Tragic death of young GAA star shocks county
A LIGHT has gone out in the heartlands of Mayo hurling. Not just any old light …. but one of the brightest. Nothing could have prepared us for the shock of the news that came through from faraway in Australia last Saturday morning.
Adrian Freeman (24), star of so many Tooreen games in recent years, dead after a car accident in Melbourne….? Incredible. You just don’t want to believe it, try and not take it in. Adrian, whose name probably featured in every game I covered that he played in, had departed this world? Impossible. And then slowly the desperation sets in. The reality dawns …. we will never see his silken skills on the hurling fields again.
Hurling ….the most Irish of all games, and Tooreen, the most “native” of all villages when it comes to the ancient game in Mayo. I recall starting a report sometime ago — “Tooreen and hurling are like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire of old. They dance to the rhythm of life.”
Adrian Freeman was part of that great tradition. It could have been no other way. His dad Seamus and uncles Eamonn and Michael Freeman played for Tooreen and Mayo. In the natural order of things, it was only proper that Adrian and his brother Cathal would follow in their footsteps. And that they did with grace and style.
They were following in the steps of so many noble wielders of the ash like the famous Henry family from Cappagh, the Greallys and Cunnanes, and a host of others who have been synonymous with hurling in Mayo.
Lads like Austin Henry who makes nothing of flying back from Morocco to attend club games. It is just part of life here in this corner of east Mayo that rubs a friendly shoulder with neighbouring Roscommon.
Because of Adrian’s fleetness of foot, someone called him “twinkle toes” …and this was shortened to “Twink”. It stuck. Even brother Cathal called him “Twink” when he was surging through on one of his famous runs or posting another class point from out the field.
In the Christy Ring Cup games, named after one of the Cuchulainn style heroes from Cork, and in the NHL, I watched Adrian turn in some fabulous displays. Against teams like Westmeath, Kerry, Carlow, Kildare, Derry, Wicklow and London, Adrian was a stalwart, usually ending up top scorer. “Freeman of Tooreen” was an obvious headline as he led his club to many a county success at underage level.
In the Belmont Hotel in Knock in recent years, I had the privilege of presenting medals and trophies to Adrian and the lads.
My special friendship with this club goes back many years, back to the great days of Joe, Vincent and Tony Henry, Michael Nolan, Eamonn Freeman, Johnny Cunnane, Dom Greally, and so many others who flew the blue and white with pride then and in the years that were to follow. And when Adrian donned the Irish jersey for the Shinty international against Scotland, it was yet another special day in the history of a very special club.
Adrian was a gifted footballer too, winning junior and intermediate county medals with Aghamore. But it was through hurling I knew him best, the quiet lad who did what had to be done, and whose spellbinding moments with the hurl (hurley) restored one’s belief in magic.
The hurling community in the West, by its nature, is a small one outside of Galway, but the bonds are extremely strong, especially with our colleagues in Roscommon and in clubs like Athleague, Oran, St Dominic’s (Knockcroghery), Four Roads and Tremane. In these places too, the loss of Adrian Freeman will be mourned in a way that only “family” can feel.
Dom Greally said it was the “blackest day” in the history of Tooreen Club and Johnny Cunnane told me Adrian was “an unbelievable guy, a great captain of our senior team last year”. All that is so true.
Last Saturday night (Sunday morning) at 4am, I was passing by Ballyhaunis GAA. It was heartbreaking to hear Adrian’s name and that of his Kerry friend Robert Twomey being mentioned again on the RTE radio news. All I could picture were the many times he hurled on that field from the juvenile grades to senior, sporting the jersey he loved with such passion and pride.
It is almost impossible to understand that we will not see Adrian in a Tooreen or Mayo jersey ever again. He was just such a lovely young lad. Now, he will remain forever young, celebrated and remembered in the hearts of all who loved him.
“Twink”, you twinkled with the stars. Even at 24, you were a legend. One of the very best. They would have loved you in Kilkenny and Cork, Tipperary and Galway, Waterford, Clare and Limerick, Wexford, Offaly and Laois and Dublin, why even in the grand glens of Antrim and everywhere they love the hurl and the sliothar.
To Seamus and Ita, Cathal and Louise and the extended Freeman family, our deepest condolences on this heart-breaking and most tragic occasion.