By David Hennessy
Hurlers from the Gortnahoe Glengoole GAA Club in Tipperary travelled from London, Birmingham, Hong Kong, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne to be home for a very special game of hurling over the Christmas.
The club has lost 17 of its members to emigration in recent years. To get some of these men home for a St Stephen’s Day match, club treasurer William Coleman launched the Home to Hurl initiative that has now raised over €20,000 for the North Tipperary Hospice and local Scoil Aonghusa.
Home to Hurl was promoted with a video that showed the different players pucking balls in different global locations. This went viral and has now got over 32,000 views on YouTube.
Among those featured on the video were four former Fulham Irish players, John Coleman, Kevin Maher, Ogie Long (Shane’s brother) and Thomas O’Keeffe, who all returned to play.
GAA President Liam O’Neill was there to greet those returning at Dublin airport.
Home to Hurl has also featured on RTE and is a subject of a TV3 documentary to air in February.
Organiser William Coleman told The Irish World: “It’s been a mental few months trying to organise everything but it’s well worth it.
“When we launched the Home to Hurl video, we thought it would get a reaction but not to the scale that it did. All the media sources seemed to be doing a bit on emigration as well so our story was ideal for them.
“We went up to Dublin airport and we couldn’t believe it. Every time we turned around, there was someone else looking for a piece of the story. It was great to highlight the event and it did turn into donations. It’s great to have all the exposure but the bottom line is to get money into the account for the two charities that we were raising money for.”
Roughly 1500 people turned up to the club’s playing field to watch the match where returning players were only narrowly beaten by the home team. The travelling team consisted of five or six who would be on Gortnahoe Glengoole’s senior team and several more who would be pushing for it which demonstrates just how hard the club has been hit by emigration.
Speaking at Dublin Airport, GAA President Liam O’Neill spoke about the issue: “We have lost a lot of players abroad. A lot of those want to come back . . . we want to be a part of bringing them home.
“Confidence is sort of ebbing from communities. Jobs and young people will sustain a community because it is a life blood.
“Our mission anyway is to build communities in rural Ireland; it’s not just about games.”
It was hoped some of those who returned would be tempted to stay. Has this been the case? William says: “My own brother John Coleman is staying. He’s back from Australia. He had been in London for a few years beforehand. He hurled with Fulham Irish over there actually. He’s back looking for work and hopefully he’ll find it here. He might end up in London if he can’t but he’s not going to go back as far as Australia again.”
Two of those who lined out with the away team have since returned home in the fifteen months the event took to plan: “There’s two guys who, when the idea was coming together, were in England and Australia. Matthew Maher came home for his brother’s wedding five months ago and found work and stayed around. Antony Morris has come back from London and found work. He had been away for a couple of years.”
John Coleman, Kevin Maher, Ogie Long and Thomas O’Keeffe all played in Fulham Irish’s London intermediate championship victory of 2012.
William explains how the idea came about: “Jim (Ryan) was home from Perth and he told me he read an article in the Tipperary star saying that we were the third highest club in the county for emigration and that he was thinking of getting on to the lads. He lukewarmly put the feelers out there at the time to see if lads would commit to it and he seemed to get a decent reaction.”
By July of 2014, it was clear that enough for a team would be making the journey and Home to Hurl was becoming a reality. In the end, 20 players came home.
One player who couldn’t get home for Christmas was the Southampton and Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long although his brother Ogie was home from Birmingham. Of the initiative, Shane told Newstalk: “It’s amazing all the effort that has gone in, they have really slaved over it for a long time now. It’s not easy getting 20-odd lads back at the one time for a charity game.
“I still keep in touch with them all and I would have played with them all at some stage when I was younger. I’m sickened I’m going to miss it.”
William goes on to mention the support Shane lent the event: “The day cost us nothing. Shane Long took our biggest expense out of the water by covering the cost of the programmes which was €1,000. Everyone else offered their services for free. There was very little cost in it because of people’s good will which means more goes to the charities. Everybody got stuck into it. A tonne of people were coming out of the woodwork to help. It was great to bring everybody together in a community sense.”
For more information, you can find Home to Hurl in Facebook.