Táin Óg League U-13 Finals a day to remember
By Martin Fogarty, National Hurling Development Manager
Twelve teams representing ten counties enjoyed a tremendous days hurling on Saturday last at the Táin Óg U-13 finals in the outstanding, well-appointed Kingspan Breffini Park in Cavan.
What a day was enjoyed by all and what an honour for the boys of these far-spread out counties to race out on to the “hallowed turf of Breffini”. It must be stated at the outset that the venue was pristine, the grass manicured to perfection, pitch layout and just the ambience of the venue will be a memory carried for ever in the minds of the young players present.
To have representatives from 10 counties present was a unique experience and without even a sliotar being struck the novelty of playing and meeting teams and people from far away was something new for most of the clubs and was much appreciated. Following the games, mentors were exchanging contact details to arrange further games and that is what the Táin Óg is all about – Providing Games.
While winning is important and every team did their utmost to gain the upper hand on their opponents, winning actually took second place. The experience, the day, the opportunity took precedence and it was heartening to hear so many of the defeated teams remark that while they were disappointed to lose they were absolutely delighted to be part of the occasion. That is what is known as the “Táin Spirit”.
The setting for each final was structured to give the young players a unique experience and a taste of what it is like to experience a “big day” like when all their idols run out on Croke Park.
The players were lined up in the tunnels and then on a signal and to heartbeating fanfare music raced out on the pitch and got their photos taken with the MacCarthy Cup and with special guest for the day Aidan”Taggy” Fogarty - the Kilkenny hurling legend.
Both teams then had a parade and finished with the customary handshakes. At the end of the games both teams climbed the steps of the famous stand to receive their medals to rapturous applause from the large gathering of supporters. A special “Stand out Player” award was made to a member of each team also and signed hurls were presented to players that had lined out for the opposition when they were short during the league part of the competition.
In the first game at 10.30am Cluainín Iomaint from Leitrim got proceedings going when they took on Knocks Grattan from Fermanagh. This was a keenly contested game with very little dividing the teams. Cluanian eventually claimed victory and emulated their county team that recently won the Lory Meagher Cup.
Tooreen from Mayo and Castleblaney from Monaghan were next up at 12.00 noon in what was anticipated as being one of the main contests of the day. It turned out to be a cracker of a game. If ever a score line did not reflect the game this was one such example.
The play moved from end to end with some wonderful displays of skill and particularly striking on display. Every shot that Tooreen took sailed over the bar while it was one of those days for Castleblaney, they had plenty of possession and plenty of shots of goal but the small juvenile posts thwarted them time after time.
Tooreen won comfortably on the scoreboard but the game was in the melting pot right up to the end with a never say die attitude from Castleblaney which they must have learned from their senior players who went within a puck of a ball from claiming an All-Ireland title in Croke Park earlier this year.
The third match of the day between Easkey from Sligo and Knockbridge from Louth was certainly the game of the day. Both teams went at it hammer and thongs and the sides were level on no fewer than eight occasions. A single point divided the at half time and indeed a point was the largest lead until the dying moments of normal time when Easkey forged ahead with a goal and looked like carrying the day.
However, Knockbridge rose a green one with about thirty seconds to go and sent the game into extra time. Try as Easkey might they could not match Knockbridge in the extra ten minutes who tipped over three points to win the day. Aidan Fogarty remarked in his presentation hoe he thought he was watching a game in his native Kilkenny, such was the skill and effort. A fitting testament to two great teams.
The second half of the day kicked off at 3.00pm with St.Eunan’s from Donegal facing Claremorris from Mayo. The Mayo lads had too much craft and striking ability for their Donegal opponents who won plenty of possession but found it difficult to register scores.
While the game was always a keenly fought contest, the result was never in doubt from early in the second half and Claremorris ran out deserving winners. It was remarkable to listen to the St. Eunan’s manager afterwards remarking how much his players enjoyed the competition and getting to play in the finals.
He stated that in every game he tells his players that “You either Win or you Learn” and that his players despite losing were delighted to see the level that they must rise to and that they learned from their polished opponents the importance of going home and practicing the basics every day. Most of the St. Eunans players it must be stated are not playing hurling very long, but they are certainly on the right track.
In the fifth game played at 4.30pm a powerful Longford Slashers team were simply too strong for a game Middletown side from Armagh. Slashers had three of the strongest players on show during the day and such was their power and skill that despite the best efforts there just were not any players on the Middletown team or on any other team for that matter that could hold these talented boys when they were in full flow.
Great testament to the work being done for hurling by a small group of dedicated people in Longford. With the game finished as a contest by half time the sporting Slashers management substituted their strong players and the second half was very closely contested with the slightly subdued Middletown side finding new confidence and showing that they too had plenty of hurling skill.
It was touching to watch the Middletown squad assemble at the end of the game and applaud in admiration their conquerors as their climbed the steps to receive their awards.
The sixth and final game of the day with a throw in at 6.00pm was billed as the battle of the giants and it did not disappoint. Four Roads from Roscommon took on Céide Lámh Dhearg from Armagh and what a cracker of a game it was.
The play was end to end and the skill level of the players would match the skill of players in any county. All credit to the managements of both sides for the work they are putting in. The possessions were equal, the battles throughout the field uncompromising and the only difference between the teams was that more balls went between the posts for Four Roads while an equal number of attempts went narrowly wide for Keady.
The small goals are a necessity for juvenile teams, but it can be extremely difficult to score in them du to the reduced width. Without doubt we will see several of these players lining out in the future for their county senior sides and no doubt they will cross swords again hopefully in the Nicky Rackard, Christy Ring or maybe the Joe McDonagh finals in Croke Park. That is not to say that they will not compete in the Liam MacCarthy either. The pathway to progress is there and if enough work continues to be done who know what dreams can be fulfilled in the future.
Congratulations to all involved in a great day for hurling development and looking forward to a repeat next Saturday with the U-15’s