Maynooth enjoying hurling journey
By Cian O’Connell
“There is a great buzz all around the town, especially in the club, and amongst the younger teams too,” says Maynooth GAA hurling committee chairperson Gerard O’Leary.
A first Kildare SHC final appearance in 79 years against Naas at St Conleth’s Park on Sunday ensures hurling talk is swirling around Maynooth, but those involved with the club acknowledge the significant strides made at underage level recently.
“That is where an awful lot of this is coming from,” O’Leary adds. “It has been like an explosion of numbers at underage in the club and huge work being put in by a whole range of different coaches.
“It is a very young team that has made the final on this occasion. An awful lot of them are from our 2020 minor winning team, who won the minor A. The average age of the team at the moment is around 22, so you have a sprinkling of a few older lads.”
The way so many emerging players in Maynooth have graduated to perform at senior level is a source of considerable pride.
“Primarily it is very young players, who are backboning this team at this stage. It is a long way back, all the way back to World War II since the last final - 1945 was the last one which was a delayed final. It was actually the 1943 final because it was delayed so it has been a long wait, there is huge excitement.”
Inevitably people from elsewhere in the country, who currently live in Maynooth have assisted the development of the game.
“That is definitely part of it, I'm from Cork myself, and I'm by no means unique in that regard,” he replies. “We have people who have moved to Maynooth from various different parts of the country, be it Galway, Kilkenny or Tipperary.
“There is all of that feeding into it, but the players themselves are essentially from Maynooth. They are born and bred in Maynooth, but their parents, an awful lot of them, are from other parts of the country.
“They really have brought their love of hurling to the club and they have invested a huge amount of time in terms of coaching underage teams.”
Successful teams have been stitched together at various age groups. “This is the first appearance in a senior final for a while, but we hope we have good structures in place now,” O’Leary adds. “We won the U14A final on Wednesday, our U15 team won the A championship too.
“We are double Féile winners in Kildare, we got to the national semi-final. Our U16 team are in an A final, it hasn't been played yet. We have huge numbers in our nursery, it is a really thriving nursery across all of the Go Games and Coiste na n-Óg structure.
“We have multiple teams in all of those. What we are really coming from there at underage level is developing the skills, but also a love for playing the game. That is what we are really trying to foster in the young boys and girls coming through the teams.
“It is for both codes. It isn't just specifically hurling, but the hurling piece is nuanced with people coming from hurling backgrounds to try to do their best to support that, absolutely.”
Ultimately it is an encouraging stint for Kildare hurling in general. “It definitely is, the U20 team had great success beating Wexford and progressing through the Leinster Championship,” O’Leary says.
“You are seeing it with the senior team, they were very strong in the Christy Ring.
“Maybe over the last few years there has been a tendency for Kildare to bounce up and down from Joe McDonagh to Christy Ring. There is great hope that progress will be made in 2023 at Joe McDonagh. We'd be very happy to see in Maynooth that we have strong representation on Kildare teams too.
“In the current county set-up we have Cathal McCabe, David Qualter, Seán Bean, Mícheál Hogan, Cian and Tadhg Forde have been involved up until recently. Throughout the underage teams we would have very strong representation too, it definitely is on an upward trajectory.
“You obviously can't count any chickens in that regard, but having the right structures in place and supporting that is really important going forward.”
At club level, that approach is serving Maynooth well too.