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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 1 December 2020

'The colour around the town has helped the thing, helped to lift everyone's mood'

Monaghan’s Castleblayney are an unlikely presence today on All-Ireland hurling final day in Croke Park.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A SUPER SUNDAY to break new ground in Croke Park.

When Monaghan’s wonderful football journey culminated in 2018 it was at the last four hurdle, tantalisingly close to the prize of an appearance on All-Ireland final day.

For the crew in Casteblayney, the wait to sample such a decider has not been long. Six months since they departed Croke Park with dreams thwarted, they will return to headquarters this afternoon to fly the flag on a marquee day.

The presence of their club team adds a personal touch to the day, the fact that it is in a hurling decider lends an element of intrigue.

Kevin Moloney is a Carlow native who confesses that his hurling education only began when he went to boarding school in Laois and fell in with a group of lads from Kilkenny. Castleblayney has been his home since 1987 and hurling has remained a constant.

He’s been immersed in various roles in the club, helping to tend to hurling in a county that would be regarded nationally as an outpost for the game. This appearance in the All-Ireland junior club final is something to cherish.

AIB GAA Club Championship Media Day Castleblayney captain Peter Treanor and Dunnamaggin's Noel Hickey. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Carrick, Inniskeen, ourselves, Monaghan Harps, Truagh, there’s five clubs in name in Monaghan. Latton are starting out. Clontibret are back as well. It has been stronger. The senior teams apart from Blayney are playing catch up. It’s going to be a slow process.

“We’d be separate from Castleblayney Faughs (the town’s football club) as we’d have lads hurling from Cremartin, Donaghmoyne, Brackhill, Oram, all places nearby where they’d hurl with us.

“The support has been absolutely massive locally for this. For any kind of fundraiser that was run, it’s been great. There was a breakfast morning and the support was fantastic. I even see a Blayney flag up here in the village in Cremartin where I’m teaching. That’d be a new one for us.”

The giddy and enjoyable atmosphere that an All-Ireland final build-up generates has been timely for the Castleblayney community.

In late November Stephen Marron was tragically killed in a car accident that took place in the town. He was intertwined in the running of the club. The success of the hurlers has been a welcome focus during a time of grief.

“We lost Stephen Marron to an awful tragic accident. Stephen was very actively involved in the club. When I first came to the town in 1987, Stephen was going around collecting, it was fifty pence for the silver circle (the club lotto), and he did that for years, very quietly.

“That was typical Stephen, everything he did in a very quiet manner. He did a power of work for the club. He was involved in county development squads, with the county senior team as a kitman. The man was from great hurling people. His father Frank would have hurled with Ulster.

“To lose someone like that certainly brings you back to reality. The town certainly rowed together on that occasion and the club did. I suppose you know it’s been a bit of a lift in getting through the Ulster final, getting through the All-Ireland quarter-final and the semi-final. It certainly has lifted the spirits of the town in a very positive way.

“Any January can be dull and dreary but when you have to come through that awful tragedy, it made it twice as bad. The colour around the town has helped the thing, helped to lift everyone’s mood.”

Last month in Mullingar saw them book a spot on the final. They had been denied twice before at the semi-final stage by Cork’s Fr O’Neills in 2006 and Fullen Gaels from Lancashire in 2015. The win over Leitrim’s Carrick sparked a sense of relief and served as a reward for their work at lower levels.

Castleblayney have always striven to ensure their grassroots were healthy, sending juvenile sides into regular action, competing nationally in Féile tournaments and taking advantage of more illustrious names they know, like renowned Tipperary figure John Leahy.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-08 at 15.50.48 Kevin Moloney (second left) celebrating the semi-final victory with full-back Jim McHugh and ex-Tipperary hurler John Leahy.

“John through Jarlath Denny, he’d have a link up here and we’d have been invited down to the Mullinahone tournament for U12 teams, we’ve been down to it a good few times and it’s been great. The more you expose kids to hurling from other parts of the country, the better it is.

“Féile has played a massive role for us because we’ve been lucky to get out of Monaghan practically every year. I’ve been here since 1987. We won a National Division 4 in the early 90s, my brother-in-law Mickey McHugh would have been in that group. A couple of years ago we won Division 6.

“We beat teams from Waterford and Tipperary so that gives us a bit of heart that we’re doing the right thing at the juvenile level. There’s a lot of coaches involved, a core of very dedicated people who have put in a lot of effort. The players have been great ambassadors for it as well. We got all the juveniles to train with the seniors one night, they got great craic out of it.”

Source: Glenn Murphy/YouTube

The obstacle in their path is a sizeable one. Kilkenny clubs have been largely the proprietors of this championship. Dunnamaggin will be aiming to keep that trend going today.

“The game is just so strong down there,” says Moloney.

“The level that they’re playing at, Dunnamaggin were senior down to intermediate, struggled intermediate and went down to junior to regroup. There’s a hell of a lot of good young fellas on that team that you’d be watching over the last few years on Kilkenny minor teams and St Kieran’s teams.

“Then you’ve Noel Hickey minding the house and he’s not going to be easy past. For our fellas to pit themselves against that, it’s brilliant for us. Gives us a marker of where we are.

“We’re total underdogs but hope springs eternal and you don’t go up the road to Croke Park without hope. Your club is where it all begins and where it all ends. It’s been absolutely amazing.

“Even in the school here we have the captain of the team is teaching with me here this year, Peter Treanor. You’ve kids coming in with cards for him and balloons and lots of little messages of goodwill coming from parents. It’s been a great build-up to it for us as well.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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