SPOT THE BALL Tooreen’s Fergal Boland and his opponent from Robert Emmetts in London go in search of the sliothar during the recent Connacht Intermediate club championship quarter-final. Pic: MemoriesThruALens
THE gallant men from Tooreen head over to Athleague again on Sunday where they will face newly-crowned Galway champions Kinvara in the Connacht Intermediate club hurling decider.
This will be Tooreen’s third year in a row to contest the showpiece day and they will have plenty of decent expectations as they line out against the favourites.
The road to Athleague is a familiar one to Tooreen players and supporters at this stage. Deep in the south Roscommon hurling heartlands, Athleague is one of the most sheltered pitches in the country, lined by trees on all sides. The only other one of this nature that comes to mind is Emo down in Laois.
After a close enough shave with Castlebar Mitchels in the Mayo final, Tooreen delivered a superb performance against Roscommon champions Four Roads in the quarter-final in Athleague.
The conjured up the great escape act at the same venue last Sunday week when they came perilously close to making their exit at the hands of London champions, Robert Emmets.
Trailing by seven points at one stage in the first half, they were still three behind entering the closing minutes.
Fergal Boland, Mayo’s dual player, landed a marvellous equaliser with the last puck of the match to bring the game to extra time. The Mayo champions made excellent use of their lucky escape to win out by four points.
In 2017, Tooreen created their own piece of history by becoming the first Mayo team to win the Connacht Intermediate title. It was a fabulous achievement for them as they deservedly defeated Ballinderreen of Galway.
It was an incredible moment to see a Mayo club team run out for an All Ireland hurling semi-final against Ballyragget of famed Kilkenny down at Cusack Park in Ennis. Tooreen were right in the game until the final quarter when the Kilkenny lads pulled clear.
They relinquished their provincial crown to a very strong Oranmore-Maree team in Athleague last November but only after a heroic battle and on a scoreline of 1-20 to 1-15, while down to 13 players for a sizeable period the second half.
Oranmore-Maree, who had Galway senior hurlers Niall Burke and Gearóid McInerney on board, went on to win the All Ireland title. Niall Burke expressed the view after the game in Athleague that Tooreen were the best team they had played to that stage of the campaign.
Kinvara broke the hearts of Kilconieron with the last flick of the game four minutes into injury time in Athenry. The final scoreline read 1-10 to 0-12. They had much to be thankful for to Galway senior player Conor Whelan who steadied the ship on a number of occasions when they seemed to be heading out of the championship.
Conor Whelan and Galway senior goalkeeper, Colm Callanan, are leading members of the Kinvara side and others who were to the fore on the day included Niall Bermingham, Luke Connors, Dean Ivers, Shane Byrne, James O’Hara and Alan Leetch.
The return of Cathal Freeman and Kenny Feeney is a massive boost to Tooreen who also welcomed back Brian Morley for their recent game. He made a sizeable difference. There is also a good sprinkling of young talent emerging through the ranks and some of these will have a role to play on Sunday.
The Tooreen defence was outstanding against Four Roads with Stephen Lenehan, Gary Nolan, Michael Morley, John Cassidy, Conor Henry, Stephen Coyne and David Kenny completely on song.
Cathal Freeman and Daniel Huane were brave and resilient at centre-field.
Fergal Boland, Seán Regan, Seán Kenny, Shane Boland, Eoin Delaney and Kenny Feeney enjoyed one of those special days when things just fall into place. Conor English, David Harrison. Liam Lavin and Conor Finn did well when sprung from the bench.
It has also been a special journey for manager Paul Hunt, along with Brian Delaney, Tommy Feeney and Ray Larkin. They have given massive commitment over the last few years in what has been another glorious chapter in the history of this team from east Mayo.
Another huge day beckons for the wearers of the blue and white. These lads enjoy playing in Athleague and they will have no fear at all of facing the Galway champions.
Hurling aficionados around the country will be keeping an eye on this game with all ‘neutrals’ hoping to see a Mayo team have their day in the sun again.
That is nothing whatsoever against Kinvara, just the natural fondness for the underdogs that is in sport around the world.
How delightful it would be to see a few hundred extra Mayo followers rally to the Tooreen cause. These lads deserve that support for what they continue to do for hurling in the county.
They carry the good wishes of all in the home county as they go for glory again in Athleague on Sunday.
Connacht IHC Final
Tooreen v Kinvara
Sunday, November 17
Athleague at 2pm