One of Clare’s greatest ever hurlers is to be buried on Friday (tomorrow).
Jim Cullinan known to the masses as Puddin is regarded as one of the most gifted hurlers to represent Clare, having lined out for the county seniors on eighty occasions. Success may have eluded him when wearing the saffron and blue but it showcased his ability to a bigger audience during his fifteen years playing senior. He was also a county selector at minor and senior.
Medals may have eluded him with the Banner but there were no such problems for the Pud when it came to the club. With Newmarket-on-Fergus, Pud won 10 Clare senior hurling championships, his impressive collection would have been even greater had it not been for a brief stint with Éire Óg. Noted by many as “a small man but a real giant at the same time”, the centre back was a pivotal member of an outfit that dominated the club scene in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also the holder of a Munster Club medal following The Blues’ 1967 success.
His high regard within the game saw Puddin line out for Munster when the Railway Cup was a keenly contested affair. At inter-provincial level, he won four titles. Before the introduction of the All Stars, Jim won a Cú Chulainn Awards in 1967 when he was chosen as the best centre back in Ireland for that year.
Cullinan also gave plenty of time back to his club where he was involved with several teams down through the years. His most recent involvement coincided with the return of Newmarket as a force at senior level, he was a selector to ex Clare goalkeeper Seamus Durack in 2005 and 2006, the latter of which saw them reach their first championship final appearance in twenty five years. Also in that decade, Puddin assisted in the main primary school coaching classes during school hours and he was entered into the Munster GAA Hall of Fame.
Born in 1942, Pud played his first competitive game at the age of nine, the match itself was an U16 tie. In one of the first interviews conducted by this writer, Cullinan spoke of how big an impact the GAA had on his life. “I’d do it all over again, I liked it that much, I made a lot of everlasting friends and got jobs out of playing hurling”.
Though he garnered huge praise in subsequent years, Jim revealed that the positive support was not always espoused at home. “My father went to see my first match and afterwards he said ‘put away the hurley’. He never saw me play since”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, Jim Woods, a selector on the Clare side that won the National Hurling League title in 1977 lauded his late friend. “He was the best I’ve seen in my time, I’ve seen many great hurlers, he is the best that I’ve ever seen, there were some fantastic Tipperary hurlers at the time but when we played against Tipperary we were very mediocre but he always shone out”.
He highlighted how meticulous Cullinan was with his preparation which included polishing boots, having clean socks and buying new shorts for inter-county games. “For his size nobody could match him, before All Stars he had the privilege of getting a number six jersey in an All-Ireland team which meant he was regarded the best centre back in Ireland at the time which was a huge honour”.
Two-time All-Star Johnny McMahon maintained that followers going to Clare and Newmarket games in the 60s and 70s were mainly travelling to see The Pud in action. “Today they talk about players with the wow factor, he had that in spades. As far as the modern game is concerned, he would fit in seamlessly and would suit him down to the ground, he was a player for any era”.
“I have no doubt in saying he was the greatest Clare hurler of all time, he had such ability for a handy sized player, he could go up for a high ball with two six footers and he’d come down with it, he was absolutely brilliant,” McMahon added. Both men also spoke of how much of a character he was off the field, his entertaining talents in this regard were predominantly singing and dancing.
Woods was reminded of Puddin’s sharp memory when the pair were speaking on the phone last Friday. “The one thing I could say about that I couldn’t say about too many people, his memory was unbelievable. There was a school photograph produced recently in Newmarket-on-Fergus which would be sixty five years ago, the likes of myself would be ten years old in it, there was fifty three in the school, I could name about four or five of them, he named them all bar one which was unbelievable. Only last Friday, he rang me to make a correction on one of the ones he named”.
His memory may have been outstanding but those who know their hurling will never forget the gifted man that was Jim Puddin Cullinan.