“Tom won a lot of battles on the field during his illustrious hurling career. In the middle of the biggest battle of his life, one which he sadly didn’t overcome, to think that he decided to help disadvantaged children half the world away, was just unbelievable. But that was the mark of the man, and what a man he was.”
The above words belong to Mooncoin farmer John Crowley who last week reflected on a remarkable gesture made by Waterford hurling legend Tom Cheasty in the final months of his life.

“I went to visit Tom before I travelled to South Africa in March last year and health wise, of course, he wasn’t great at the time,” said John, who has spearheaded the Friends of Zelda’s House fundraising project since its foundation.

“He’d been a supporter of what we’re doing in Cape Town going back to our early days and was one of several local sportsmen that supported a charity walk we held in Portlaw in 2003.”

The walk brought together Cheasty and his great friend and hurling opponent Eddie Keher, Kilkenny stars John Power and Peter Barry along with Jimmy McGeough and Giles Cheevers, then of Waterford United.

“He was in great form altogether that day and himself and Eddie had a great chat about hurling days gone by,” added John Crowley. “Looking back on it now, it really was a brilliant day.”

He continued: “When I told Tom I was going out to Cape Town again to see how our fundraising was benefiting so many women and children, he said he wanted to help. So he signed a cheque right there in front of me.

“He said he didn’t want any fuss made about it, so none was made. But I just couldn’t get over it, considering what he was facing in his own life, that he could think of other people like that, to reach out the way he did. It was something else.

“It’s a source of great pride to me to have had a man of the standing of Tom Cheasty involved in the Friends of Zelda’s House.”

The group recently held its AGM in Langton’s in Kilkenny, with Minister of State John McGuinness in attendance. “He was very impressed by what we’ve achieved to date,” added John Crowley.

The Minister congratulated the group on the assistance it has provided street children in Cape Town, the Zanokhanyo project (home to ‘Kilkenny Hall’) along with the Women In Need (WIN) programme in recent years.

Monies donated by supporters across South Kilkenny, South Tipperary, East Waterford and beyond have greatly assisted WIN, according to project manager Ronni Mehl.

“We have always honoured and made efforts to meet all our many visitors from Ireland,” she said.

“We deeply appreciate all the good things that they make possible for our children with deep respect and gratitude for their generosity, which we do not take for granted at all.”

The Friends of Zelda’s House, which has doubled its number of contributing donors since 2005 (64 then, approximately 140 now) funds programmes which assist women living on the streets of Cape Town along with their children.

Kilkenny Hall was built in the Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town thanks to proceeds raised by John Crowley’s group and has been visited by several well-known public figures, including Tom Kitt and Tom Parlon.

A well-known Kilkenny publican recently handed over €400 to the group, while local businesses including Prestige Lighting, Carrigeen builder Michael Hearn and Tommy Foley Engineering assisted in providing playground equipment for the ‘WIN children’.

“Every cent goes to South Africa,” said John. “We have no administration costs. We’ve got a great treasurer in Sean Aylward from Carrick-on-Suir and he’s done a fantastic job in handling all the money that people from across the south east continue to give so generously on a monthly or annual basis.”

Over €12,000 was recently put towards the acquisition of a new 30-seater minibus for the children, with an Austrian charity providing the other €12,000 required for its purchase.

A total of €170,000 has been donated by the Friends of Zelda’s House to date and John Crowley hopes to secure Irish Government funding in the not too distant future.

With Minister McGuinness’ ears now opened, hopefully such a request will be looked on kindly when the time comes.

“A little does go a long way to helping less fortunate people in Cape Town and it’s a source of great satisfaction to me that so many people continue to support what we’re doing,” he said.