Inspiring the next generation

GAA: Christy Ring Cup Final

Back before Christy: Stephen Coyne in action for Mayo against Kildare in the last All Ireland Senior B Hurling Championship final in 2004 before the tiered system was introduced. Photo: Sportsfile.

Back before Christy: Stephen Coyne in action for Mayo against Kildare in the last All Ireland Senior B Hurling Championship final in 2004 before the tiered system was introduced. Photo: Sportsfile.

Not for the first time will the Mayo senior hurlers face off against Kildare in Croke Park for an All Ireland title.

Before the tiered competition as we know it came into existence, both sides met in the old All Ireland Senior B Hurling Championship Final back in 2004 in GAA headquarters.

Kildare won out that day on a score of 3-14 to 3-7, in what was the last time the competition was ever played, with the Christy Ring Cup coming into existence the following year.

Whereas the Christy Ring Cup was once upon a time the second tier of championship hurling, it is now the third tier behind the Liam McCarthy and Joe McDonagh competitions.

But for Mayo, reaching a Christy Ring Cup final is a significant milestone, having just been promoted out of the Nickey Rackard Cup last season - where they beat Tyrone in the final.

For Mayo there is some crossover from that team of 18-years-ago with this year's team, who will head out into battle on Saturday afternoon.

Back in 2004 - Keith Higgins was a fresh-faced 19-year-old who lined out at centre-half-back that day, scoring five points (two from play, two 65s and a one from play ), a few years before he became a household name across the country.

Alongside him that day in the half-back line was Stephen Coyne - another man still going strong today, while in the corner back position was Derek Walsh, the current Mayo manager.

Almost two decades have passed but a lot still remains the same for Mayo when it comes to key men on the hurling field.

Mayo have been playing at Christy Ring Cup level for most of the time the competition has existed with a couple of years down in the Rackard Cup thrown in. But this is the first year they have ever reached the final.

They made the final four on three occasions before in 2008, 2009 and 2014, being beaten by Carlow, Down and Kerry in those semi-finals.

Looking back on that 2004 game and where Kildare have gone to since then, it is something that Mayo aspire to follow, according to Higgins.

“Absolutely, it was 2004 that game, a long time ago that was - the way Kildare have been over the last few years they have been very strong and were probably unlucky to come down from Joe McDonagh.

“They played Meath in the last game and probably could or should have won that one, so they probably believe that is the level they should be at.

“Obviously we’ve seen Naas then with the intermediate hurling title this year being very strong, but they are very good and developing and that is what all counties at this level are striving for, to keep getting better and hopefully we can keep going with that step.”

It’s something that Walsh hopes Mayo can replicate in general to bring the game on in the county.

“Yah, I was playing that day too (the 2004 final ), we got a bad start that day - look no more than now, they are a quality team.

"We would love to be up where they and Carlow and the other teams are. We are not there yet, but hopefully with more clubs and teams to come, we will get better.”

Getting to the Christy Ring Cup final and playing in Croke Park again is something that Stephen Coyne hopes can inspire the next generation of young Mayo hurlers, as well as seeing them keep going so that hopefully, the newer clubs in the county will be able to move forward and bring players through to play at the top level

“This is massive; one of the best things for us getting to the final is that it is raising the profile of the game again; especially, it might make young lads say, this is what I want to do - I want to get out there and hurl for Mayo in Croke Park and it is something that can happen.

“On the other side, if you were to dig deep, maybe club hurling isn’t in a good position in Mayo with only four clubs, but you see with the likes of Moytura, Claremorris, Caiseal Gaels and Ballina coming into junior, if we can keep that going and keep the underage going and get lads through, I really believe with the talent there is for hurlers in Mayo, you can get all those lads through.

“Mayo could be competing at Christy Ring on a regular basis and who knows, go on and compete at a Joe McDonagh level, but obviously that is a long way down the line.”


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