Caiseal Gaels show hurling can blossom in Mayo
By John Harrington
Too often people think that hurling is a delicate flower that can only put down roots in the fertile soil of the sport’s traditional counties.
The truth is that it can blossom in any corner of this country as long as you have enough people there committed to nurturing it along the way.
The impressive growth of Caiseal Gaels hurling club in Mayo prove the point.
Formed in November 2008 as a juvenile club, they reached a significant milestone earlier this month when they played their first adult hurling challenge game against close neighbours Tourlestrane of Sligo.
It’s a testament to both the commitment of the players themselves and the dedication of the coaches who have worked with them that eight of the current senior panel are graduates of the Caiseal Gaels U-14 team that played in the club’s maiden match in March 2009 against Tooreen.
The first seeds were sown in Carracastle National School who won the Mayo Cumann na mBunscoil Mini7s Hurling title in 2008.
Thanks in no small part of the efforts of Mayo GAA Games Promotion Officer, Adrian Hession, hurling was also developing green shoots in nearly national schools Derrinabroc, Bursna, and Kilmovee.
Hurling enthusiasts in the Carracastle, Ballaghaderreen, Kilmovee, and Charlestown areas could see the potential, so they banded together to form Caiseal Gaels.
Dermot Dillon has taken every step of the journey along the way. A teacher in Carracastle NS, he helped coach the team that won that Mini 7s hurling title in 2008 and became the first Chairman of the newly formed club.
And when Caiseal Gaels played their first ever senior match a couple of weeks ago against Tourlestrane, he donned a jersey and played alongside team-mates that he’d coached back in the day in primary school.
“I was teaching in Carracastle national school and had no experience of hurling but there was a teacher with me, a Cork man, Michael Bracken,” Dillon told GAA.ie.
“He became club secretary back then and is still club secretary now and he was the driving force and got me into it.
“I ended up being the founding chairman and have done a bit of coaching ever since really. I never played it myself, but I've gone back now and I'm enjoying togging out with the lads.
“I had taught a lot of them earlier on in the school and coached them too and now I'm playing with them which is nice.
“Picking up hurling at the age of 37 is a bit unusual, but at least I'll be able to say I played it anyway for a year or two.
“What was interesting about the night the club was founded was that there were five or six fifth and sixth class boys who were enjoying playing hurling in primary school and they came along to the meeting which showed great maturity at the time.
“They would have then played all the way up through the age-grades with the club and they're playing now on the senior team as well.”
From their very first U-14 match against the always strong Tooreen in 2009, the young Caiseal Gaels players showed they had considerable ability.
In the following years they went from strength to strength and passed some significant milestones along the way as ‘A’ titles were won at U-12, U-13, and U-16 level.
Transitioning from a solely juvenile club to one that also had a senior team was always going to be a difficult task, and along the way Caiseal Gaels got some invaluable help from their neighbours.
“We played U-21 for three years and joined up with Ballyhaunis for two of those years," says Dillon. "Our lads got a taste of training with Ballyhaunis seniors which gave them an idea of what it was like at U-21 which was great. It was great for them to play with the likes of Keith Higgins and Pearse Higgins who were all very supportive.
“We've linked up with Ballina and Ballygarvey who are also juvenile clubs. We linked up with those through amalgamations as well which has helped us field teams in the last two years or so when we would have been tight on numbers in the three clubs just to get teams out and get lads playing.
“We've had a good few lads that played with Mayo at underage and hopefully they'll be good enough to progress to senior level as well.
“We've had two Celtic Challenge captains in the club over two years so the lads have enjoyed the experience of wearing the red and green as well.”
Hurling is often viewed suspiciously by some in counties where Gaelic Football is the dominant sport, but Caiseal Gaels have also benefited enormously from the help of their local GAA clubs.
“80 per cent of our membership would be a member of a football club in Ballaghaderreen, Charlestown, or Kilmovee,” says Dillon.
“The football clubs have been very supportive. We play our home games mainly in Ballaghaderreen and Charlestown. While Kilmovee would host an annual schools blitz as well for us. The three of them have been very supportive.”
Caiseal Gaels aren’t just relying on the generosity of others, though.
They’ve done great work to fund and build a state of the art astropark and hurling wall in Carracastle, which is a vivid testament to their ambition as a club.
“It’s hopefully upwards and onwards from here,” says Dillon.
“We had 23 lads togged out for the first game and 22 training last night and we're playing another challenge match on Thursday night against Roscommon Gaels.
“One of the silver linings of the Coronavirus lockdown is that there are more of the younger players around. With only four other senior clubs in Mayo we're under no illusion that it will be very tough to compete with the likes of Tooreen, Ballyhaunis, Wesport, and Castlebar.
“Tooreen and Ballyhaunis have competed in Connacht Finals in the last few years with Tooreen winning two of them so it will be very difficult for us to compete with them.
"We've been encouraged by Martin Fogarty (National Hurling Development Manager) coming down from Croke Park to visit us and I know he was involved with Damien Coleman and Adrian Hession in Connacht setting up the Cúchulainn League which is an adult version of the Táin League.
"We would be encouraged by that because it will allow us to get games in the province and outside the province against teams that woudl be on our level. We would also hope to see other juvenile clubs in Mayo make the step up to senior in the coming years.
"The likes of Ballyvary and Claremorris are doing great work at underage, so it would be great to see them make the step-up so we have more clubs in Mayo that could start competing in the Cuchulainn League.
“And there's any more players or people in our part of Mayo who would like to get involved or give hurling a go, we'd be delighted to hear from them because it is a challenge to keep it would enough numbers at underage level."
Any new players in the area or coaches wishing to join or support Caiseal Gaels can email email@example.com