What a remarkable few months it has been for the minor hurlers of Éire Óg Carrickmore. Not only did they capture the Tyrone county title in some style back in October 2022, the boys in black and amber then embarked on an incredible provincial campaign which saw them first land the Ulster Shield title before qualifying for an historic Ulster Cup Final appearance against Antrim’s finest, Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Éire Óg’s remarkable journey ignited with a highly dramatic championship final victory over arch rivals Eoghan Ruadh Dungannon on Wednesday 19th October in Garvaghey. Level after normal time (1-6 to 0-9) and then again in extra-time (2-6 to 0-12), the Carrickmore lads were eventually crowned county champions after a nerve-tingling set of penalty pucks to decide the game.
Conor Kerr, who played a pivotal role for Éire Óg in the season just ended, spoke of how the odds were stacked against his side going into that final but that his team did not lack confidence against Eoghan Ruadh: “We knew that if we performed at the level we were capable of then we’d be tough to beat. Having trained consistently from January, we were ready for the challenge.”
Reflecting on the win afterwards, he said: “It was a feeling of complete euphoria. After playing 80 minutes in the toughest of conditions, we were ecstatic when the winning penalty hit the back of the net. All the work put in by the players and managers throughout the year had paid off.”
Despite not having won anything of note throughout their underage hurling careers, team captain Conn Sweeney knew that his side had put in a serious amount of work going into the final and were full of self belief. “It was a surreal moment (afterwards). There were boys crying with joy and there was a huge feeling of relief to get over the line and not to have all the time and effort put into the team by parents, the club and especially the management go to waste.”
Éire Óg’s fairytale season was far from over, though, as this talented group of young players powered their way to a stunning 1-15 to 0-7 victory over St Eunan’s Letterkenny in the Ulster Shield Final before edging out Down champions Bredagh in a very exciting and extremely competitive Ulster Cup semi-final at Ballinascreen on New Year’s Eve. Once again, the sides were deadlocked (1-9 to 2-6) at the end of normal time but the Tyrone kingpins somehow found an extra gear to emerge worthy victors on a scoreline of 1-15 to 2-7. Not a bad way to end 2022!
Amazingly, Carrickmore Gaels now had an Ulster Cup Final appearance to look forward to against the might of Loughgiel Shamrocks. This was certainly unchartered territory for the Tyrone representatives who brought a large following back to Ballinascreen on the afternoon of Saturday 7th January 2023. Éire Óg put it up to a strong and supremely talented Loughgiel side in the first half to go in at the break on level terms (0-8 to 2-2) and, while the Antrim lads eventually pulled away in the second period to win 3-11 to 0-8, there was every reason for the Carrickmore club to be immensely proud of what their minor players and management had achieved in conquering Tyrone and reaching the summit of Ulster.
For captain Conn Sweeney, it was a time to look back and be grateful for memories that will last forever: “It was an amazing feeling playing in Ballinascreen with all the support that came out for us and the buzz that was there. It was just a great experience that certainly improved me and the rest of the team as hurlers.”
In a season that produced so many magical moments, Conor Kerr also summed it up well when he said: “There are so many factors that played a part in our success but, mostly, it was down to the commitment from both the players and management. We started training for the season around January of 2022 in the ball-wall. Regular training and matches improved us greatly over the year. Competing in the provincial competition, winning the Ulster Shield title and making it to an Ulster Cup final showed that we could compete with any team in the province.”
By Colin MackleBy Rory Cox Wed 15th Feb