Nothern Trips (1996/1999/2004/2006)

July 1996

In the early nineties the club opened channels of communication with a small hurling club in East Tyrone.  Naomh Columcille was struggling to establish hurling in the Coalisland area and the Tallow club was only too willing to provide any support we could.  The close relationship has endured to this day and there have been several exchanged visits.  At various times Naomh Columcille have sent senior, under 21 and under 12 teams to Tallow.

U16 Trip 1996: L to R: Morris O'Brien, Aiden Kearney, Fada and Slats between games. 

The first visit by a Tallow team to the north was 1996 when an under 16 hurling team took part in a tournament in Coalisland.  Rachael Ryan was the main organiser at our end and was accompanied by Tom Doyle, Colin Cunningham, Johnny Geary and Fin McCarthy.  The late Séan Sheehan, who was Club Chairman at the time, led the club delegation.  He would return again in 1999 on the Senior Tour.  He had a big role to play in organising events for the N.C.C. Club on their subsequent trips to Tallow.  Liam Mulcahy was our contact in Tyrone at the time.

Fada receives player of the tournament award.

Tallow defeated Cushendall from Antrim in the tournament final and Dave O’Brien won the man of the tournament award.  The visit was a tremendous success but not without its anxious moments.  Scenes of mayhem prevailed around Drumcree and Portadown was virtually blockaded by Loyalists.  The bus carrying our group was unable to get in to Portadown train station and was forced to re-route to Newry.  All returned safely to the relief of some anxious parents.  Thankfully subsequent return visits were in more peaceful times.

U16 team and mentors, Coalisland, July 1996. 
(Rachael Ryan took the photo which is why she is not included).

NCC and Tallow: Parade in Coalisland, 1996.

Finn, Bubs, Rachael Ryan and Doyler lead the troops in Parade

Rachael Ryan makes presentation of Waterford Crystal to NCC Chairman Liam Mulcahy.

Easter 1999

Group photo taken at Belfast City Airport, Easter 1999 on route to Tyrone. Bigger image

We returned north three years later to take part in a Senior Hurling Tournament with Cushendall, O’Donovan Rossa and the host club Naomh Columcille.  

The following is the report on the trip that appeared on our club notes at the time:
The Banaisteoir (Johnny Geary) does a quick roll call – The Chairman, Secretary and a couple of players are missing.  Timmy arrives in feisty mood to reveal that they have already left at 6.40a.m. for the airport with our tickets.  “They must think I’m a baby” quote the irate Tadhg.  Our cavalcade pulls out at 7.06a.m. with a brief stop en route to pick up Con Ryan.  (The crew were hand picked for this mission with every one of the 36 a part to play – Con’s turn would come on Sunday evening).  Everything is running to plan but there’s no accounting for the murky morning.  Cork airport is shrouded in mist and fog when we arrive.  Undaunted we check in – Fada Shona Finn and Paul get their tickets o.k. – and boarding passes in hand we have time for a bit of breakfast.  Basher is operating the toaster – great buzz among the lads – good humoured banter flows back and forth with the legend and Finn getting most of the stick, but they’re doubling on every ball.  Finn is like a patriot missile system shooting down the incoming verbal scuds, with some relish.  Our liaison officer reports back – the word is not good – the plane overhead cannot get down and we need it to go to Belfast.  Farranfore is mentioned.  “Would a C.I.E. bus driver report for duty” came the announcement.  The game is up!  We’re off to Shannon.  The bus is so quiet on the way to Shannon – nobody complains – Timmy and the Legend are checking the share value on the Irish Times.  “Nigger” is playing with Donnchadh, we finally get airborne at 12.03p.m.  We’re over 3 hours behind schedule.  Mobile phones (the curse of modern day society according to Murph) are called into action to alert the boys up North.  Rumblings of discontent can be heard shortly after take off.  The boys settle down, however, when we explain that the women on board work for the airline and have to come with us to make the tea.  The air hostess appears to be giving off to somebody.  It’s probably “Nigger” or Donnchadh – you couldn’t watch them.  Nine miles out of Belfast and the clear outline of the H blocks of lone kesh are visible through a break in the clouds.  Bub-Elles is first to spot it – no doubt he’s thinking of Joe McDonnell who died in the cages below.  The giant cranes with the H and W Logo loom large straddling the Belfast Docklands like the Colossus of Rhodes as we touch down smoothly at the city airport.  Time is against us so the planned tour of West Belfast is cancelled as we pass by Divis Flats, Falls Road and Milltown Cemetery to link up with the M1 to Coalisland.
Games are in progress when we arrive at Clonoe O’Rahilly field.  Tournament format has been re jigged because of our late arrival.  It’s virtually off the bus and on to the pitch to face Antrim Ringpins Cushendall who are well loosened out with a warm up game already under their belts.  Cushendall are really up for this.  The Tallow lads struggle a bit to come to terms with the ferocity and pace of the game.  Early on the evergreens “Sambo” is putting himself about but Stuart has the measure of him.  At the end of a shortened time there’s only a couple of points in it in favour of the team from Bun Abhann Dala.  The lads had the winning of this game well within them but the preparation hadn’t been ideal.  Many expressed surprise too at the standard of hurling played by the Glensmen.  The way things were going we would need all 11 subs, with the bench resembling a casualty ward.
Our second match against Belfast club O’Donovan Rossa was an even more uncompromising affair not for the faint hearted.  Tallow mettle was tested and not found wanting with our young lads, Shane Finn, Sean Slattery and Fada coming of age.  Slats and Fada hurled like veterans – with style and composure.  The Rossa didn’t stand on ceremony but they could hurl too.  As with Cushendall many of us were taken unawares by their skill level.  In the end the Rossa deserved their 2 point win but the lads would have welcomed another crack at both teams.  Lessons were learned on the day.  Our young squad had not met this type of hurling before.  If this Tallow team is ever to fulfil its undoubted potential they will have to learn from hurling against quality teams from outside the county and province.
Cushendall were outright winners and were presented with the Shield in the Clonoe Club rooms after.
It was 7.30p.m. before we eventually got to meet the host families.  All then retired to their various places of accommodation for something to eat and freshen up before returning to the Clonoe Centre for a presentation ceremony.
Clonoe O’Rahilly’s Chairman, John Lynch and Naomh Columcilee Chairman, Carlow man George Byrne both welcomed the visitors from Waterford and made presentations to Tallow Chairman Liam Moroney.  Clonoe team manager Joe McCabe expressed his delight at the visit of a Southern team something he said which has been all too infrequent during turbulent times.  Liam Moroney presented Columcilles Chairman with a bronze hurling statuette.  There was also a special presentation of a dozen hurleys from Tallow Juvenile Club to Naomh Columcille’s under age coach Damian O’Neill 
The fact that the hurleys were crafted from Tallow Ash made the gesture more symbolic and delighted the Ulster men.
10p.m. (Still 3rd April 1999).    
Bar Clonoe O’Rahillys Club Rooms, Co. Tyrone.
It’s been a long and eventful day and club diary is retiring to bed.  The remainder of the evening entertainment remains unrecorded. 
P.S. Northern Exposure concludes next week with epic tales of our journey into the Tyrone Heartland of Carrickmore, republicans marching, traditional music, a new dance craze to rival Riverdance and the creature from the deep.  Don’t miss it.

April 4, 9a.m.
Dining Room McGirrs B&B, Coalisland, Co. Tyrone

Civil unrest nearly breaks out among the Tallow contingent (mostly elder statesmen) staying at the B&B when our hostess, Amanda announces she has no sausages for breakfast.  The ‘Talla’ lads like their sausages – you’d know that to look at them.  It takes all Amanda’s sweet Northern charm and the promise of oodles of sausages the next morning to placate the boys.
Outside Coalisland, is keeping with tradition in most nationalist areas at Easter, is festooned with bright new tricolours and freshly painted murals and slogans which have appeared over night.  They still commemorate the Easter Rising up here.

The Clonoe Clubhouse is our meeting point again this morning before leaving for the match against Carrickmore.  The squad had a good night at Bingo if the unrelenting slagging and banter is anything to go by.  There is an easy relaxed atmosphere with this bunch and a good rapport between the age groups.  Everybody has reported in by 12.15p.m. and the show is on the road again heading westward into mid Tyrone, past the town of Dungannon, through the village of Donaghmore, over the hills into Pomeroy where our match against Carrickmore will be played.  Carrickmore is the strongest club in Tyrone in both hurling and football.  Frank Groogan and Peter Kerr have laboured for many years at the helm of underage hurling in Tyrone and their juvenile teams are will coached and properly prepared.  Such has been the dominance of Carrickmore underage teams in Tír Eoghan that they have this year entered their minor hurlers in the Antrim League and their under-14’s will play in the Derry League.  Men like Groogan and Kerr are the unsung heroes of hurling third world.
Our match against Carrickmore is a tame enough affair and lacks the intensity of the previous day’s encounters.  Our full panel of players is utilised as the squad is severely depleted.  We were a bit like the lions on tour with Timmy and Johnny ready to ring Tallow to fly in replacements.  Both teams enjoyed the run out and everyone got a game.  Stuart Barry hurled well for the full game and along with Fada and Slats, was very consistent all weekend.

With the hurling over, the lads were off duty and we made the short journey from Pemeroy into Carrickmore where a republican march was getting underway.   In contrast to other years, British military presence was remarkably low key or in reality just not as visible.  Proceedings were closely monitored by powerful surveillance cameras in the helicopter which hovered menacingly overhead for the duration of the march.  It wasn’t hard to spot the Tallow lads in the crowd.  They were the ones with necks craned gaping aloft at the ‘spy in the sky’.  A token R.U.C. presence lurked in a laneway masquerading as a police force.  I had visions of some MI6 agent scrutinising the film footage later on in a darkened room in Palace Barracks baffled by the presence of this new group, dressed in similar uniform as he tried to identify their leader (a partly Che Guevara type with beard and glasses – no, not Sean Sheehan!) who was giving commands in Gaelic.  If there were any undercover SAS men lying in McClure’s Meadow near Clonoe Club that night they would have got a look at him again from a different angle.  We pulled out of Carrickmore at 5.30p.m. having sampled the hospitality in the Old Charm Inn and journeyed on to Stewartstown for a meal at the Drumcairn Inn.  After the meal the O’Kane family from Coleraine, with a lovely blend of trad, folk, pop performed for the southern visitors.  Indeed we had a few performers ourselves.  The depth of artistic talent in our ranks hugely impressed our northern hosts.  Con Ryan brought the house down with a couple of powerful renditions, one in particular “Sa Teanga Dúchais”.  Bubelles James and Roy sang our recently penned club anthem, “The Blue and the Gold” but the best was yet to come.  What followed was a fusion of native dances from around the world – Maori war dance – highland fling interspersed with Cossack shapes and the jackboot jive choreographed and performed by Jacko with Finn joining them for the three hand reel.  Our intrepid photographer, Joe Murray captured some of the moments on stills but unfortunately James Henley hadn’t brought the video camera the party was in full swing and the boys were giving it ‘lolly’.  Those that had hair were letting it down.  We rounded off a wonderful evening back at Clonoe Club where our return was eagerly awaited and rapturously received.  The night was still young but Club Diary had to escort one of our members home.  You can’t be too careful.  You never know who’s lurking in the fields around here and you wouldn’t want to end up in the shit!! 

Monday, April 5 8.30a.m.
The Square, Coalisland

Amazingly everybody made the bus for the airport even if we had to wait for the Banaisteoir.  The Legend, Mark, Peter and Finn had to eat every sausage Amanda had cooked while Jacker, Tadhg, Dermie etc. starved on the bus.  Tired and somewhat bedraggled, we boarded the friendly Fokker at Belfast thankful that we didn’t have to face a seven hour bus journey home.  Queasy stomachs and raw nerves were tested in a turbulent descent at Cork.  Sick bags at the ready – we seemed to be going down forever without breaking through the cloud cover before touching terra firma.  Roy was a little uneasy but he handled it well.  Christy Ring was there to greet us in the main terminal building smiling approval at the success of our northern expedition.

P.S. It was a privilege to travel with these lads whose behaviour was a credit to themselves, their families and the proud Tallow Club they represented.  There was much talk on return of another trip next year but that is for another day lads.  It is time to hurl now.  Tá sé in am buaileadh báire.  Ar aghaidh libh.
A word of thanks to all who helped bring the trip about.  To Jimmy Cronin at Eurostyle for providing the gearbags and in particular Pat ‘The Legend’ Murphy who did a good job collecting money and organising the trip.  Also to Joe Murray who was of tremendous help.  Míle buíochas do gach duine. 


January 2004

The club sent a high powered delegation to the Naomh Columcille Annual Dinner in the Glenavon Hotel Cookstown.  Chairman John McDonnell led the delegation and was accompanied by Teddy McCarthy, Mark Geary, Brendan Hartigan and Liam Mulcahy.  Teddy was guest of honour at the dinner and also conducted a coaching session with the Naomh Columcille players over the weekend.  At the time we were just about to begin development at our grounds and took the opportunity to visit various club facilities in East Tyrone and Armagh.  As always Damian O’Neill was the main coordinator of the event.

October 2006

It was a great honour for Tallow to be invited to play at the official opening of the Naomh Columcille pitch.  Read the report from the club notes.

The vaunted Irish Times journalist Tom Humphries recently wrote: “If there is a better story in the GAA than that of Sean Og O Hailpin, it needs to be told.”  The story of the great Sean Og is indeed a remarkable one but I have a better tale to tell.  It can not be told in its entirety on this occasion but the journey of the Naomh Columcille club is a hurling odyssey with few parallels in GAA history.
Over twenty years ago not many gave this fledgling club any chance of survival in the football heartland of East Tyrone.  The attempt to firmly establish hurling in this area would have been seen as a noble but ultimately futile effort, destined to failure, like others before it.
Born into turbulent times and an inhospitable political climate Cumann Iomanaiochta Naomh Colum Cille has survived due to the perseverance and passion of dedicated people who cherish our native game.  Starting from scratch in a non traditional hurling environment this club faced massive challenges.  The whole process of recruiting, coaching, financing, kitting out and fielding teams was compounded by the fact they had no field of their own to play or train on.
A home ground is paramount for the development and long term survival of any club.  Naomh Columcille have finally achieved this by opening the first hurling ground in Tyrone.  It was only fitting that GAA president     Nicky Brennan was present to acknowledge this hugely significant achievement, a seminal development in the clubs short history.  The club now has firmly anchored roots and the advantages of a home pitch to train and play on.  The benefit of this will I’m sure be reflected by an improvement in hurling standards and success on the playing fields in the years ahead.

There is a long association and friendship between Tallow and Naomh Colum Cille built up through exchanged visits over the last fifteen years.  It was a great honour for the club to be asked to send a team for the official opening.

Though some of the more faint hearted were put off by the prospect of a long journey we had 31 players and members on board when we set off before dawn on Saturday morning.  These were mostly a seasoned bunch of hardy travellers, veterans of previous club tours to Barcelona, New York and Tyrone in 1999.  We had a stop en route for a relaxed breakfast at the Manor Hotel in Abbeyleix and before we knew it we were at the gates of Pair an Chlocog outside Coalisland.  I had been at the grounds just a couple of months ago and couldn’t believe the transformation to the field and the prefab pavilion.

The sun shone and the grounds were resplendent as GAA President Nicky Brennan performed the opening ceremony.  Tyrone county board chairman Pat Darcy and a legion of “lifers” were also present.  Nicky Brennan was generous in his praise of the Tallow club for travelling.  He stressed the importance of twinning arrangements between long established clubs like our own and young clubs in non traditional hurling counties.  He spoke warmly too about Ned Power and his contribution to Gaelic games and acknowledge the tremendous work done by Pat Daly at Croke Park.  An tUachtarain also indicated to us in private that he would be very happy to attend the official opening of our own grounds.  I have informed our club chairman and have no doubt he will follow up on this offer.

The main game was preceded by an u14 match between N.C.C. and Eire Og Carrickmore.  Brian Henley led out the Tallow team as they lined up behind the Brocagh Pipe Band for the pre match parade.
One of our wags on the line remarked that it was obvious our lads were not used to marching behind bands as they were all out of step.

Basher leads the Tallow team behind the band at the opening of the NCC pitch in 2006.
The team that took the field representing Tallow put on a good display with some quality first time hurling and well taken points.  Some of the younger lads in particular gave a good account of themselves.  The second half saw the introduction of former club and county legends Timmy Sheehan and Pat Murphy.  I’ve retired Murphy especially a few times but when there’s a band playing it’s hard to keep him off the field.  The two lads last appearance in a club jersey was in Barcelona around this time last year.  Both tell me they will only be available for exhibition games on international tours in future.  Damian O’Neill was brought in to mark the Legend and had just about enough time to shake hands with him before the final whistle.  “I held the Legend scoreless” he told me after.

The only disappointing aspect of the game was the obvious gap in standards between north and south, despite the best coaching efforts of the lads in Tyrone.  County chairman Pat Darcy told us they are investing heavily in hurling coaching in Tyrone.  We can only hope this pays dividends.
We were well fed and watered in the club pavilion after before retiring to the hotel to spruce up.  A most enjoyable social evening followed back at the clubrooms that night with music, craic and story telling.  Former Tyrone player Micky Coleman gave a deeply moving rendition of “The Brantry Boy”, the song he penned himself in tribute to his friend and colleague the late Cormac McAnallen.  Jacko Doyle kept the Tallow flag flying with a virtuoso performance on guitar.
N.C.C. chairman George Byrne made a presentation to the Tallow club.  He stressed the importance of maintaining strong links between our clubs and the possibility of sending an under age team south next year.

Team:  Colin Cunningham, John Hennessey, Mark O’Brien, Will McDonnell, Eric Hickey, Dave “Fada” O’Brien, Terence McSweeney, Brian Henley(Capt.), Mikey Curley, Colm Geary, Jacko Doyle, James Hampton, Kevin Curley, James Henley, Shane Feeney, Pat Murphy, Donnchadh Mulcahy, Ross Livingston, Timmy Sheehan, Peter O’Callaghan.
As well as the above players we would like to thank: Tom, Billie, Jean, Finn, Lisa, Donna, Catriona and Jacker who travelled.

Naomh Colum Cille and Tallow join forces.    

Rain Stops Play

As our bus travelled south in the wind and rain on Sunday last we received word from Dungarvan that the semi final between Lismore was Ballygunner was called off because the pitch was water logged.  As the saying goes you don’t go on holiday during the Monsoon season.  If you’re hurling in October what can you expect.  You could have come to the north with us after all Growler.
Lismore players must have their fill of it at this stage.  They played two championship games and then nothing for 19 weeks over one of the best summers we’ve had for a long time.  One of their players I’m told went to Australia for three or four months and didn’t miss a game.  My advice to all clubs in Waterford next years is send the squad down under for the summer because nothing will be happening on the club scene at home.
Lismore played Fourmilewater a couple of weeks ago in weather you wouldn’t put a dog out in and then you had the forced cancellation on Sunday.  If the GAA was to sit down and deliberately devise a fixtures plan to kill club hurling and club players interest they couldn’t do any worse than what’s happening.
A few of us put it to Nicky Brennan in Tyrone on Saturday that club championships were in crisis and he wholeheartedly agreed.  He was of the opinion that clubs should agitate more for change.  (Timmy told him we need no encouragement and were doing our bit) Clubs indeed are far too tolerant of the way the championship is run but to bring about change in the GAA from the bottom up is like trying to drive a herd of cattle, unscathed through a minefield.  There’s always a legal lifer waiting with a lethal by law to take you out.  I’m convinced that the only way club championships will get a fair chance, a period set aside where we can get some continuity in the championship and the prospect of half decent weather is if it is introduced from the top.  This would involve major change in the way the inter county championship is currently structured.  Bumper crowds, bums on seats in Croke Park and glamorous TV coverage are more of a priority than the state of club hurling at the moment.  Any change that would interfere with this may be unpalatable for the GAA authorities but if the focus is not restored to the primary unit in our association, the club, then the well will dry up.
The GAA president also told us there are laws in place governing availability of county players which are not being adhered to by county managers/county boards.  We may be accused of being tell tale school boys telling the teacher but we shopped the lot and told him it was a regular occurrence in Waterford.  No more messing with us boys.  We go straight to the top.
Nicky Brennan told us he is determined to improve the lot of clubs and we could expect change.  It is the major issue that will determine the success of his presidency.  We’re with you Nicky but we will be watching closely.
The GAA president made a couple of interesting observations on the future of our county senior team.  It was off the record!