Cavan Calling

Club mate of Galway All-Ireland winning boss helping Cavan's hurling comeback

Clarinbridge’s Michael Carr is manager as Cavan play a hurling league game tomorrow for the first time in seven years.

TWO SIDES OF the hurling world.

Michael Carr is aware of both.

pjimage (6) INPHO INPHO

Last September the Galway native was in Croke Park, joy mixed with relief rushing through him at the final whistle. He’d seen his fair share of Galway teams fall short of bringing Liam MacCarthy west of the Shannon seen 1988. Watching David Burke clasp his hands around the trophy was the breakthrough he had yearned for.

Carr looked at his old Clarinbridge team-mate Mícheál Donoghue on the sideline, the studious figure who had plotted Galway’s route to glory. They had played together at club level for years. Mícheál father Miko transported the great Galway teams of the 80s on their journeys to Croke Park and was a driving force in Clarinbridge hurling when Carr was growing up.

Micheal Donoghue shows the Liam McCarthy to his father Miko Donoghue for the first time Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

His son always stood out as someone who would be at the heart of major hurling occasions.

“29 years waiting to go down to Croke Park to see them win it and to see a Clarinbridge man bring it back home over the Shannon again was extra special for all of us,” says Carr.

“Miko was involved when I was there, he’s a great hurling man and a great club man. Mícheál and his twin brother Liam are the same then. They’re a great hurling family. They give everything they have to the club.

“I played with Mícheál most of my hurling career. From playing with him, he was always a leader. He always stood up in games for us. He used to be our captain as well. You always looked up to him.

“He was a quiet person but there was something about his presence that you always knew he’d go onto greater things. I loved to hurl with him, he was that sort of person.”

Michael Donoghue celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

That was the glamour arena for hurling, here’s the low-key setting.

Tomorrow Carr steps out onto Kingspan Breffni Park, the manager when Cavan send a hurling team out into action in the league for the first time in seven years. They face Sligo. It’s a Division 3B encounter. A world removed from the dizzying heights of a maroon breakthrough in Croke Park.

A general view of Kingspan Breffni Park Tom Beary / INPHO Tom Beary / INPHO / INPHO

Rewind back to March 2011. Cavan were walloped in their final league game, South Down administering a 41-point defeat. It was the end of a sorrowful spring filled with heavy defeats.

The following month the decision was taken to pull the plug on their involvement in that summer’s Lory Meagher Cup. The senior team was then disbanded until last summer when they made a comeback in the lower tier of the hurling championship.

They lost a couple of games, ran Lancashire to three points and ended the round-robin series with a win over Fermanagh in Lisbellaw. Last November Carr was rubberstamped as the new head of Cavan hurling. He’s attacked the role with gusto.

“It’s definitely a milestone. It’s been a good while since Cavan had a senior team in the league. There’s been good work put in over the last couple of years underage to get to this stage and there’s a good vibe in the camp. Everybody is looking forward to getting going.”

How did he come to leave home on the outskirts of Galway city and end up spreading the hurling gospel in Cavan? Life nudged him in a different direction. He met Teresa, they got married and have been settled in her home parish of Lacken since 2006.

In the hurling wilderness, he found a place to still immerse himself in the sport. Teresa had played camogie for years with Lacken. Between 2009 and 2011 Michael lined out for the Cavan senior side, an outsider drafted in and he secured a Lory Meagher All-Star award for himself in his first year.

The lure of hurling at home in Clarinbridge never left him. In 2001 they had ventured into unchartered territory. John McIntyre moulded a unit that delivered the club’s first Galway title. They went on to win Connacht, beat Waterford’s Ballygunner in an All-Ireland semi-final the following February and the dream was only ended by Offaly heavyweights Birr in a Semple Stadium final. Michael was on the panel and his cousin Brian was midfield.

John McIntyre 17/2/2002 INPHO INPHO

Clarinbridge bench celebrate 17/2/2002 DIGITAL INPHO INPHO

Clarinbridge always hoped they would get another assault at the All-Ireland series. Getting out of the bearpit that is the Galway championship – which has produced six different champions in the last eight seasons – was the tricky part.

In 2011 they got over the line on St Patrick’s Day, blitzing Kilkenny’s O’Loughlin Gaels in the second half. Carr was a supporter by then but as enthused as ever. Some of his team-mates were still knocking around. Mícheál Donoghue taking a significant managerial step by guiding them, his twin brother Liam in goal and the Kerins brothers, Mark and Alan, wreaking havoc in attack.

Clarinbridge's playes celebrate
 James Crombie James Crombie

Paul Callanan lifts the cup Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

“I was still playing at home but not at senior level,” says Carr.

“I was driving up and down for the intermediate team the year we won the All-Ireland club. The commitment was too much for senior, you’d have to be going up and down four or five times a week and I just didn’t have the time when I came to it at that stage.

“It was a pity to miss out on it but that was just the way it turned out unfortunately. It was a great day to be a Clarinbridge man, whether you were playing or watching. It was a very emotional day to be honest.”

By then his hurling roots were firmly in Cavan. He’s started playing for Mullahoran, the hurling club next door to Lacken, and is a valuable figure in their ranks, amassing 2-4 from full-forward in last year’s Cavan senior hurling final.

“I’ve made some great friends up here through the hurling. My main friend base would be GAA involved whether it be in Galway or Cavan. That’s what the GAA does. It bonds you as a family nearly. It’s great for that.

“It’s something I really enjoy doing. Hurling is a passion to me, it’s been everything since I was a child. When you get to the age when you can’t play it any more, management is the next step. It’s something I always wanted to do.”

He paints a picture of the club hurling landscape and illustrates how the odds are stacked against them. Mullahoran and Cootehill are the only two senior clubs. A handful of other clubs like St Phelim’s, Ballymachugh, Cavan Gaels and Woodford Gaels attempt to grow the game at underage level.

When the senior team folded in 2011, one of the GAA’s methods to assist them was providing a Games Development Administrator. Eoin Morrissey hails from the Erin’s Own club in Waterford city but fetched up in Cavan and spent a few years providing boundless energy and enthusiasm to get things moving at underage level. He’s since moved on to Wexford but left his mark.

“It was around Eoin’s time the underage started to really kick off in Cavan,” reflects Carr.

“He put in an awful lot of work when he was here. It has built up a good base so it has. With the two senior clubs then, it’s a mixture of older and younger coming together to make up the team.”

This is a football land. Carr knows that a few hurling men are not going to scrub away the storied history of a county that saw Sam Maguire arrive five times between 1933 and 1952. The vast majority of Cavan GAA league conversations this week would have revolved around pondering how Mattie McGleenan’s football side will fare against Louth tonight on the back of a draw against Clare last Saturday.

“Football is always going to be first in Cavan, you just have to accept that. Hurling will always be second. But you just need more clubs in Cavan to row in behind the hurling a small bit more, to really push it on. Too many clubs don’t want to see the hurling. It’s a shame.

“It’s similar in a lot of counties though. My own parish at home in Galway would be totally hurling and there’d be no football. It’s understandable in a way.”

Embarking on a tiered structure has sparked interest for counties like Cavan though. Carr watches the debate raging over the imbalances in the football championship on a national level and looks at the effect it has had on hurling.

“For the Cavan lads here, the Lory Meagher means everything to them. They know their standard and their level and they want to win it. If you didn’t have that, counties like this would have nothing to play or.

“Realistically a county like Cavan aren’t going to contest the Liam MacCarthy Cup. So it’s great that they have this and have a chance to get to Croke Park and to play, which they wouldn’t get if the tiered championships weren’t there. It’s working in the hurling.

“Every lad I know that plays for lower tier teams, this is what they want. They want to be playing games and want to be competitive. Football could definitely learn from the hurling with the tiered championship.”

Despite their lowly status, Carr can’t speak highly enough of the support he’s received. For the team that has been the backing of the county board in supporting this project. For him personally it’s the help of his employers CG Power Systems in Cavan town since he became an inter-county boss.

He freely admits that providing a hurling outlet for his children – Mikey (7), Joe (5), Shane (4) and Katie (2) – is part of his reason for investing in the game in Cavan.

“They are Galway hurling fans, they all have the jerseys and they know most of the Galway players. They love hurling, I have them out hurling in the garden hurling there most days.

“I suppose that’s another reason why I’m involved so much. I want to keep hurling going in Cavan for my kids and I want to see them get to play hurling.”

The stadium won’t be heaving with Cavan fans when they come out of the dressing-room tomorrow afternoon. But it’s still a landmark moment for a Galway man ushering a Cavan team back into a league environment.

A general view of Kingspan Breffni Park Kingspan Breffni Park hosts the Cavan hurlers tomorrow. Tom Beary / INPHO Tom Beary / INPHO / INPHO

“No one is expecting anything of us. The lads are putting in a serious effort, I can’t ask them for any more and I think we might surprise a few people.

“It’s a very exciting week for us. You could see the buzz in the boys at training, they’re raring to go.”

On the other side of the hurling world, a new chapter begins.

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