Laochra Óg putting hurling/camogie on the West Cork map
By John Harrington
The common assumption is that the entirety of Cork has always been fertile ground for hurling.
Not so. Large tracts of the west of the county have traditionally been stony soil where the small ball game struggled to grow in the shadow of Gaelic Football.
That’s changing now thanks to the impressive growth of hurling and camogie club, Laochra Óg, since it was established in 2014.
Drawing its players from five parishes – Macroom, Ballyvourney, Kilnamartyra, Clondrohid, and Coolea – and nine national schools, they’ve providing a much needed opportunity to play hurling and camogie for children in the area.
“There was never an established hurling club out here before,” Laochra Óg Chairman, John Nash, told GAA.ie.
“The best way to describe us is that we're the West Muskerry region of Cork. Macroom would be the urban centre and then you have your outlying parishes like Ballyvourney and Kilnamartrya.
“One of the local football clubs had a flourishing underage hurling team going back a few years, but, you know how these things go, they decided one night in a committee meeting that there was to be no more hurling in the area and wiped it out there and then.
“So, this is where we came on board. A lot of our kids would have played with that club so we knew there was an interest there so we took the leap forward and said we'd have a crack off it and it's gone from strength to strength really.
“Then the Camogie came on board and that has given us a huge boost as well. We're a hurling and camogie club now and we're covering five parishes where there was never a stand-alone hurling or camogie club previously.”
Laochra Óg have gone from strength to strength with every passing year.
When they hosted their first ever summer camp back in 2015, 60 children attended. Fast forward to 2019 and the numbers had increased to 163 children ranging from U-6 to U-16.
In that same period of time they’ve gone from fielding five teams to 14 teams between hurling and camogie, and have contested at least one final every year, winning a good share of them.
They’re a shining example of how children will embrace hurling/camogie if only they’re given the opportunity to play the sport.
“They love it,” says Nash. “A good example is that in the team that I'm coaching I'd have five lads from the Coolea region which is on the Cork-Kerry border and it's a Gaeltacht speaking school that would have always only played football and never had the opportunity to play hurling.
“Now those lads are the first gang in through the gate every day. You have a whole generation of kids in the area who would never have had the chance to play camogie or hurling but who now do and they're loving it.
“And what I think is really fantastic is that you have kids from nine different national schools coming together and mixing and forming friendships. We're creating a community all of our own.
“It can be quite funny too because my U-13 lads will have great fun training together on a Wednesday night with us and then kill one another when they play against each other for their respective football clubs.
“But it's fantastic, there's a great bond there. Those lads would all go now to watch each other play football so we definitely have created a community within a community.”
Laochra Óg have come a long way in a short period of time despite some significant logistical hurdles.
The challenge of drawing their players from a sprawling geographic area has been further complicated by not having a proper home they can call their own.
Since they were founded they’ve used a pitch at the back of the secondary school in Ballyvourney, but it has no proper facilities, and they’ve had to also use the pitches of local gaelic football clubs where possible to accommodate their growing numbers.
“There’s no two ways of saying it, it is a nightmare at times,” says Nash. “Especially when you don't have your own pitch, you're on the back foot straight away trying to get pitches and organise matches.
“We’ve had clubs come out here and refuse to play because we didn’t have dressing-rooms or running water.”
Thankfully, those days will soon be a thing of the past.
The club recently announced they’ve agreed a 30-year lease on an 8.3 acre site where they will develop a full-size hurling pitch, training pitch, dressing-rooms, wall-ball area, viewing bank, and car park.
Currently the club only has enough funds to develop the entrance and car-park on the new site, but they’re hoping a Sport Capital Programme grant they’ve applied for will enable them to have a useable pitch by next year.
“This is huge for us, it’ll be a real game-changer and take us up to the next level,” says Nash of the planned development. “There will a serious amount of pride when we do get our own facilities.
“I can't wait for the committee meeting when we sit down and ask who's cutting the grass, rather than wondering where in the name of God are we going to get the pitches this year?
“It will be a great feeling the open the gate of our own pitch, walk in, and turn on the lights in the dressing-room and say, 'right folks, off ye go and enjoy yourselves'.”