History was made at Owenbeg on Sunday when Eoghan Rua landed the Ulster Junior Hurling championship. Not only was it a first club hurling title for Derry but in the process they became the first Oak Leaf club to win Ulster titles in football, hurling and camogie.
|Ulster Junior Champions 2015|
What makes the achievement even more notable is that they are not picking from the traditional GAA stronghold. Surfing, golfing and wearing funky Bermuda shorts are more the order of the day in the Coleraine-Portstewart-Portrush 'triangle' area. In saying that most people know this is not the totally accurate picture, when you scratch the surface there is a vibrant GAA culture which is growing all the time.
On a recent visit to their new clubhouse the impressive photo collages up around the foyer are a celebration of all their recent successes, the work of current U14 manager Gerry McAleese. Their new pitch gives them a focal point, somewhere to call home. After Sunday's Ulster Final win over Ballela Gerry will have to get back to the photography and his creative side.
Another important and fundamental factor was the simple fact that Sean McGoldrick relocated from St Teresa's on the Glen Road to the north coast. They always say that clubs are about family but in this case Grianne, Méabh, Sean Leo, Liam, Barry, Colm and Ciaran McGoldrick are more than a decent foundation to build on. Rumour has it they once tried to enter their own team in the Kilmacud Sevens, it has yet to be confirmed though!
Their Ulster football success came in the form of an Intermediate title in 2006 when they saw off Armagh's Ballymacnab in the final. This was a stepping stone and four years later their strong running game and ability to score goals landed them the coveted John McLaughlin Cup. The leader and manager of this fantastic achievement was Sean McGoldrick, assisted and Sean McLaughlin, a man with Foreglen roots where his brother Gregory is a significant cog.
Their all-conquering camogie team have two All-Ireland Intermediate club titles and an Ulster senior championship under their belt. Central to these wins was the significant talent of Grianne and Méabh McGoldrick. It has often been said they'd get on many a hurling team. So far in our story that's success across two codes accounted for. For a further insight, we now catchup with the man who masterminded the camogie success, Joe Passmore.
From chatting to some of the camogie players, they hailed Passmore as the key to their success. His likeable demeanour twinned with a real focus translated their raw talent into winning teams. He now lets us into the latest chapter in the Eoghan Rua story – the Ulster hurling title and another possible trip to Croke Park.
"Of starting team on Sunday ten of them would be on Senior football panel, eight would have started in county final against Slaughtneil. A few are solely hurlers. We have a small panel of senior players stretched thinly across two codes," highlights Passmore.
When Lavey were dominant they had their hurling teams competing the in Antrim leagues. Slaughtneil, where current senior hurling manager Padraig O'Mainain resides, are doing the same. It is bearing fruit and O'Mainain's youngsters will benefit from that. Passmore indicated that Eoghan Rua are going down the same route.
"This year we took U14s and minors into Antrim because we can play competitively at a suitable grade without getting hammered week in week out." So that is the focus of building the next generation, but what will this Ulster title do for the club? Passmore explains.
"It is a shot in the arm to hurling in the club and to the club community in general. Our numbers aren't huge to put it mildly. We have 6 or 7 men currently coaching hurling covering the entire club. A good number of these players are the rump of the first group of homegrown hurlers from the club since we started."
"We've been in three Ulster finals in hurling over the last eleven years or so and it's great for Padraig our manager to finally get us over the line. We would hope with a bit of success that it helps the bigger picture in terms of numbers."
So what next for hurling. How will this win help with the short term development of the game? "Hopefully the wee bit of success will help raise the profile and have a knock on effect in terms of bringing on younger players and encouraging a few lads to start hurling or to come back to it as has been the case. Our hurlers are every bit as good as others in the county, there's just not as many of them. So this win means a lot."
"We regularly get hammered off the pitch at underage by other clubs who only see winning as important and don't see any development agenda. But we keep fielding, our youngsters keep coming back for more and we keep it going. We're marching to a different beat than other clubs - It's a non-traditional GAA area, some people seem to hold that against us and make a few derogatory comments but if they walked a mile in our shoes they might have a deeper understanding of the work we do and the challenges of other sports."
Success breeds success and this is the same the world over. Passmore reveals that Eoghan Rua now have a new fan after Sunday, the PR machine is working already.
"We've seen in the past from our camogie team doing well that successes like this will have a bounce effect. So we'll hope to build on this. It's fantastic for the players and we certainly enjoyed the night - even Jimeoin got in on the celebrations."
The next stage of the competition is a little cloudy, but the chance of a return to Croker is on the horizon. "We play the British junior champions possibly Fullen Gaels who have a strong record at this level. We don't know the details. In the meantime Padraig will prepare the lads as best he can. The football is pretty much over so they can get some stick work done for the next stage of the journey wherever that takes the club."
So there you have it. On the north coast, beneath the surface there is a GAA community bursting to get out. Pat Cassidy and Padraig O'Mainain have the rural roots from the Slaughtneil area. Sean McGoldrick has brought his GAA input from the Glen Road in Belfast. Former Tyrone player Niall McSorley is part of it, so too is the McLaughlin clann from Foreglen and the Mullans from Glenullin. It's the nature of Irish people, they flock from rural to urban in search of work and to put down their roots.
One thing is not yet known – what exactly is Jimeoin's GAA pedigree?. Maybe if O'Mainain, Cassidy and the McGoldrick's work their magic – Jimeoin will be sitting in Croker witnessing another chapter in the Eoghan Rua story. That's for the new year, now it's time to wind down for Christmas.