A New Dawn Over Loughgiel

“Hurling helps not only my physical wellbeing, but my mental health too.”  

SHaun McFadden

After a long and drawn winter, the return to the hurling field has provided a great wealth of opportunities for the Seniors of the Loughgiel Shamrocks GAC as they returned to a chilly but dry evening at Fr. Barrett Park. In order to maintain the current Covid-19 Guidelines implemented by the GAA, their original full squad was narrowed down to 15, including the management. This did not sway the hurlers from putting in their great effort on Tuesday 13th April. As there are only two fields in Loughgiel which are used by the local GAA club, the Loughgiel Shamrocks GAC, and this amounted to a great challenge for the pitch planner to ensure that the Covid-19 Guidelines were enforced.  

Loughgiel Senior Hurler, Cathal McMullan (Photo credit: Darach O’Mullan)

A local hurler, Shaun McFadden, discussed returning to training. He said, “It meant a lot. I was looking forward to it a lot. I’m very glad to be back at it, I think I took for granted a bit last season. It’s really good to be with my friends again, training and trying to improve myself as an athlete and helping our team push towards our goals.” Shaun had further expressed how the absence of hurling had affected him over the lockdown period, “The social aspect is one of the best things about hurling. The sense of comradery, and being able to have lasting friendships throughout the hurling season is great. Yes, it definitely affected me as I had felt quite lonely over lockdown, not being able to be out on the pitch pucking about and having a good time with the team. Hurling helps not only my physical wellbeing, but my mental health too.”  

Both Fr Barrett Park and Fr Healy Park were closed off to the public as the GAA had not permitted access to the grounds due to the ongoing Pandemic, and for some, that was difficult as Shaun McFadden noted. Loughgiel is undergoing some major changes in its atmosphere as the new ball wall area in Fr Barrett Park saw a much-needed refurbishment. There was much excitement to return, as Cathal McMullan who has much experience as a hurler, said, “Of course I was continually thinking about how good the first match back would be, zipping the ball around on a summer’s evening in Loughgiel. But I’d be lying if I said that’s all I was thinking about over lockdown. I’ve come to appreciate smaller things in life like spending time with my family and friends. The break from hurling has made me hungrier than ever to play and the competitive spark in me has been reignited after the long break.” 

Similarly, Shaun McFadden expressed his opinion on the matter of the necessity of returning to the hurling after the difficult and isolating period in lockdown. He said this, “Aye, at the start of lockdown it felt the way most off-seasons do. But as the weeks and months went in, I was getting quite irritated being in the same four walls every day. So, I gradually relished the idea of being back out playing for my club. I was looking forward to it, I knew that it would be a great day when I when I stepped back onto the pitch with my team.” 

Shaun McFadden (Photo credit: Darach O’Mullan)

For quite a large number of people in Loughgiel, hurling is the lifeblood of the community, as is camogie. It has kept the community together since its birth in 1915, at a time when it was difficult to establish a GAA club without a great deal of financial support. Shaun commented on this by saying, “Our club is full of history and family traditions. My own family have a long line of hurling history. It not only means a lot to me, but to my parents, aunts, uncles and so on, that I go out and play for Loughgiel Shamrocks.” Similarly, Tiernan Coyle, who regards his grandfather, Johnny Coyle, as his personal hero as Tiernan continues in his journey as a hurler, said, “I never had to look far to find my hero and forgive me for the history lesson, but when I start talking about my hero, I find it hard to stop.” He continues, “Granda left a legacy for us all, one I strive to even just try to emulate and chase down his seven Championships, of course. But looking past all of the things he’s done for Loughgiel and this parish, he is my hero because he’s my Granda.” It is evident that returning to the hurling field is not just a period of athletic training, but rather a spiritual journey of which a younger generation can follow in the footsteps of their forefathers, and inevitably build upon a community which means a great deal to the hurlers who have once again returned after long last.