Tooreen take aim at final spot

‘These lads come from counties that couldn’t give a damn about hurling, within provinces that care even less about them’, was the quote from The Sunday Game analyst Ger Loughnane after the Ring/Rackard/Meagher Cup finals a few years ago as Mayo raised the Rackard Cup in Croke Park for the first time in their history. The Feakle clubman calls it as he sees it and he wasn’t a hundred miles off in his analysis of the lie-of-the-land in the world of hurling.

Fast forward eighteen months to the present day and ten of the players who picked up All-Ireland medals on that glorious June day in 2016 now stand within 60 minutes of returning to the hallowed ground. Make no mistake – it will take a mammoth task for the East Mayo men to even stay within touching range of the Kilkenny champions, let alone overturn the aristocrats of the small ball game.

But being out-and-out underdogs sits very well on this fledgling group of young hurlers from Mayo who care very little for traditional hurling gentry. All bar one of the Tooreen side have come through the underage structure within the club, and, if we look back through the club’s underage achievements, we see a pattern of winning Connacht U16 club titles against Galway opposition who – in the past – would be expected to leave Mayo after handing out a considerable hammering to the locals.

The year 2005 was the first notable scalp as the Tooreen U16 crop of that year claimed their first Connacht U16B title against Beagh from Galway in the final in Ballyhaunis. Beagh had earlier won the Galway U16B title and were expected to come down to Ballyhaunis and put on an exhibition of hurling and show the locals how it was done.

However, that Tooreen side – led by Cathal Freeman, Kenny Feeney, Michael Morley, Alan Freeman (yes, that Alan Freeman) and Ciaran Charlton – were the players who exhibited the purer skills on the day, so much so that the Beagh side walked off the field in disgust with five minutes of the game remaining. Their refusal to return to the field saw the title awarded to Tooreen – their first in the club’s trio of such Connacht U16 titles.

The Tooreen U16 team of 2005 who claimed the club’s first Connacht U16 club title. Six of this panel now make up the Tooreen senior side. (Photo: Adrian Hession)

It took six years for the Tooreen club to get back to that position again as the crop of 2011 found themselves facing Abbeyknockmoy of Galway in the showpiece Connacht U16 final in Tooreen. The club now had their home grounds fully developed which was an added bonus in holding onto players and banished the nomadic existence of the previous decades.

On that fine autumnal day, it was Tooreen again who showed their dominance in outclassing Abbeyknockmoy to record a comfortable victory. Ten players from that Tooreen side of 2011 now feature on the club’s senior panel, most notably David Kenny, Fergal Boland, Aidan Henry, David Harrison and Joe Henry Jnr. There was less fanfare around this Connacht win in 2011, as this time the Tooreen side expected victory due to their dominance in North Galway club competitions at the time.

The Tooreen U16 side of 2011 who beat Abbeyknockmoy in the Connacht U16 club final. Nine of this side make up the current senior panel with Fergal Boland and David Kenny as the driving forces of that success. (Photo: Adrian Hession)

The completion of this trio of Connacht U16 victories came in 2013 when Tooreen again hosted Galway opposition in the form of Ahascragh/Fohenagh, this time at the Connacht GAA Centre in Bekan. Again, a comfortable win for the Blues ensued with the bulk of this side now waiting in the wings to get their senior chance.

Four of the class of 2013 now feature regularly for the seniors and will see action at some stage on Saturday in Limerick. Daniel Huane, Brian Morley, Sean Kenny and Bobby Douglas have all made a fast transition from underage to the senior ranks, with all four prospects recently being called into Derek Walsh’s county panel when their club campaign is over.

The Tooreen U16 side of 2013 who beat Ahascragh/Fohenagh in that year’s Connacht club final in Bekan. Nine of that side are on the senior panel with four pushing hard for starting places. (Photo: Adrian Hession)

So for the players and management within the Tooreen camp, competing and beating Galway’s Intermediate club sides has become part of the norm down through the years. Hence the victory over Ballinderreen last November. The belief that comes from these wins is immeasurable and will enthuse the next generation of Green and Red stickmen. Repeating the task outside of Connacht will now be the litmus test for manager Paul Hunt and his backroom team. It’s worth remembering that it took thirteen attempts to win a Connacht adult title but maybe this group is different.

So onto Saturday and Ballyraggett, or St Patrick’s as they like to be known locally. There was nothing too holy about their rise to stardom last October as they claimed only their second Kilkenny IHC, their first coming in 1979. Their celebratory story after that win got out of hand but, in fairness, their results have been consistent since.

Wins in Leinster against Kildare, Meath and Wicklow opposition have got them back up on the horse but the impending duel with a Mayo side will be a first for all of their charges. The thoughts of losing to a Mayo side won’t enter their psyche unless the exchanges on the big day are tight.

But if the unthinkable happens in Limerick on Saturday, the story will rock the hurling world again – sending Fifi-gate to the ha’penny place. St Patrick’s of Ballyragget will be the most famous Kilkenny Intermediate Hurling champions of all time, again for all the wrong reasons.

Has anyone told Ger Loughnane that this game is on? There’s definitely a couple of classic Loughnane quotes waiting in the wings here …

Tooreen take on St Patrick’s, Ballyragget of Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Intermediate club hurling semi-final on Saturday (20th January) at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, throw-in 2pm. If you can’t make it there, the match is being streamed live by AIB in co-operation with Local Streaming – full details here.  

35 thoughts on “Tooreen take aim at final spot

  1. Very best of luck to the Tooreen lads, really hope ye do it. Will be in Roscommon myself supporting Lahardane in their semifinal. An exciting day for both clubs.

  2. Best of luck to Tooreen this weekend. Would be a historic result if they pull of he shock and reach an All Ireland final.

  3. Great bit of writing Adrian, but I will say one thing on Loughnane’s quote. These lads might come from a county that don’t give a damn about hurling, but in many ways, the hurling elite (for want of a better phrase) don’t give a damn about them either.

    The very best of luck to Tooreen. Some of the images from the Connacht Final win are wonderful and would bring a tear to a glass eye. They are up against it but they have done Mayo hurling proud. Here’s hoping they can make more history.

  4. Good analysis by Hess on this team’s progression, which shows the huge amount of work that is been put in by the club. Make no mistake this game is a big step up from beating the Galway champions. Last year Brian Cody presented medals to young lads in Tooreen and was astounded by the facilities the club had built but also by the culture of the club, the community spirit and the passion for the game. On Saturday all that passion will be required to withstand the early onslaught, if they do that anything is possible. Mayo supporters had a great day in the Gaelic Grounds last summer, Tooreen need all possible support on Saturday, Tooreen Abu!

  5. It should be noted that one player who didn’t come through the underage system at Tooreen is not some lost native of a hurling county but is Sean Regan from Ballina Co Mayo who struggled manfully for Ballina against those super Tooreen underage sides!!
    While Ballina don’t have a senior side anymore thanks to the example set by Tooreen there is now a stable underage hurling club for the first time in 25 years with teams from u6 right up to U16 and hopefully in a couple of years minor then u21!! The Ballina senior hurling side that won the county title in 2007 completing a historic double with the footballers was made up of players from the last proper underage setup and thanks to Tooreen the bar is set at a higher standard than ever before but more importantly the blueprint is set out for the likes of Ballina, Castlebar, Ballyhaunis and Caiseal Gaels!!!
    Up Tooreen , Up Mayo!!

  6. Why couldnt something have been worked out so that people could attend both games? Lahardane are another fairytale, but any neutrals travelling next weekend will be going to the Hyde

  7. @ Mayoman, no Sean and Evan aren’t related. Evan’s Dad is a former Roscommon minor and Roscommon Gaels footballer and Sean’s Dad is a former Antrim hurler who was part of the great Antrim team of the 80’s and reached the All Ireland final in 1989 losing to Tipperary!!

  8. Best of luck to Tooreen. They’ll have the work cut out for them but it will be interesting to see how they fare against the best in the business

  9. Ballyraggett just beat Wicklow champs Glenealy by one point in Leinster final and were considered lucky to win it as ref gave a very dodgy free at the end.
    I think Tooreen have a great chance and wish best of luck to my neighbours.

  10. Best of luck to the Tooreen hurlers. Go out and give it holly (or ash!!) Leave them kilkenny boys wishing they took up football instead!

  11. Your absolutely right Mayo Mark regarding your comment on the hurling powers of Ireland not giving a damn about the lesser counties.
    They appear more focused on spreading the game to Malaysia and Boston first
    Get a few more counties playing at a higher level should be the first priority not plans for global domination.

  12. Oh yeah and best of luck to Toreen. The Ballyraggert guys would be giving the Galway champions plenty of respect, well ye beat them so dont for one minute consider ye’re selves inferior.

  13. Very interesting article by Adrian Hession, and of course the best of luck to Tooreen… I noticed the Club Crest, very unusual and mischievous… I remember hearing the stories about the Dance Hall in Tooreen, it could be called Urban Myth, but of course as it referres to Tooreen, it would be more accurate to call it Rural Myth… I know loads of the reader’s of this blog will have heard the story, and maybe even danced in the famous Dance Hall, but for those who haven’t… And before I start, this takes some believing, Apparently none other but the Devil himself, was often on the premises…. Back in the day’s when, certainly in other Dance Halls through out Ireland, the Parish Priest kept the Sex’s at an appropriate distance apart for the slow dances…(I don’t know how they managed with Yer Man with the horns and long tail in Tooreen).. I even head that a certain priest kept dancing couple’s apart with a stick in the Town of Castlebar…. Kilthmagh most famous Mayo fan, barber and one time Presidiantal candidate John Regan wrote a song….something like ‘There’s Devil the Town in Ireland, like the Town of Kilthmagh’… Don’t know if John had been dancing in Tooreen and got his inspiration from the famous guest there… And all this happened with Knock only a few miles down the road… When I was a kid, I heard these stories, it’s all a Fact, or a least a Myth!

  14. I’m really really looking forward to this one. More so than the other game. Really proud to see a mayo team this far. . Never thought I’d ever see the day a mayo v Kilkenny game. What a win that would be.

    Went to school with Sean Regan, didn’t know him that well but was the only lad in school Ajay’s with a hurl Evan was a friend of mine but they certainly weren’t brothers but friends yes. Anyway best of luck to tooreen and all involved.

  15. Thanks James for the correction, I know the two men. In fact Michael Commins has been sitting close to me in Croke Park this last few years..The season ticket allocation, decides where we sit. . He certainly wrote ‘There’s three pub’s in Bohola’ even though there is now only two…. It was a true statement when he first wrote the song… Do you think there is any truth in story about the Devil appearing in The Dance Hall in Tooreen?

  16. How did fixture makers come up with Limerick as the venue for Tooreen – Ballyragget? Drawing a line between the two clubs brings one nowhere near Limerick. There is a plethora of more suitable venues such as Athlone, Kiltoom, Mullingar, Tullamore, Ballinasloe, Birr and they bring us to Limerick, again.

  17. @East Cork Exile: I don’t want to drag the discussion off topic, but it’s a myth to suggest that the GAA is pumping big money into its foreign operations: it isn’t. GAA clubs abroad and international units are almost always 100 per cent self-funding, and if anything we subsidise people coming out from HQ to tournaments (a little too lavishly for my taste). And don’t forget that we pay the same fees to Croke Park as any club in Ireland.

    There is no reason why the GAA in Ireland can’t give a bit more to the non-traditional hurling counties, because what they give to international units is a drop in the ocean. Indeed, given the numbers of people coming to Dublin to play in the World Games, it could even be argued that the GAA will make a decent profit out of us.

  18. @It Means nothing to me, I didnt say the GAA was pumping money into overseas GAA.
    I said they “appear more focused on spreading the game to Malaysia and Boston first”, nothing about money. I’m talking in terms of game promotion, we hear more about Asian games, the big fandango over to Fenway Park and how they really want to develop other “markets” then we do about development in the weaker counties.
    For example there are 2 hurling clubs in Leitrim, there were 4 three years ago. Belmullet used to have a good club, gone. Hurling in ireland is going backwards in the weaker counties. Do something about that before promoting it in other countries.
    And in case I’m misunderstood again, I am not saying they shouldn’t support overseas GAA clubs, they are a hugely important of the fabric of life of immigrants and I was that soldier once and should continue to be supported by Croke Park. What I’m saying is that the GAA seem obsessed with getting non Irish kids in some of these countries to start pick up hurleys when they should be even more concerned about lads in Ballinrobe or Mohill or Omagh or Mullingar or Dingle doing the same.

  19. @East Cork Exile: Thanks for your clarification. I’m all for spreading the hurling gospel to the non-heartlands of the game. I myself picked up a hurl for the first time at the age of 29 and it was a fantastic experience (even if I wasn’t very good at it!) and I would wish far more of my fellow citizens to get the chance.

    Where I would disagree is that the GAA as a organisation does much to promote hurling outside of Ireland: it really doesn’t. My club formed a hurling team a couple of years ago, and it was the European Board who helped get us going (partially) out of their and our own funds. Every time one sees a story about a non-Irish person getting into gaelic games in some far flung place, it’s the local club that developed the player. I get your point about the likes of the Fenway Classic and whatnot, but afaik that is a GPA gig.

    My club also organised a European GAA Championship a few years back and believe me, HQ were a source of considerable expense to us, rather than directly aiding us in any real fashion. I would presume that this is the same for the Pan-Asian, Australasian Championships etc.

    IMO if people are serious about hurling spreading further within Ireland then it needs to be County Boards that grasp the nettle, because at present some of them scandalously neglect hurling (as do Kilkenny with football).

  20. They do, and your right improvement must begin “at home”, but the GAA could help by ring fencing certain payments to county boards to be only used for schools development of hurling for example. They are the paymasters so can call the tune. At the moment payments, while there is some specific allocating in it, is still a bit open. Games development payments for example can be used for either. Ring fence some of that for hurling in weaker counties would be my suggestion.

  21. A massive good luck to the Tooreen hurlers tomorrow from a Galway man. My dear grandmother spent her last years in the nursing home across the road from the pitch in Tooreen. It was always a glorious sight to see so many lads and ladies out pucking a ball around on any given weekend morning. If it was the Galway champions I would expect that Ballindeerin would probably be favourites. I fully expect Tooreen to beat this crowd, who wouldn’t be rated massively highly within Kilkenny. Their antics after winning the county title has further to Cody’s ire. Lucky to beat the Wicklow champions, Tooreen have every chance.

    Slightly off topic, but does anyone know how a pocket of hurling survived in the middle of a football mad county? I know there’s hurling in Ballyhaunis as well. But even North Galway in a hurling desert with only Sylane (north of Corofin) being the only ‘proper’ hurling club in North Galway, and usually they’re better at filling Accident and Emergency wards than they are at hurling.

  22. East Cork Exile, The real problem promoting hurling in the weaker counties is the lack of personnel who know anything about hurling and are competent to coach it. In my own club hurling was started by two Munstermen who came to town to work about forty years ago. It was continued on mainly by similar people until recently. The problem now is that such people are no longer coming to the smaller towns of Ireland [if they need to work in smaller towns as teachers, gardai etc. they still opt to live in the larger towns]. Meantime most of the locals who learned the game have left town too and the few who are left eventually get tired of the burden. On top of that you have a general lack of appreciation and a belief by many that hurling is merely a distraction from their real interest, football. Maintaining grounds fit for hurling as opposed to football is another major obstacle especially in the northern, wetter part of the country.

  23. I was at the game tooreen v B’Ragget.
    I live in Limerick city so it was a short drive for me.

    Fair play to the great crowd from Tooreen who came and supported their team all the way. Weather was dry, a good breeze against Tooreen in 1st half, then seemed to die a bit in the second! Pitch was very good, given the weather, a bit soft in spots but fine.

    The team held their own for long periods, could have had another goal. They were a bit unlucky to concede 3 goals, yet then again they made a couple of miracle saves and clearances too, so in a way they could have conceded more.

    Overall, they were a credit to their club and their county. I’m ballinrobe, so I’m more used to opposing Tooreen than to supporting them, but I went away proud of them tonight.

    Well done to all, and best of luck to Ballyraggett, they deserved the win and they were made to work for it! They were a bit sharper in the tackle, especially near their own goal, they took some lovely long points, they had much slicker hand passing (more on that below!)

    Ref was poor, seemed to allow KK men to run up on the back of Mo men all day, did not pull up a lot of very borderline KK hand passing which looked more like baseball pitches to me. He. did not change the result, the better team won, but he extended the gap on the scoreboard in my opinion.

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