win under 21 and senior championships in 1988 and 1998 respectively … winning the senior championship in 1989 and winning a senior double in 1991, I was midfield on both teams and to win a senior football championship with brilliant players like Tom ‘Curly’ Prendergast, Mick Lillis, Colm Browne, Cyril Duggan and Carl Lenihan was great – although my football skills are not noted that much I believe! I was more of a decoy I think!


Biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment was that we never won a Leinster club title when I believe we had the players to do so. But maybe more so is the disappointment that I never won back to back championships. We had great players and I felt at times we under achieved. I won five senior hurling medals and I should have at least 7 or 8.


What would your aspirations be for the club in 20 years time?
My aspirations for the club right now and in the future would be to get people in at the top of Portlaoise GAA who care and have an interest in hurling, We were a great club when we were winning hurling and football championships in the 80s/90s and noughties, but I feel very disappointed the way the people who should be the leaders of the club have completely focussed on football only. We have some great hurling players presently in the club and great young players coming through in future years, and we need to have these young players seeing what I saw in Rathdowney in 1981 as a twelve year old. But unless we get people who care about the hurling and football in the club we are in for barren times. Discipline is a major issue at present … to win championships everybody needs to be a leader, on the field and off the field. You must have discipline and be very driven to succeed with all people from club officers to number 30 on the panel out to achieve the same for the club. We need the people who run the club to treat hurling as we do football. Unless this is put in place the hurlers will always play second fiddle …we are one club … one life one club!


What does Portlaoise GAA mean to you?
Portlaoise GAA has been a huge part of my life. Since I was 7 years of age I loved the green and white jersey. I played with some of the greatest players, club or county, both at football and hurling and it was an honour to wear the town jersey. All I ever wanted was to achieve and believe that playing for the town is massive, and that whoever is given the jersey must live up to the expectation that you must carry the same values – to be driven, honest, passionate, be fit, focussed and have the courage to compete and win! I try to pass these values to my son, Cormac, who I want to see win senior hurling and football titles for Portlaoise in the future.

2004 Laois Hurling Champions - Portlaoise GAA
SH champions 2004: Back: Roc Scully, Liam Phelan, Eoin Fingleton, Brian McCormack, Barry Fitzgerald, Dermot Costello, Noel Costello. Middle: Mark Phelan, Niall Rigney, John Mulligan, Geoff Phelan, Eoin Browne, Paul Scanlon, Colm Clear, Tommy Fitzgerald, Eamon Fennelly, Brian Mulligan, Joe Phelan (Capt.), Tommy Mulligan, Cyril Duggan, Jamie Fitzpatrick. Front: Darren Murphy, Mark O’Sullivan, Derek Delaney, John Hanniffy (with his son, Sean Og), Pat Fitzpatrick, Broughan O’Reilly, Alan Kingsley, Sean Cotter, Keith Murphy, Mick Bowe, Cahir Healy. Mascot: Cormac Rigney.
SH champions 1998: Back: Des Rigney, Des Killeen, Eamon Murphy, Eamon Fennelly, John Hanniffy, John Gleeson, Brian Murphy, Cyril Duggan. Front: Tommy Mulligan, Diarmuid Mullins, Tony Bergin, Niall Rigney (Capt.), Joe Phelan, Brian Bohane, John Taylor. Mascots: Colm Gleeson, Darragh Rigney and Shane Cuddy.
S.H. champions 1991. Back: Seamus Plunkett, Des Rigney, Pat Critchley, John Hanniffy, Sean Bergin, Cyril Duggan, Noel Rigney, John Bohane. Front: Tommy Fitzpatrick, John Taylor, Eamon Murphy, Niall Rigney, Paul Bergin, Pat Fitzpatrick, Liam Bergin.
Back: Colm Browne, Niall Rigney, Mick Lillis, Tony Dunne, John Hanniffy, Tommy Conroy, Karl Lenihan, Jimmy Lewis. Front: Cyril Duggan, Liam Duggan (Capt.), Gerry Browne, Noel Prendergast, Tom Prendergast, Seamus Lalor, Mark Kavanagh.
SH champions 1989 –“ the year of the big row”: Back: Seamus Plunkett, Des Rigney, Cyril Duggan, John Hanniffy, Jimmy Keenan, Pat Critchley, Nollaig Rigney, John Bohane; Front: John Taylor, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Matthew Keegan, Niall Rigney, Ger Hoey, Paul Bergin, Liam Bergin.
Back: John Rogers, Niall Rigney, Noel Rigney, Cyril Duggan, Hugo Griffin, Benny Carroll, Ray Carroll, John Hanniffy, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Seamus Smith, Sean Dunne, Pat McCormack, Timmy O’Leary, Anthony Maher Front: Declan Critchley, Sean Bergin, Paul Bergin, Liam Scully, Mick Rigney (Capt), Noel Scully, John Duggan, Liam Brown, Liam Bergin, Eamon O’Connor, Martin Callaghan.
Junior Hurling champions 1987. Back: Niall Rigney, Pat Menton, Ollie Dunne, Matthew McDonald, Christy Dunne, Hugh Rochford, Paddy Norton, Willie Fitzpatrick. Front: Matthew Keegan, Martin Conroy, Jimmy Wrest (Capt.), Philip Rochford, Paddy Harding, James Fahy, Tom Fitzpatrick, Brian Murphy
Leinster Club SH finalist 1998. Back: Des Rigney, Eamon Murphy, Brian Murphy, Eamon Fennelly, Danny Browne, John Gleeson, Tony Bergin, Cyril Duggan. Front: Joe Phelan, Tommy Mulligan, Roc Scully, Niall Rigney(Capt.), Des Kileen, John Taylor, Brian Bohane. Mascots: Colm Gleeson, Darragh Rigney.
The Rigney brothers, Niall, Noel and Des, celebrating after the 1989 hurling final against Camross.
The Portlaoise team that reached the semi-final of the Kilmacud Crokes All Ireland seven-a-side competition. Back; Mark O’Sullivan, Barry Fitzgerald, Noel Costelloe, Eoin Browne, Joe Phelan and Niall Rigney. Front; David O’Mahony, Brian Mulligan, Tommy Fitzgerald, Colm Clear, mascot is Cormac Rigney.

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