Táin Óg Hurling League creating strength through unity
By John Harrington
No-one who was at either of the weekend’s epic All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi-finals will ever forget them, but for the more than 600 U-13 Táin Óg hurlers who attended over the course of both days it was surely an extra-special experience.
Hailing from 32 clubs scattered across 11 developing hurling counties - Armagh, Louth, Down, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim, Sligo, and Longford - they and their mentors were invited to Croke Park for the matches as a reward for competing in the inaugural Táin Óg Youth Hurling League.
The six Táin Óg Finals will take place in St. Tiernach’s Park Clones this Saturday, and you can be sure the players taking part will be relishing that prospect all the more after experiencing the buzz of Croke Park over the weekend.
Established in order to provide meaningful and regular matches for clubs in developing counties who are crying out for them, 75 matches have already been played ahead of Saturday’s six Finals.
According to the GAA’s National Hurling Development Manager, Martin Fogarty, the new competition has hit the ground running.
“It's gone brilliantly,” he said. “When we had our first meeting about it we felt that if we could get 12 or 16 teams into it, it would be great.
“The whole idea was to get games to clubs in counties that have just a handful of hurling clubs by coming across the borders and mixing them up.
“To get something started and grow that. But, sure, we ended up with 32 teams. Right across the country from Louth to Sligo. That was super.
“It shows the interest in the game that's in all of these counties. They're battling against the current but you have people in those counties doing absolutely tremendous work.”
They’re being helped along the way by men like Pauric Dowdall, the Regional Hurling Development Officer for Fermanagh, Cavan, and Monaghan.
He’s seen at first-hand that one of the biggest challenges faced by clubs in these counties is a lack of matches against opponents of a similar calibre.
The Táin Og Hurling League is helping address that issue, and he hopes this year’s pilot project will grow into something bigger over time.
“I work in Cavan, Fermanagh, and Monaghan, and there's probably only five or six clubs in each county fielding teams at that age and maybe two of them at a high level, two at a medium level, and two at a low level, so some matches might be a bit one-sided,” Dowdall told GAA.ie
“The launch day of the competition was also a grading day and that meant the strong teams were playing the stronger teams from different counties and they're getting good, competitive, meaningful games.
“We also grouped the teams geographically. We put four teams into a group based on their region and you played three group games. The motto was to try to keep the travelling down to around 45 minutes, max.
“It's been a great experience. It was probably a wee bit daunting at the start because it was spread over such an area, but we're very happy with the clubs who took part.
“They've gotten plenty of games out of it and that was our aim.
“Next year we intend to push it to U-14 and then in two year's time we'd hope to have competitions at both U-13 and U-15. We want to take small steps rather than jump ahead.”
Dowdall has gone out of his way to give the six Táin Óg Finals a real sense of occasion and it sounds like the day will be a fantastic festival of hurling.
“It'll be a full day,” he said. “The first final is starting at half ten in the morning and they're running every hour and a half until six O'Clock, so it should be a great day up in Clones with plenty of good hurling.
“We'll have the same fanfare music that teams run out to at Croke Park for our teams on the day. And the U-8s and U-10s from the competing clubs will be lining the pitch when the players run out onto it.
“We're trying to make it as much like an All-Ireland Final sort of atmosphere as we can. There'll be music for the winners, we'll have videos, Facebook Live, the whole lot. We're really trying to push the boat out on it.”
See below for a full list of Saturdays’ Táin Óg Youth Hurling League Finals at St. Tiernach's Park, Clones.
Final 1: Erne Gaels (Fermanagh) v Cootehill (Cavan)
Final 2: Carrickmacross (monaghan) v Craobh Rua (Armagh)
Final 3: Killeavy (Armagh) v St. Fechin’s (Louth)
Final 4: Longford Slashers (Longford) v Four Roads (Roscommon)
Final 5: Warrenpoint (Down) v Ballinamore (Leitrim)
Final 6: Wolfe Tones (Longford) v Naomh Moninne (Louth)