All hail Tullamore's All-Ireland Feile heroes

Gina Fox

Reporter:

Gina Fox

Email:

gina.fox@alphanewspapers.co.uk

IN the world of sport, we are all prone to hyperbole. We speak of legends and of laochra. We claim we've the fastest sport in the world and in the GAA we have great Gaels, great hurling men, real football men. Though I've been guilty of it myself, I was never entirely comfortable with such exaggeration. But this week, I'm not so sure.

Tullamore GAA chairman Tom Martin stood in the car park of the GAA Centre as the Feile na nGael hurlers were about to board Buggy's bus to Cork last Friday morning.

He spoke to the boys about representation - representation of family, community, town, club and county.

Unlike Feile first-timers like me, some of these youngsters were on their second venture into the competition, having travelled to Down for the football last summer. But even for them, it was a venture into the unknown.

Feile na nGael is an Under 14 hurling and camogie tournament for clubs which is hosted by different counties every year.

The clubs arrive at Feile having battled their way through their own counties and are allocated divisions where they can encounter opposition from the host county and any village across the island.

With driver Mattie Mills at the helm, the Tullamore boys were steered first to Charleville, the location of their first two matches on Friday evening.

Under alternating sunshine and torrents of rain, the lads trotted out and comfortably saw off their north Cork opponents by 1-6 to 0-2.

Up next was Eoghan Ruagh from Dungannon, Co Tyrone on a different pitch where umbrella-covered supporters manned the touchline in the absence of a stand.

The northerners were a hardy bunch but again Tullamore were victorious, 2-11 to 0-3.

Already a pattern had emerged: this Tullamore team had a spine of steel stretching all the way from Sean Monaghan in goals (remarkably he conceded just one goal in the entire tournament), to a player with a name steeped in GAA folklore, Niall of the Furlongs.

In between there was the imperious Eoghan Spain and the irrepressible Jack Daly, a true rock of a centre back on which so many ill-fated assaults perished.

There was the livewire Jake Moore and cool-hand Luke Duffy, the player whose nerve held for the winning free in a cardiac inducing shoot-out against the only team to really challenge the Blues, Cork's Aghabullogue.

Team captain Cillian Martin, watched by his father Kevin (only recently dispatched from his post as county hurling manager), was a player apart, the assassin whose points ruthlessly guided Tullamore to All-Ireland glory.

The aforementioned Furlong was a masterful forward, a tormentor whose primal instinct was always to go for goal, an objective he reached gloriously in the final against Clontarf.

He had a lightning quick companion in Cillian Bourke, a hurler whose scoretaking on the move would enrapture Croke Park.

Those superior sportsmen were surrounded by cairde Gael whose resolve never faltered, augmented by the mandatory double substitutions which must be made twice during these frantic half-hour matches.

With both contests won on Friday evening it was off to meet Tullamore's host club, Whitechurch, and after the night's sleep with the host families the players arose to be paraded by pipers onto the pitch.

On the field Tullamore were consistent – they defeated Whitechurch 1-7 to 0-2 to win their group and ensure participation in the All-Ireland Division Four Cup.

After an excursion to the naval vessel the George Bernard Shaw, the hurlers penned their own drama in a gripping quarter-final against Aghabullogue. Against a Cork team which exhibited some of the most unwelcome traits of the ancient game, especially chopping down and pulling from behind, Tullamore's striking was unusually wayward and at the end of normal time (where Kevin Martin was unjustifiably sent to the terrace for telling the referee some home truths about timekeeping), the sides were still level.

Two five-minute periods of extra-time failed to separate them and the Cork city ground of Na Piarsaigh held its breath for a free shoot-out, where each team had five chances to puck the ball over the bar from 45 metres.

The deathly silence was only broken when Luke Duffy pointed the decisive free for a 3-1 win for Tullamore.

It was a return to the road again for Whitechurch after that and a morning trip to Mallow for the semi-finals and final.

Fate had decreed a Kerry/Offaly meeting in the last four and Tullamore mercilessly scythed down the Kingdom's famous hurling outpost Ballyduff, 3-13 to 0-5.

A battle with Clontarf awaited in the final. Clontarf, a place where I watched Brent Pope play rugby and where my wife went to the cricket club.

So not a hurling stronghold, some might say. But the Dubs looked good in the warm-up with their one-footed hopping routine and they had a couple of boys who matched Martin and Duffy for height. Nonetheless Tullamore danced past them, restricting them to one point in each half and ultimately winning 1-9 to 0-2.

An All-Ireland Feile na nGael title, beating teams from Kerry and Dublin in the semi-final and final? Could you get any better than that? Joy abounded, and not just for the players.

The team was managed by those two Cuchulainns from Callery Street, Alo and Philip Lawlor, plus Derek Wynne, father of the youngest player on the panel, the go-to forward Cillian. Young Anthony Lawlor completed the generation game on the pitch.

After he accepted the trophy, Cillian Martin spoke wise words of tribute to everyone involved, including the Clontarf contingent.

A Clontarf parent beside me said: “Very good. A very impressive young man.”

All the players (in no particular order), were Anthony Lawlor Luke Duffy, Sean Kavanagh, Niall Furlong, Jack Daly, Adam McCarthy, Adam Harvey, Jamie Thornton, Davin Keegan, Cillian Bourke, Cillian Martin, Jake Moore, Eoghan Spain, Ryan Fenlon, Oisin Phelan, Michael Keavney, Cian Lynam, Ben Kearns, Leon Hayden, Alan Sheridan, Killian Wynne, Senni Kelly, Sean Conroy and Killian Dunne.

I must declare an interest here. A son of mine is on that list. He and Adam McCarthy were hosted by Kevin and Fiona Kelleher.

Kevin praised both of his guests when I spoke to him on Sunday morning (he arrived at Whitechurch GAA after milking 100 cows). All other host families echoed those words.

As representatives the Tullamore boys could not have done any better. Heroes all. True legends. True laochra.

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