Carrick hurlers revel in history-making achievement
By John Harrington
History was made by the Carrick-on-Shannon hurlers last Saturday when they became the first men’s team from Leitrim to claim a Provincial Club Championship title.
They defeated Ballygar of Galway in the AIB Connacht Junior Club Hurling Championship Final on a score-line of 2-11 to 2-9 to secure a victory that means so much to everyone involved in the club.
Team manager Olcan Conway has been one of Carrick hurling’s driving forces since moving to Leitrim from Derry in 2004, and the win feels like the culmination of a many years of hard work.
“It's extremely satisfying,” he told GAA.ie.,
“It's been years in the making. We've always felt we could win a Connacht title and have come close in recent years.
“So finally getting over the line is a huge relief more than anything.”
A Carrick victory looked far from assured when they trailed the Galway champions by five points early in the second-half, but they hurled some tremendous stuff from there to the finish to clinch a deserved win.
“We were the better team but we made hard work of it,” said Conway.
“We were five points down in the second half then went five points up with a strong breeze. It took us ten minutes to adapt from the first half because we were in a defensive structure against a very strong breeze.
“It took us ten minutes to break out of that structure and push on. When you’re only a point behind at half time and with a strong wind behind for the second half you the pressure comes on mentally as well.
“The players were saying we can do this, but you have to actually go and do it. It probably wasn't until Ballygar scored their goal and went five points up that the lads actually said, we need to start playing hurling, and they did.
“They just started to hurl and took over then completely which was very satisfying. You talk about turning points in games, well I think them scoring the goal was the turning point. It was the kick our players needed to drive on and get this done.
“It was good now, it was enjoyable. But I would have preferred if it was made easier!”
Carrick veterans like Clement Cunniffe, Vincent McDermott and team captain James Glancy were to the fore on the day, but just as vital to the club’s history-making victory was the impact made by a clutch of young hurlers who have graduated in the past couple of years from the club’s superbly run underage structures.
“Our underage structures are absolutely flying at the minute,” said Conway.
“We have four coaches at every grade and there's a massive, massive crop of young fellas coming through.
“All our underage teams compete now in Roscommon and they're making all of the finals. Our U-14s just last weekend lost the Roscommon League Final to Four Roads by two points after conceding a last-minute penalty. That was heart-breaking to watch from the sideline.
“Our U-16s won the Roscommon League two years ago and a few of those lads are coming through now onto the senior team.
“There's massive numbers in the club now at underage. I help out myself with the U-8s and U-10s and we'd have at least 40 U-8s and 40 U-10s. It has just really taken off around the area.
“We're sort of on the crest of a wave at the moment and everyone is rowing in behind the club so it is going very well at the minute.”
Saturday’s Connacht Final victory will only serve to give the club another shot of adrenalin as hurling goes from strength to strength in the town.
“It was fabulous to see the youngsters coming onto the pitch on Saturday, it really was,” said Conway.
“Just the enjoyment on their faces, the U-14s and U-16s. Every young fella that you’ve seen hurling this year and last year, just the pure joy and emotion of them all coming on cheering was great.
“Hopefully an experience like this will stand by them. They should take a bit of energy out of it.
“After the match was a great experience too. We all went for a meal with the families and children and supporters in the Bush Hotel afterwards. We had a huge crowd and we all sat down and had a meal together because it was a club thing, not just players.
“We wanted everybody there. We wanted supporters, family, children, everybody. It was actually a lovely moment.”
They’ve celebrated with gusto in Carrick these last few days, but as historic as their Connacht Championship success is, their appetite hasn’t been sated by it.
They’ll play an All-Ireland semi-final next January against a yet to be decided opponent, and Conway insists they’ll be hugely determined to put their best foot forward that day too.
“We will yeah, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “About ten minutes after the game on Saturday, the person I am, I was already starting to think about the next one.
“I wish it was tomorrow morning because the waiting around in between is the worst time.
“You want to get out there and get at your next opponent and take them on.
“I'm looking forward to the next match, it's a good place to be looking forward to an All-Ireland semi-final.”