My first introduction to competitive hurling was at primary school level. T J was instrumental in organising the inaugural Mayo National Schools 11-a Side League and Ballina was represented by Scoil Padraig and Culleens. The other participating schools were from Castlebar, Westport and Knock. Culleens reached the final but were hammered by Knock Ns, a school that supplied players to Mayo’s longest established and most successful club, Tooreen. This school competition was significant in the sense that it gave us an insight into our future opponents at club level and it took us three years to achieve our first milestone. Ballina Under 14s defeated Tooreen in the 1988 Mayo Féile na nGael Final in Westport by the narrowest of margins and we were all feted at a Civic Reception in Ballina afterwards. Bartra House Hotel Manager, Tony Conneely from Tullycross, laid on a lovely meal and O’Hara’s Bakery sponsored us a set of jerseys, socks and togs ahead of our impending trip to Offaly as Mayo’s representatives in the Féile na nGael National Division 4 Finals. We stayed in Tullamore as guests of the local club which was also one of our group opponents. Both Tullamore and Ballina enjoyed comprehensive victories over Rhode and St Endas, respectively, and this set up a winner take all group decider between the host club and ourselves.
Ballina had four Crossmolina lads on the first fifteen including the Nallen brothers and Liam Moffatt of football renown and we fully expected to beat our more illustrious opponents and qualify for an Ireland Semi Final in the process. I played initially at full back but was later moved to full forward in a direct switch with Liam Moffatt. The Tullamore full back that day was Ray Martin, a brother of legendary Offaly goalkeeper Damien Martin. He was the toughest marker I had ever encountered in my fledgling hurling career and unfortunately the same scenario applied to the rest of my teammates that day. We fought valiantly but the step up in class was too much to contend with and our All-Ireland dream was shattered on a scoreline of 4-11 to 0-10. We felt, in the immediate aftermath of the match, that the Tullamore lads would easily have held their own in any one of the higher divisions. The initial disappointment of defeat didn’t last very long however and we all returned home with a huge appreciation of the power and potential that hurling had, to open up a whole new world and to broaden our social horizons.
Remembered by Joe Rogan and written by Paul Gannon.
Joe Rogan is a permanent resident of the townland of Tooreena, in the Parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill.
Full Version Available in “Pride in the Parish: Volume 2″