Féile's generation game as vibrant as ever
By Kevin Egan
The Munster championship may have been in full flow in Limerick and Thurles at the weekend, while the All-Ireland champions from Galway kept their winning run going in Salthill on Saturday afternoon.
But, for a huge number of clubs all across Ireland, Mayo was the centre of the hurling world as teams from all across Ireland converged on the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence at Bekan for the finals of the John West Féile na nGael 2018.
Finals also took place in various other venues across the province, and even stretching into Athlone and Mullingar in Westmeath, but for the majority of the top teams, Bekan was where the action was on Saturday and Sunday.
Four years ago it was the turn of the footballers to travel west for this national festival of gaelic games, with many of the players involved back then now featuring in the national U-20 championships that are currently underway.
Quite how many of this year’s vintage will go on to greater glory remains to be seen, but what can be said for certain is that, at Féile, the passing on of the baton from one generation to the next is plain to see.
Galway side Turloughmore took the big prize in the Division One hurling competition, but they were pushed all the way by a Durlas Óg side from Tipperary, managed by former Thurles Sarsfields and Tipperary star Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady.
Meanwhile, St. Finbarr’s, under the guidance of Ger’s namesake Donal, picked up the division one shield title.
Intercounty players carried water and hurls to the players that will play alongside them in anything from five to ten years, while those that will be next in line to fly the flag at Féile shouted from the sideline or else got distracted by the opportunity to roll down the hill with their friends and revel in the warm sunshine, safe in the knowledge that there was always another hurling or camogie game on the way shortly.
Eight years ago, may of those Turloughmore players might have been busy playing with other five and six year old friends as opposed to watching their team’s win over Na Piarsaigh in Ennis, but this time around they were busy hooking, blocking, catching and striking in order to ensure that Turloughmore became only the second team from outside either Cork or Kilkenny city to win more than one Christy Ring cup.
As 2018 manager Declan Kearney celebrated with his players, Gerry Linnane watched on, savouring every minute of the victory and recalling what it was like when he guided the 2010 vintage to success.
“It means the world to us because it’s vindication for all the work and effort that countless people have sunk into hurling in our club” he said afterwards.
“This proves that it wasn’t just about one good generation, it’s that we’re giving players the chance to develop and grow as hurlers, and you can see from results over the weekend that hurling in Galway generally is in a very good place right now”.
Parents of all the boys and girls lined the sidelines to support the next generation of stars, but for one Cork father, watching St. Finbarr’s lift the Division One Shield hurling title brought back wonderful memories of a similar weekend some 35 years ago.
Chris Buckley, whose son William was one of the stars of the weekend with a steady display of scoring for St. Finbarr’s, recalled his own Féile playing days, and the city club’s contest against a young up-and-coming manager from Kilkenny on the greatest stage of all!
“We played Féile with the Barrs back in 1983, we won the Cork Féile in Dublin, stayed with Oliver Plunketts”, said Buckley yesterday afternoon.
“We had the three games on Saturday and then played St. Patrick’s of Kilkenny in the final, they were managed by Brian Cody at the time! We played them on Sunday in Croke Park, and it was an unusual game, it ended one goal to no score. I was in goal that day so that was the reason we lost! That’s 35 years ago now, and my young lad is playing there today and it’s great to see that."
Yet while some clubs were writing new chapters in their long history of association with Féile na nGael, other clubs in their infancy were also successful, and eager to use this competition as fuel to keep driving forward.
CRC Gaels in Offaly have now won two Féile titles, adding a division four title on Sunday to the division eight win they secured just two years ago.
Their 1-4 to 0-5 win over Cois Fharraige of Galway will be a huge boost to an underage club that serves both the Crinkill and Carrig & Riverstown adult clubs, two sides that have struggled to escape from the shadow of Birr in recent years.
Historically, Birr’s underage club also served those areas but since coming together as their own entity, they’ve been an emerging force in the county and based on the performances of players of players like Cathal King and Andrew Coakley, their upward trend is set to continue for some time yet.
Elsewhere, the line between football and hurling territories continued to blur, with areas that have historically been associated with the big ball code also enjoying a successful weekend.
Ennistymon from West Clare, East Cavan Gaels and perhaps most notably, Naas hurling club in lofty company in Division Two all tasted glory, showing that while tradition and history is alive and well, Féile na nGael is also a happy hunting ground for any team that comes to play with talent, exuberance and enthusiasm for the game.