National hurling development manager Martin Fogarty and Omagh St Enda’s captain Tom Mc Clements with the club's first hurling silverware since 1973.
National hurling development manager Martin Fogarty and Omagh St Enda’s captain Tom Mc Clements with the club's first hurling silverware since 1973.

Ulster Junior Hurling Development League a resounding success


Led by Martin Fogarty National Hurling Development Manager, the focus on hurling development in recent times has been centred on those 13 counties were so few hurling clubs exist that it is rightly being termed 'endangered'.

Following an Ulster hurling meeting in January, Emmett Conlon, the Fermanagh/Cavan regional hurling development officer (RHDO), and Kieran Farmer, secretary of the Fermanagh hurling committee, realising that two clubs in Fermanagh, Erne Gaels and South Fermanagh Gaels, were intending to compete at adult level, decided to see what the interest might be in competing in a regional development league. The response to their initial communications was huge and the Ulster Junior Development League was born.

Some 27 games (only 3 having to be conceded due to the ongoing COVID pandemic) and 147 goals and 500 points later, champions were crowned from Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal, an indication of the reach of the competition!

Digging deeper, we learn some of the facts that pinpoint why the competition was so successful. Erne Gaels played hurling in their home, Páirc Na hÉirne, for the first time in over 20 years.

South Fermanagh Gaels are established, with the aforementioned Conlon and Farmer to the fore in the setup.

The Latton O'Rahilly's hurlers. 
The Latton O'Rahilly's hurlers. 

Latton O’Rahilly’s start the season with 15 players and have a panel of 21 for their final. Four Masters from Donegal town got all the way to the cup final to lose out to Lisbellaw St. Patricks who fielded a junior squad of some of the old hands mixed with the up-and-coming youth. East Cavan Gaels carried their county colours with pride and the continual work in Cavan is visible to all, Omagh St Enda’s who have been working hard at all levels of hurling in recent years won the Shield to collect their first silverware since 1973.

Possibly the best story to come out of the league was Letterkenny Gaels. In this their 25th anniversary year, not only winning their first ever Adult match after three years of competing at Junior level but going on a run to the Plate final against East Cavan Gaels which, after a pulsating game, the Donegal outfit just shaded 1-15 to 3-7. The management and players visited the home of Liam Emery (the club’s co-founder) to see his widow Norma, and to ask her to hold the south ulster Junior Hurling plate on behalf of the club. For the Gaels, the impetus from the Ulster competition continued with their first ever Donegal Championship win. Truly a club on the rise!

Lisbellaw captain Eoin Cleary pictured with GAA President Larry McCarthy. 
Lisbellaw captain Eoin Cleary pictured with GAA President Larry McCarthy. 

An tUachtarán CLG Larry McCarthy, was on hand to present the winners of the Cup Lisbellaw St. Patrick on finals night in Garvaghey. He stated: "I’m delighted to recognise the efforts of Emmet Conlon, Kieran Farmer and all the competing clubs for making the first ever junior development league a success. We all want our National Games to flourish and this inaugural Ulster Junior League has certainly played a major role in doing so in Ulster. I look forward to seeing the league go from strength to strength over the coming years."

On the same night National Hurling Development Manager Martin Fogarty was in Clogher for the Shield final which saw Omagh St. Enda’s beat South Fermanagh Gaels. Martin said: “I visited Omagh St. Enda’s club a few years ago and at that stage they were doing great work at underage level and were hoping to field an adult team. As well, I have made several visits to Fermanagh and I have emphasised the great need to increase the number of adult teams.

The Omagh St Endas players celebrate after victory over South Fermanagh Gaels. 
The Omagh St Endas players celebrate after victory over South Fermanagh Gaels. 

Martin continued: "To witness here this evening two teams that have literally 'risen from the ashes' absolutely delights me and I sincerely thank all who have contributed to making that happen. Travelling up from Kilkenny today I was expecting a pretty low standard of hurling and I expected to witness quite a number of players lacking the basic skills. That would be understandable with new players and fledgeling teams. How wrong I was! I was amazed at the standard which is testimony to the players and their coaches. All the skills of the game were on display and from my advantage position as umpire, I did not notice a single player that looked 'out of his depth'. This is hurling development at it’s best. Many thanks to Kieran and Emmett in particular for making it all happen.”

Ciaran McLaughlin, Chair of the Ulster Hurling Committee reflected on the competition saying: "When the proposed league was floated by Kieran at an Ulster Hurling meeting, those present were very keen to support the idea. The competition has been a tremendous success in this inaugural year and hurling in Ulster is better off for it having been played. We look forward to 2022 with heightened excitement for an expanded competition. I reiterate the thanks of An tUachtarán and Matrtin to Emmet and Kieran. Well done men."