Jim Higgins

In the late 1920s and into the ’30s, the game of hurling enjoyed a golden period. There  were across  the country  many great club sides, several counties  had  good  teams,  there  were  many  outstanding   individuals and crowds of30,000 were a feature of major fixtures at inter-county  games. The parish of Newmarket   and the County of Clare fitted very well into this overall pattern.  Newmarket contested ten successive County finals in Clare from 1925 to ’34, winning five. At inter-county level this same period was arguably the greatest era for Clare hurling.  Clare contested four Munster finals in this period, 1927, ’28, ’30 and ’32 – winning, of course, in 1932. A great  Newmarket    and  Clare   hurler   of  this  time  was  Jimmo Higgins – greatness  that  has  never  been  fully  recognised  in Newmarket. We will attempt to show some of his qualities and achievements in this article. Over the years I have spoken to many of Jimmo’s contemporaries about the man and his hurling; here are some comments:-

“Jimmo was the best full back I ever saw … in any county” Mick O’Rourke

“A truly great hurler –   Micko McMahon

“A brilliant full back and outstanding hurler who could play in any position”. – John Joe Doyle

“A hurler of enormous character and courage a man’s man …you do not meet many of them” – Joe Mack

And the Clare Champion of July 1933 stated

“As a hurler Jimmo Higgins will be remembered for ever”.



It was first and foremost as an inter-county   hurler with Clare that Jimmo distinguished   himself.   He played   with Clare from 1920   to 1932.  As already stated, Clare were very good at the time, especially from 1927 to 1932. In Munster, they had great battles with Tipperary  and Cork. Cork beat Clare in the Munster finals of 1927 and 1928 – 1928 was after a replay. Tipperary beat them in 1930. But in 1932 Clare had the satisfaction of defeating Cork 5-2 to 4-1 in a final played at Thurles before a crowd of 30,000.

This brief digression is merely an attempt to highlight the quality of Clare at this time. And what was Jimmo Higgin’s role in all this? He was an outstanding full back for Clare throughout this period. He played with. apparent awesome  power  and strength  that very few forwards  could live with. He gave many outstanding performances for his county, but the brilliance of his play in the drawn 1928. Munster final seems to have been something special.  John Joe Doyle  tells us that he can still recall  vividly the magnificent hurling of Jimmo on that day, and Mick O’Rourke in 1973 in a recorded interview  stated as follows»

“In all   I ever saw,   and I think   he never   got   the right credit, …  Jimmo Higgins was the best full back I ever  saw .. . in any county. He hurled a match one day below in Thurles … the drawn game in 1928 and all the auld Tipperary  fellows … gave it up to him that he was the best man that ever went into Thurles …he went below in Thurles and the two Aherns, Gay and Baity,  were  in  them  days  greats   of  Cork  and  he  made  lanes through the two of them … well  he used  to run out against  high balls that day and drive them back 70 or 80 yards without  a bit of trouble ..I think, I never  saw better  hurling … that  was the  first  day  John  Joe  Doyle  shone out…there   was  no knowing  the  match  the  two  of  them  played that  was reckoned  to be as good a match as was ever played in Thurles  the drawn game in  1928... they beat us in the replay ... but I would  say you would get nothing better for full-back than Higgins.”

The culmination of his career  as an inter-county  hurler  was, of course, the winning of the 1932 Munster  Championship  and playing in the subsequent All-Ireland  final.



Jimmo just won two championships with Newmarket   – 1916 and 1925. A great deal of his club hurling was outside the county as his career in the army took him all over the country.  In the process, he won a Cork Championship   with “The Barrs” and  his photograph   is today  to be seen displayed in St  Finbarr’s Clubhouse.   By all accounts,  he made a very big impression  in Cork club hurling as he did in Dublin  in the late  1920s when he hurled with his army colleagues  for the Army Metro hurling club. While it was common·  practice  at this time for hurlers  to play  with  their adopted  county,  Jimmo  always  played  for  Clare.  He  could  have  played with  Dublin  in  1927 and  won  an All-Ireland   medal,  and  similarly  with Cork in the early  ’20s, but he stood by his native  Clare   and according  to Joe  Mack  stated  the only  AllIreland   medal  worth  winning  for him  was one with Clare.



Jimmo was never to win that All-Ireland   medal and the 1932 All-Ireland final was   to be his last game of hurling as in July 1933, Jimmo died. The Clare Champion of the time carried a long piece on the funeral and paid a very warm tribute to him. It began as follows:  “The news of the death of Jim Higgins, one of our bravest and best hurlers came as a great shock to the Gaels of Clare last weekend.   It was not altogether  unexpected for both his army medical  officer  and a private  specialist  engaged  by his friends in Dublin had pronounced  him suffering  from a malignant tumour; yet when the end came it was to realize  that the career of such a magnificent specimen  of physical  manhood  was so prematurely   terminated  at the age of 33 years.” According to the Champion, there was a large turnout at all stages of the funeral and every section of the GAA with which he was associated was represented.   The  Champion   writer  concluded   a fulsome tribute by stating, “He was one of the cleanest  hurlers  – fast and resourceful and could play with brilliancy  in any position  on the field ... he never lost his temper,  took hard knocks  as part  of the game  and in his long  career was never cautioned  by a referee.”



However  inadequate  these few lines may be, we are pleased  to have recorded  some  words  on the hurling  career  of  such  an outstanding hurler and sportsman.  I am sure he would have been proud of the play of his great grandsons in the recent  Under  16 Football  Final – Derek  Slattery and Ben Higgins.


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