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Tooreen’s big day finally arrives


UP FOR THE MATCH Pupils at Tooreen National School are pictured getting in the mood for next Saturday’s All-Ireland Intermediate club hurling championship final. Pic: Bernie Cunnane

Mayo champions count down to first All-Ireland club final at Croke Park

Michael Commins

FOR over 40 years I have been among that small band of Mayo GAA followers who can truly say we have also supported our hurling teams with the same passion as our footballers. Many might claim that it is a lonely outpost for a Mayo reporter, something akin to a lighthouse keeper on an offshore island.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The hurling fraternity may be small in these parts but there has always been an incredible bond of loyalty that had linked us together across the generations.
It even goes further than that as it has enabled us to create a legion of friends in Galway and south Roscommon through our shared passion for the amazing game that is so intrinsically Irish in character.
The hurling community is, at its heart, a brotherhood. A few years ago on a visit to the lovely Glens of Antrim, we stopped off at McBride’s Pub in Cushendun.
In the back rooms, the walls were decorated with photos of hurling teams and pride of place was given to a black and amber jersey signed by all the members of the glorious Kilkenny team that decorated the glorious era under Brian Cody, probably the greatest team in the history of the game.
The pride and loyalty to hurling manifested in that Antrim pub was in stark contrast to other pubs in Dublin where the loyalties lie with the jerseys of other teams in a different code across the border of a not too distant land.
On Saturday evening there will be men and women from the Tooreen region in Croke Park who climbed the Reek over the years with a fervent prayer in their heart.
They were like Moses on Mount Sinai and hoping to see the Promised Land.
Well, this is the answer to their prayer, a Tooreen team running out on the hallowed ground in search of the Holy Grail.
The heart swells with a native and western pride with this most extraordinary of achievements. Deep sunk in the land of a proud and enduring football tradition lies this pocket of hurling gold. It is glistening afresh and resonating around the heartlands of hurling where the romance and love for the underdog is overwhelmingly with the lads from the land of the red and green as they take on Monaleen from the home county of the All-Ireland champions, Limerick.
This truly is the stuff of dreams.
I look back at the Connacht Final in Athleague where Tooreen were tested to the limit by Galway champions, Killimor. It was a sensational game in many ways, but the Mayo champions, even when they fell a point behind in the closing ten minutes, showed true grit and courage to emerge victorious on a scoreline of 0-21 to 2-10.
This was a phenomenal achievement by the Tooreen lads and it was little wonder that we all hugged and caressed on that grand field in south Roscommon that has been home to so many great days for the Mayo lads.
It is only fitting that we should record here again the team that triumphed in the classic Connacht Final of 2022. Tooreen: B Douglas; C Henry, M Morley, O Greally; J Boyle, S Coyne, D Kenny; S Kenny (0-10, 8f), F Boland (0-4); C Freeman (0-2), D Huane (0-1), B Morley; S Boland (0-2), K Feeney, E Delaney (0-2). Subs: L Lavin (0-1) for K Feeney (inj), S Regan for S Boland (inj), J Cassidy for Huane, D Harrison for B Morley.
This game came in the aftermath of another classic between Tooreen and St Gabriel’s of London in the semi final, also played in Athleague, where Tooreen emerged victorious by 1-17 to 1-12 after another enthralling showdown.
This was also the game that saw Tooreen lose two of their top forwards, Shane Boland and Kenny Feeney, to injury in the second half.
I understand hopes are high that Kenny Feeney will be able to line out in Croke Park on Saturday evening but there are still major doubts over team captain, Shane Boland, who will almost certainly not be able to play a full game.
Shane is a superb hurler and his ongoing injury is a huge loss to Tooreen but, knowing the resolve of this outstanding athlete, we will wait and see what transpires on Saturday night.
In the aftermath of Tooreen defeating Fontenoys of Down in the semi-final in Breffni Park in Cavan, the week before Christmas, an ecstatic Austin Henry, one of Tooreen’s most legendary supporters and the holder of a few senior medals with his beloved club from back the years, said it was one of the greatest days in the history of the club.
“This is one of the best days of my life from a hurling point of view, to think that the blue and white of Tooreen is going to be in an All Ireland Final in Croke Park in the middle of January.  It is almost unbelievable.  
“Tooreen players have worn the red and green of Mayo with pride down through the years. There were times we had fifteen lads on the Mayo team because we always loved the red and green the same way we love the blue and white. I hope that Mayo people will come out in good numbers now and support Tooreen in Croke Park.  I am just over the moon,” said Austin when I spoke to him on the Breffni Park pitch after that game.  
Dom Greally, one of the great and noble stalwarts of the Tooreen club for many years, could not hide his emotion at Tooreen crossing the final hurdle to reach Croke Park.
“It really is almost unbelievable. It was always a dream and now it is a reality. We just kept coming back no matter what setbacks we had over the years. We are a very small little village heading to Croke Park and the goodwill we are getting from all over Ireland is just incredible. These are just magical times for Tooreen,” said Dom.
Pat Freyne, newly-elected chair of the Tooreen club, said was a hugely emotional time for so many involved with the club to get over the line and make it to Croke Park.
“It really means so much to everyone. It was such a special Christmas for us all looking forward with enthusiasm to the big game in Croke this weekend.”
Monaleen enter the match as strong favourites.
That is understandable coming from a strong hurling county like Limerick who are currently experiencing the most golden days in the history of hurling in the county.  
They defeated a highly-regarded Roscrea by 1-22 to 0-18 in the Munster Final and overcame the challenge of Bray Emmets in the All-Ireland semi-final.
One of their top players is Andrew La Touche Cosgrave who has featured with the Limerick senior panel. In 2018, he was a member of the extended panel when Limerick won their first All-Ireland title in 45 years after a 3-16 to 2-18 defeat of Galway in the final.
Mark O’Dwyer is among the most prominent forwards on the Monaleen team.
Tooreen will bring a blend of youth and experience to Croke Park on Saturday evening. Veterans like Stephen Coyne, Cathal Freeman, Fergal Boland, Gary Nolan, Kenny Feeney, David Kenny, Sean Kenny, Michael Morley, Seán Regan, Joe Boyle and Conor Henry have featured in Croke Park with Mayo in both the Nicky Rackard and Christy Ring Cup finals, with Fergal Boland lining out with the Mayo footballers on a number of occasions at Croke Park as well.
The younger players like Eoin Delaney, Oisín Greally, Brian Morley, Liam Lavin, Danny Huane, Bobby Douglas, John Cassidy and David Harrison will relish the chance to feature on the big stage.
Whatever the outcome, Tooreen will fashion their own piece of history as the first hurling club from Mayo to reach an All-Ireland club final and to feature live on national television. TG4 will broadcast the game live from Croke Park on Saturday at 7pm on a truly historic night.
What an incredibly proud occasion for the small half parish in east Mayo, nestled against the Roscommon border. They carry the goodwill of the western province and the vast majority of the hurling heartlands as they aim to delight the most outrageous of romantics.
‘It's a straight and narrow highway
No detours and no byways
And over the next hill we'll be home.’
Those are the words of the legendary Johnny Cash and they beautifully express the wishes and desires of us all here in Mayo as we send good wishes and blessings to our gallant Tooreen panel as they bid for All Ireland glory in Croke Park on Saturday night.
Tooreen abú!

All-Ireland IHC Final
Tooreen v Monaleen

Saturday, January 14
Croke Park at 7pm


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