Carrickmacross thriving in Táin Óg
By Kevin Egan
Notwithstanding the remarkable scenes at the Electric Ireland Leinster Minor hurling final earlier this month when over 16,000 people attended a memorable midlands derby, Monday night is not a time of the week normally associated with hurling.
However for the significant chunk of Ireland north of the N5, Monday night isn’t just a big hurling night, it’s a sign of what can be done to breathe life and energy into a sport that has historically struggled to compete for time and attention against gaelic football.
A county like Monaghan is the perfect example. The county’s senior footballers have been the biggest overachievers in the sport, relative to population, for the best part of a decade. Incredible efforts have been made for the county to keep pace, not just with their neighbours in Ulster, but all across Ireland.
Hurling has sometimes struggled to find room to thrive in that environment, but the advent of the Táin Óg leagues has completely changed the game. Now, not just is there certainty of when games will be played, but Monday evenings have been wiped clean of any conflicting football activity, allowing clubs like Carrickmacross Emmets to offer a really attractive schedule to their players.
Stephen McKenna is both a coach and development officer for Carrickmacross hurling, and having a clear programme of games has enabled him to spend a lot less time rounding up bodies to fill teams, and a lot more time working with players to move their skills on to another level.
“I’m with the club 25 years and we struggled to get teams from U-13 up” he says.
“We would be getting maybe 12, 13 players out for training and games. When the Táin Óg started up we started getting 25, 26 players in U-13s, 15s and U-17s.
“In Monaghan there’s only six clubs, so we might only get five games in the year. With Táin Óg we are getting more games against a wider variety of opposition, and then when the Monaghan championship rolls around, players have been playing games, they’ve gotten sharper and more skilled over the summer, and they’re not tired of playing the same clubs all the time, clubs they might meet on the football pitch as well” he added.
And while there is a bit more travelling involved, he said that a combination of the club’s location, and the well-run nature of the competition, means that this isn’t a huge problem.
“Wherever there’s games we’ll go” he said.
“That’s all we want. Children, at that age all they want is games. There are five or six clubs outside Carrickmacross that have all come in and started hurling with us, they can see that there’s much more playing time now.
Oisín Maguire won his first competitive medal in the Táin Óg U-13 competition, and he has since gone on to continue playing the sport up to adult level, while also helping out on the coaching side.
“It was an U-13 Shield final that I won. That would have been my first trophy, I was playing in goals” he recalls.
“The feeling going into games is all about excitement, it’s someone new. In Monaghan, it’s the same maybe five clubs that you play all the time, you are used to each other. So when we play a new team we don’t know whose their best players are, it becomes a better test because you have to learn as you play, and you pick up new tricks and skills that you might not have seen otherwise.
“It’s not that it’s ferociously competitive, but its’ competition. There’s a medal and a trophy at the end of it. Lads are saying ‘I’m not going to miss training or games’, they want that medal.
“It gives them the interest to stay in to hurling. There’s no pressure on them in hurling than there is with football, and there’s never a night I’m not out there. I love it”.