Former London hurler Martin Harrell talks to Damian Dolan about the revival of underage hurling at Father Murphys
Forty-six years after Tommy Harrell founded Fr Murphys’ underage section, this year saw his son Martin pick up the baton and revive it, and it’s proven to be a huge hit with children and parents alike.
Aimed at helping to keep underage hurling alive in the county by introducing it to a whole new crop of second and third generation youngsters, as well as those with no Irish connection at all, the club’s new underage section has gone from strength-tostrength, and Martin has exciting plans for the future.
Martin’s Fr Murphys club-mate Mark Mythen is on board as a coach, with Tommy as chairman and sister Orla as secretary. Martin is coach, treasurer and safe guarding officer, as well as responsible for just about anything else that needs doing.
“It’s a new era and there’s a massive need for it,” says Martin, who can reflect with satisfaction on a hugely positive first year, which saw the number of registered U6- U12s players wielding a hurley at Greenford in Fr Murphys colours on Saturday mornings reach 60, from a starting number of just eight.
“I was amazed when we reached over 20 kids registered, and it just continued to get bigger and bigger,” he added.
“The number of underage hurling clubs is similar today as to when I was coming through, but there was a lot more kids playing. There was under U8s, U10s, U12s, U14s, and U16s.
“There were more kids and more age groups, and great battles between the likes of Kilburn Gaels, Ruislip Gaels, Brian Borus and South London Gaels.”
The idea to revive the Murphys’ underage section grew from Martin’s decision to come out of retirement last year, and help Fr Murphys to Intermediate Championship success.
Keen for his son Oisin, who turned three in May, to take up the game he made contact with London GAA Community Development Administrator Lloyd Colfer and the London Minor Board, who both assisted him in setting up a framework.
“The little man was coming to games and he was loving it, and having done well at underage myself and being a second-generation hurler, I’ve always wanted to start my own team and give something back to the game,” said Martin.
A year out, he started looking into what needed to be done to restart the underage section, including the costs involved and sourcing and purchasing equipment and sponsors. The Wexford Association sponsored the hurleys while Martin sponsored the playing kit himself through his DJ-ing.
The next step was to un safeguarding’ checks and DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service), which he did in January. The following month he took Oisin to a six-week hurling Blitz in Greenford run by Lloyd and the London County Board, at which he was refereeing and coaching, and used that to meet with parents and drum up interest in the new Fr Murphys underage hurling section.
That was the start of it. The new team commenced hurling every Saturday without fail, with the exception of August for holidays, with Tir Chonaill Gaels chairman Tom Mohan giving them the use of Tir Chonaill Park.
At the first training session there were just eight kids. By the All Britain Competition in July 46 children were registered and it’s since gone on to surpass 60, with players sourced from family, friends, Fr Murphys, Lloyd Colfer, Martin’s DJ-ing and even, rather bizarrely, by Tommy at a Polling Station.
By the end of this year, Fr Murphys were able to field teams at U6s, U8s, U10s and U12s. Underlying all of the hard work and commitment, for Martin, was a desire for other youngsters to experience playing underage hurling, just as he had, and to augment the work being done by Thomas McCurtains and Kilburn Gaels, and Erin Go Bragh in Birminghan, in keeping underage hurling alive.
His own association with hurling began when he was 11, when he was asked to take part in a half-time demonstration during a London-Leitrim Connacht Championship fixture at Ruislip.
“I was playing with the likes of Paul Hehir and Martin Kincaid. We had no kit, just a helmet and a hurley. I scored a goal and never looked back,” he said.
He went on to play football for Tir Chonaill Gaels from U10s to U14s and for the London U14 Feile team. He was selected for the county team at U16 and captained the London Minors.
Having started out with Ruislip Gaels, he won Minor championships for the Brian Borus and 14 championships and an All Ireland 7s with Fr Murphys, as well as All Britain titles.
“I’ve been very fortunate as a second-generation player to enjoy that success,” he said.
One of the last Londonborn hurlers to play for the county, he also represented London Juniors, most memorably scoring 1-6 out of 1-7 to help beat Warwickshire in an All Britain final.
Despite the success of the new Fr Murphys underage section this year, Martin is far from resting on his laurels, with plans already pushing forwards with the hope of entering a London hurling team in next year’s Under 14 Feile.
A “product of Feile” himself, he believes it’s imperative that today’s young hurlers have a higher level to aspire to, while the inaugural meeting of the new hurling committee, which took place in London and was attended by representatives of Thomas McCurtains, Kilburn Gaels and Fr Murphys, was another positive step in safeguarding underage hurling within the county.
More fixtures and more players is the goal for 2018, and this re-emergence of underage hurling at the club has certainly added to current positivity around the future of hurling in London.
To find out more about the Fr Murphys underage section email firstname.lastname@example.org om or call Martin Harrell 07960 503355.