Nicholas “Nicky” Rackard, Irish hurler whose league and championship career with the Wexford senior team spans seventeen years from 1940 to 1957, is born on April 28, 1922, in Killanne, County Wexford. He establishes many championship scoring records, including being the top championship goal-scorer of all time with 59 goals. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game.
Rackard is the eldest son of five boys and four girls born to Robert (Bob) Rackard and Anastasia Doran, who had been married in 1918. He is introduced to sport by his father who had hoped he would become a cricketer. His uncle, John Doran, won an All-Ireland medal as a Gaelic footballer with Wexford in 1918 and it is hurling and Gaelic football that Rackard develops a talent for.
Rackard plays competitive hurling as a boarder at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny. Here he wins back-to-back Leinster Colleges Senior Hurling Championship medals in 1938 and 1939, however, an All-Ireland medal remains elusive. He later attends University College Dublin (UCD) where he studies to be a veterinary surgeon. In all, his studies take eight years to complete because of his huge commitment to his sporting exploits.
Rackard plays his club hurling with his local Rathnure club and enjoys much success. He wins his first senior county title in 1948. It was Rathnure’s first ever championship triumph. Two years later in 1950 he captures a second county title, a victory which allows him to take over the captaincy of the county senior team for the following year. He wins his third and final county medal in 1955.
Rackard makes his debut on the inter-county scene when he is selected for the Wexford minor panel. He is just out of the minor grade when he is selected for the Wexford senior team in 1940. Over the course of the next seventeen years, he wins two All-Ireland medals as part of the Wexford hurling breakthrough in 1955 and 1956. He also wins four Leinster Senior Hurling Championship medals, one National Hurling League medal and one Leinster Senior Football Championship medal as a Gaelic footballer. He plays his last game for Wexford in August 1957.
By the late 1940s, Rackard is a regular in the full-forward line on the Leinster inter-provincial team. Success comes in the twilight of his career and he claims his sole Railway Cup medal in 1956.
Rackard’s brothers, Billy and Bobby, also experience All-Ireland success with Wexford.
In retirement from playing Rackard becomes involved in team management and coaching. It is with the Wexford senior team that he enjoys his greatest successes as a selector when he helps the team secure the 1968 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship title.
Rackard is most famous for his scoring prowess and is the all-time top championship scorer at the time of his retirement from hurling. His private life is marred by periods of excessive drinking, which had started during his university studies, and eventually develops into alcoholism. After quitting drinking completely in 1970, he travels the country as a counsellor with Alcoholics Anonymous. In an interview in The Irish Press in 1975, he details his life as a recovering alcoholic and becomes one of the first sportspeople to break the taboo of alcoholism in Ireland.
Rackard death from cancer at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on April 10, 1976, sees a huge outpouring of grief amongst the hurling community. He is posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984, however, he is sensationally omitted from the Hurling Team of the Millennium in favour of Ray Cummins. His scoring prowess has also earned him a place on the top ten list of all-time scoring greats. In 2005 the GAA further honours him by naming the Nicky Rackard Cup, the hurling competition for Division 3 teams, in his honour.
In 2006, a Wexford author, Tom Williams, writes a long-overdue biography of Rackard entitled Cuchulainn’s Son – The Story of Nickey Rackard. The same author also pens a now well-known song about Rackard many years earlier. It too is called Cuchulainn’s Son and has been recorded by various artists over the last 20 years and is a lament for the great sportsman.
In Wexford town, there is a statue to commemorate Rackard, erected in 2012.