EARLIER this month, Derry hurling club St Finbarr’s marked five years since their first coaching session to bring the game back to the Drumullan area.
The club was originally founded in the 1960s by Pat Russell, a Cork man from the St Finbarr’s club, who relocated to Magherafelt.
After back to back Derry senior titles, the club dwindled before disappearing only to return in an underage capacity in May 2017.
“The first night we gathered, we didn’t know what would happen,” recalls current chairman Brian Waldron, from Freshford in Kilkenny.
Waldron married Sheila Devlin and they have settled in her native Loup.
Based on the ground of football club Ogra Colmcille, St Finbarr’s had a helping hand from Hurling Development Officers Kevin Hinphey and Colm Dillon.
“The Ogra Colmcille club invited us in to use their facilities, they were lifesavers,” Waldron stressed.
“Now, we have a field and facilities to use, they are very accommodating.
“We didn’t know who would turn up and who wouldn’t, but 70 showed up. The oldest was 12, right down to the age of seven,” Waldron explains of their beginning.
“The two lads (Hinphey and Dillon) stayed with us during the summer of that first season. They were at every training session.”
A Dunloy man, Seamus Kane, is the current secretary and he got involved in coaching. Parents came on board to form the first committee. Around “80 per cent” of the first intake of players are still involved in the club.
“We have coaches for all those teams,” said Waldron. “We have been lucky, some of our coaches have hurled themselves and other coaches didn’t, but have learned to coach and are great coaches. It’s not like it’s one coach with all the teams, it is working out well for us.
“Now we have between 80 and 90 players, so the progression is good,” Waldron states.
“We have been lucky now that we are up to u-17 and are fielding teams all the way down to u-7.”
One of the early 12-year-olds became the first county player this year; Leo Gribbon made it to the Derry u-17 squad, giving a great lift to the players and the club.
“He is a great lad and is very dedicated,” was Waldron’s endorsement, having been in involved in Kilkenny minor management teams in the past.
“How many we get in the future, I suppose we can’t tell but they are involved in the development squads.”
The club has been involved in the various grades in the Tain Óg league while also participating in the Derry leagues.
With “10 or 11” players overage for u-15, the club formed their first u-17 team this year under Waldron’s tutelage and enjoyed a 2-10 to 2-9 win over Sleacht Néill.
“Those lads would’ve had nowhere to go and we use some of the 15-year-olds to make up the team,” he said.
“We try to be as competitive as possible. They are developing and you can see them coming on during training sessions.”
Waldron is appreciative of the support the established Derry clubs have shown.
“A lot of the teams understand where we are at and they don’t be too hard on us. They are not out to hammer us into the ground and are accommodating to our level,” said Waldron, who is also encouraged by the arrival of Claudy and Doire Trasna at underage level.
For St Finbarr’s, the next step is looking towards the end of the decade and the hopes of having a senior team. Waldron doesn’t put an exact times
cale on it, but that’s the natural ambition for the club.
“We want to hold on to lads and hopefully to field at adult level, so we could have an adult team when they are in their early 20s.
“We are happy with our progress, our standard keeps going up and we’ll have to keep working at it.”