Pick up a hurl at 28, now on the road to Croke Park!
By Kevin Egan
In gaelic games, the accepted wisdom is that there’s no shortcut to success. Whether it’s club or county, the well-worn path to success involves putting energy, time and resources into youth, and waiting for that to blossom into full-blown adult success.
But what do you do when you don’t have the time to go to those lengths?
That was the story of Cavan hurling, who in 2011 decided to take a break from fielding an adult intercounty team, a haitus which lasted up until the 2018 Allianz Hurling League, when they made their comeback.
Underage and club hurling continued in the county, but there was a sense locally that in order to develop a wider base, they needed to establish a presence in and around the county town. Existing clubs like Mullahoran, Cootehill and East Cavan Gaels would continue to focus on underage, but in addition to this, Pearse Óg would be created, an adult team drawn from a mix of non-Cavan natives and local footballers in the area.
Shane Briody was one of those players, a talented footballer and handballer who decided to take his very limited hurling experience, marry it to his experience from football and handball, and take up the ash once again. Now, tomorrow afternoon, that decision has led him all the way to Croke Park, where he will be part of Cavan’s effort to win the Lory Meaghar Cup for the first time.
“We did a lot of indoor hurling around fifth and sixth class, but from then until I was 28, I didn’t pick up a hurl. Mark Hayes, my friend from Ahane who is in the Ballyhaise club, thought of setting up a club around the town area. There is Mullahoran, Cootehill and East Cavan, and if you weren’t one of those you usually didn’t play despite the interest you had in it” Shane said.
“I said to him if there is ever a club set up I’ll be the first one there as I had an interest in it. My granny would have played camogie for Cavan in the ‘40s. She would have won a few Ulster titles and mam would have played camogie for Castletara, the ladies part of our club. There would have been a huge camogie tradition over the years, but not hurling.
“A club called Pearse Og was set up so that covered football clubs around the area but anyone who had an interest in hurling could join. So that was it. I was 28 when I picked up a hurl but I always had an interest. I had a hurl going around the house and in college so it went from there”.
Initially, Cavan hurling was about getting back to playing regular games and working on developing a panel, without a huge focus on silverware. Then in the winter of 2018/2019, Shane went out to Australia and when he came back, things had kicked on to another level.
“The summer of 2018 was the first time there were leagues and everything so it was run during the football season. Everyone used to show up for the games, it was really relaxed. It was something different.
“Even then, if Cavan had Lory Meagher game, a player might pick a local football league game over it. But in the last few years, since I’ve been involved and Ollie (Bellew) and the lads were involved, there’s full focus on the hurling. Everyone is giving the commitment”.
But with all the commitment in the world, that still left a lot of ground to make up for a player who didn’t hurl for 16 years – even if he did captain his club Ballyhaise, and win plenty of silverware on the football field and the handball court in that time.
Briody was happy to use those ball skills to get him to where he is now – “a useful mucker” in his own words!
“The handball definitely would have helped the hurling. It’s a similar-sized ball, the one-wall anyway. I played a huge amount of one-wall in my twenties. Handball is something I probably came late to as well. It’s fantastic to have. I was in Leaving Cert when they started running things properly so I was probably a bit late for that. One Wall, I really got in to that and I find it definitely transfers over.
“The lockdown has helped me as well” he continued.
“Last year, I played a few league games and I felt like a bit of an imposter, but after the first lockdown, I was living up in Ballsbridge, beside Herbert Park and everyday I went over with a ball and a hurl. Most of the lads were working from home so I spent an hour or two a day in Herbert Park, which I needed badly to make up the gap I suppose. There definitely was a gap first when I came in to the panel between me and the rest of the lads”.
And so to tomorrow, where Briody and the rest of his colleagues will be part of what is a new high watermark for the county in their attempts to rebuild Cavan hurling and put it back on solid foundations.
“It’s unbelievable, we were up last night just for a walk around, to see the dressing rooms and to walk around the pitch. We were being told where we were warming up and stuff like that, so just very exciting to be honest” he said of the Croke Park experience.
“It wasn’t really a thing all along. It’s never something we focused on as a group. It was always the next training, the next game, how could we get better.
“Now we’re here, the main thing is to get a performance and get over the line. Finals are for winning no matter where they are. For people in Cavan, young girls and boys will hopefully be looking on and saying there is be a pathway there for them. There’s four clubs in the county now and most with an underage team so hopefully they see there is a pathway and there is merit in playing”.
In some quarters, Cavan may even be expected to win. Having beaten Fermanagh twice already, not to mention recording a shock win over reigning champions Louth in the semi-final, the track record is there for the group.
“To get a win over Louth makes you realise you are there or there abouts” is Shane’s take.
“When the draw was made, people would have seen ourselves and Fermanagh one side while you had Monaghan and Longford, who both came back from Nicky Rackard last year, and Louth. We knew Fermanagh were a very good team. When we were in the huddle after the group game, Ollie said don’t be surprised if we see them again. Outside it would have been seen as a shock, but inside we were confident”.
Looking further down the road, Briody sees this game as an opportunity to remind the people of Cavan that what’s happening on the club scene can bear fruit, and that there is every reason to try and push things on even further.
“At the minute it’s just adult in Pearse Óg, but we do need underage and that would be the aim. East Cavan have made huge strides in recent years, theirs is a very big, populated area. We were there in Breffni a couple of evenings and they were playing out the back pitch in the South Ulster leagues without the county lads. Most of the other clubs wouldn’t be able to field without county lads. They have made huge strides so fair play to them. If we can give them an extra bit of a boost, one that will be felt across all the clubs and the whole county, that would be fantastic”.