Calry/St Joseph's hoping to perform on national stage
By Cian O'Connell
Henry Cox and Joe Keane kept the faith, always firmly believing in Calry/St Joseph's hurling potential.
Since they started to field teams at adult level in 2002 Calry/St Joseph's have won 10 Sligo Senior Hurling Championships. It is a remarkable rise which also includes four Connacht Junior titles.
Now another AIB All Ireland Junior Semi-Final against Cork’s Mayfield beckons at O’Connor Park on Sunday afternoon.
Panelist Darragh Cox, Head of Sport at Ocean FM, has been involved throughout the past decades as a player. "Craobh Ruadh had been a dominant hurling team in Sligo town, they essentially became Calry because a great underage system had been started by my father, Henry, and Joe Keane, who was originally from Galway,” Darragh Cox explains to GAA.ie. “They brought up underage teams from Calry when I was growing up.
“Henry would have played all his hurling with Craobh Ruadh, a team Joe Keane was managing. It just made more sense in the end because of the feeder players coming from Calry to become Calry club. Craobh Ruadh were a stand alone hurling club in Sligo town.”
That Henry Cox, Stephen Whelan, Ronan Watters, and Ian McHugh - Calry’s current selectors – all hurled together with Craobh Ruadh decorates the story further.
Success has followed for Calry, but Cox can recall some demanding days too. "We have won the last six in a row, before that we won a three in a row. We lost in a Semi-Final in 2010 and we had won three before that. Calry Hurling Club only came into existence in 2002 and we won our first Senior County in 2005.
“In 2011, I remember the County Semi-Final, we went in there with just 15 players. We won a game that we weren't expected to. Four teams were left in the Championship and even though we had won Connacht a couple of years before we were probably the fourth favourites to win the County title.
“We beat Tubbercurry in the Final and since then we have built the team up again. We were coming from a place where we only had 15 players that day to a stage now where we can cope like when we went to Birmingham before Christmas. We were missing five players in total, four that would have been starters.
“We've never had as strong a squad as we have this year. Everyone has bought into it. Lads like Mickey Gilmartin and David Callery, lads who played for Sligo numerous times, they were living away from home, they have both returned to Ireland. They are a massive, massive boost to the squad, we have just managed to get people available again this year.”
Hope has been a constant companion for Calry, who planted their flag on the summit of the Sligo game in 2005. “When we came on the scene Tubbercurry were by far the kingpins, they had won 10 or 11 in a row,” Cox remembers.
“Paul Seevers was their man man, I lost five finals to Tubbercurry before Calry won our first one, I started playing with Craobh Ruadh before Calry became a senior team. We were very much the coming team for a few years, but we couldn't get over Tubbercurry. We finally got over them in 2005, they came back in 2006, but then our dominance started from 2007 on. We put a three in a row together and in 2009 we won our first Connacht Junior against Skehana down in Kiltoom in Roscommon.
“We went on to the Semi-Final, but lost to a team from Tyrone, Naomh Colmcille. In Ballyconnell in County Cavan you couldn't see in front of you with the fog, but we lost by a point or two. It was a massive regret, we still would refer back to it. We felt we left that one behind us, but we lost our county title in 2010, we lost to Western Gaels in the Semi-Final that year.
“That knocked us back, them two blows, but we regrouped then. In 2011, led as much by the players as by Henry and Stephen Whelan, who were the management, but the players took more of a hands on role in terms of pushing ourselves on.”
How Calry dealt with the Fullen Gaels challenge before Christmas offers encouragement. “We were over in Birmingham for an All Ireland Quarter-Final before Christmas, this was our first win outside Connacht.
“We lost a few years ago in 2013 to Ballysaggart from Waterford, who had the Bennett brothers, Shane and Stephen. They were an outstanding team. It was in Tullamore too, funnily enough, they absolutely blitzed us.
“Winning against Fullen Gaels was of major significance to us: just to win a game outside of Connacht.”
While the landscape has changed in Sligo hurling since Calry arrived on the senior stage Cox is hopeful about the future of the game in the north west. “Five clubs are taking part, Tubbercurry have fallen away recently, but they are building it up again at underage level,” Cox says about the Sligo Championship.
“You have five senior clubs currently and you probably have another three or four that are building up underage teams which augurs well for the future. It means you could have up to nine teams competing in senior, which isn't a lot obviously, but in that respect it still augurs well in terms that hurling is having a little bit of resurgence.
“The county team has reached two Lory Meagher Finals in a row and there would be a fair involvement of Calry players in both those teams as well, but it certainly wouldn't have been dominated by Calry players. It shows other clubs in the county are also producing players of a decent standard which drives the whole thing on.”