Tooreen’s true blues
The famous Mayo hurling stronghold continues to do what it does best
TIME was when Mayo hurling titles landed in Tooreen as regular as the cuckoo. Tooreen winning Mayo was only ever a handy ‘two marker’ in any quiz. Or perhaps a trick question as when Billy Horan of Ballinrobe posed it at a South Mayo Scór quiz ages ago.
“Who won the Mayo Minor hurling title last year,” Billy asked. “Eh, Tooreen” the contestant replied. “Actually it was Ballinrobe, Gerry, and you played on the team yourself,” was Billy’s adjudicating response to the incorrect answer.
But over time the Mayo hurling landscape shifted and Tooreen lost the high ground. They reclaimed it again after a ten year drought last month following a 4-10 to 1-6 victory over Ballyhaunis.
A lengthy wait by Tooreen measures as manager Jackie Coyne acknowledges. “It was because we had been used to winning county titles in Tooreen,” he told The Mayo News last week.
“We’d lost a good few players and some lads emigrated to get work. Our underage structure is good so we were team building, but it took a little longer than we’d expected. But it was great to win it and now we’re in a Connacht Final.
“We deserved to beat Four Roads because we played well but the next day is going to be a bigger step up again because Kilnadeema/Leitrim are a very good team and they have a lot of experienced players. But we’ll give it our best, as Tooreen always do, and see where it takes us.”
Jackie’s son Stephen and club-mate Stephen Lenihan returned from Australia this summer to hurl with Tooreen. Work commitments meant Lenihan had to go back again after the Mayo final but Coyne is waiting until Sunday is done. “
When we were in a position to come back we grabbed the chance,” he explains. “Unfortunately Stephen had to go back and I’ll be Melbourne bound after Sunday. There are five of us out there and we hurl with the Sinn Féin Club in Melbourne. It’s a great club to play with, but nothing beats playing with the club back home.”
For Kenny Feeney, scorer of 3-7 in the County Final, including a hat-trick of goals in five minutes and five seconds, there’s no escape.
“If you’re in Tooreen, you have to play hurling,” he said last Tuesday evening. “It was my first medal and a great feeling to win it. There was a pressure on us because ten years without a title in Tooreen makes them very impatient. Our manager Jackie Coyne left no stone unturned getting us ready. He lives and sleeps Tooreen hurling and when you see how much it means to him, it’s easy to be inspired.”
Cathal Freeman’s voice is near infectious when he talks about this hurling bailiwick.
“It’s what anyone will tell you. Hurling is what you do. We have brilliant men in Jackie Coyne, Brian Flynn, Anthony Cassidy and Pat Ganley over us now. But I could stand here all night rhyming off names of other great Tooreen hurling men like John and Ger Greally, Ger Cunnane and Joe Henry who helped me, and everyone else.
“We have fine playing facilities now but the most important structure in Tooreen is the hurling wall where we spend hours practicing. A lot of people contributed to putting it there even though they’ll never use it themselves but they did it for future generations of hurlers to practice and fine-tune their skills.”
Cathal is one of the Tooreen hurlers also playing football with Aghamore.
“Tooreen and Aghamore work hand-in-hand and both sets of mentors tie in with each other. We have full use of each other’s pitches and we have a great playing and working relationship. Whenever we pull on the Aghamore football jersey it means every bit as much to us as the Tooreen shirt does.”
When Ray Larkin came from east Galway to Kiltimagh after he’d married local girl, Fiona Carney, he had called time on his hurling days with his native Kilnadeema/Leitrim. Ray captained the team that won the Galway Intermediate Championship title in 1999.
As far as Ray was concerned hurling was now filed in life’s ‘done’ tray after his move to Mayo. But, unknown to him, fate was shaping another jigsaw. He struggled to see the reasoning behind Fiona buying him a new pair of boots.
Then, when dropping off the kids at the local crèche one morning, the topic of hurling surfaced in a conversation with Claire Charlton. Claire gave him a contact number for Tooreen Hurling Club.
“I stuck it in my pocket and didn’t bother but Claire kept on to me so I rang and they told me to come down. The lads made me welcome straight away. It really helped me to settle in Mayo. I knew nobody down here but I’ve now made a new group of good friends. That phonecall made all the difference. It’s like I’ve been in Mayo all my life.
“I came on as a sub against Ballyhaunis in the first game and ever since I’ve been starting. Winning a county final again was a brilliant experience. There were people jumping up on me after the final whistle and me not even knowing who they were. I was one of them now. “Travelling back to Tooreen on the bus that night and the bonfires blazing showed me they really love their hurling down here.”
The jigsaw was completing itself too. On the same day Tooreen won the Mayo final his old club Kilnadeema/Leitrim were winning the Galway Intermediate title and both teams are now pitted against each other in the Connacht Final next Sunday.
But there is no crisis of conscience for Ray Larkin about a match he couldn’t have envisaged in his wildest dreams. “There are no ifs or buts about it. I’m proudly wearing the Tooreen jersey now.”
The work invested in promoting hurling at underage level that current goalkeeper Adrian Hession talks passionately about is starting to reap dividends again.
It’s what kids do. It’s the Tooreen way of life. Hitting a sliothar off Tooreen’s famous wall. Good clubs have heart. But Tooreen has soul. And hurling lays it bare.
No question about it.