Mick Jacob – a man and a class apart

IN any competition for The Greatest GAA Goals at Croke Park Ever, perhaps somewhat uniquely it’s two siblings from the same Wexford family who would very definitely be in the running among the endless list of contenders, especially in the sliothar-and-camán code.

Very few would dispute claims for the honour on behalf of the strikes of brother and sister Michael and Ursula Jacob, two attack-minded stylists mixing skilled stickwork and power, brain and brawn to arrow unforgettable match-turning, trajectory-defying strikes to the back of the net on huge sporting occasions at GAA headquarters.

In the golden glow in the memorybank of magical memorable moments, Michael’s sensational winner against Kilkenny in the 2004 Leinster senior hurling semi-final, along with Ursula’s double demolition-type net-busters v. Galway and Cork, respectively, in the All-Ireland Camogie finals of 2011 and 2012, will forever hold special places for everyone who witnessed these three strikes.

As the stunning scores were executed, each were invariably accompanied with a flash by commentators of their famous surname in the context of their father Michael, an honours-laden legend of bygone days on the GAA scene, and, like so many others before him, whose greatness and class was first honed in the colours of his home parish club of Oulart/The Ballagh.

(By the way, in extolling the sporting prowess of Rory and Ursula, that’s not to forget their mother Breda (née McClean), a former sharpshooting member with Wexford Camogie teams in Leinster and All-Ireland matches in the 1960s and ‘70s, nor indeed to neglect their two other siblings Rory and Helena, both also All-Ireland champions at club and college levels.).

Aside from sharing a family name, the Jacob children have plainly also inherited a great range of hurling abilities that reflect their father’s lifelong emphasis on endless skill-practice on the training ground. But then as well, when the Jacob siblings pick up things like GAA All-Star awards, the historic fact is that it was their father who also set the headlines in this respect in the past.

It was back in 1972 (forty years ago) that Mick Jacob became the first Wexford native to earn the distinction of being the county’s first-ever All-Star honouree. As a man who was one of the finest centre-half backs in the game at the time, it was a fitting tribute to someone who has dedicated his life to the GAA.

He went on to earn further full All-Star recognition in 1976 and 1977, carving out the No. 6 berth as his own, and was a replacement All-Star on three more occasions.

Most of the sixty-six years of his life have been deeply involved with Gaelic Games. He was a mere strip of a lad when, as a 16-year-old, he manned the goal for Oulart in their losing appearance in the Co. Junior final in 1962.  That was his first club team place, and now 50 years and countless matches later, the Oulartwick man remains a staple fixture in the club and with its teams as trainer, coach or manager.

This year, for instance, he is manager of the under-16 and under-18s, and selector with the under-21s. If anything, his interest in his club is increasing and not in any way diminishing from his earliest days with Oulart/The Ballagh over half-a-century back, helping them progress up from junior to make a breakthrough as a senior hurling force in 1994 (Jacob was a team selector that year), following a litany of heartbreaking disappointments in county finals, five such defeats in SH alone.

At inter-county level, gifted Mick’s career has been festooned with honours. He won All-Ireland hurling medals in senior (sub. In 1968), Under 21 All Ireland in 1965 and Masters Over-40s, and played in the losing All-Ireland SH finals in 1970, ’76 (in which he contributed a superbly uplifting performance), and also in ’77.

National League, Leinster, Oireachtas and Railway Cup successes all earned winners’ medals. He’s one of a select group with the distinction of bringing home a national GAA title from a hurling final staged in Rome, on the occasion Leinster won the inter-provincial series in the Eternal City in 2003, when the Oulart man was a and selector with the winning side that included his son Rory and current Wexford manager, Liam Dunne.

Mick Jacob’s sheer durability, not to mention his sublime skills, fierce will-to-win and passionate commitment to Gaelic Games, has spanned several generations. Helping the careers of hurlers who went on to fame and glory, notably Martin Storey and Liam Dunne, was part of that contribution to the history of the club sporting its famous black-and-red colours, playing alongside or coaching and training the full range of club teams in hurling, football and Camogie.

That Oulart/The Ballagh GAA and Camogie club is one of the game’s powerhouses today is, without any doubt, due to modest, dedicated and loyal servants like Mick Jacob, truly a man and a class apart.

—————   SEÁN WHELAN of ‘The Echo’


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