Dungannon club to hold vigil to remember ‘unique talent blessed with modesty beyond belief’
The manager of the Tyrone hurling team today paid a moving tribute to tragic player Damian Casey after he died in an accident in Spain.
Michael McShane said the devastating loss has left the squad “rocked to the core”.
It is understood Mr Casey (29) had travelled for a wedding, where he was to be a groomsman.
He passed away following an accident at a swimming pool.
Considered Tyrone’s greatest ever hurler, he had helped his home county to Nicky Rackard Cup glory only last month.
He also played for club side Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon, which described him as “a unique talent” who was “blessed with a modesty beyond belief”.
The club will hold a vigil at 6pm on Sunday night. The Casey family have asked everyone to wear a GAA jersey.
His county manager, Mr McShane, described Mr Casey as a "true gentleman" and one of the "finest players" he had managed.
He Tweeted poignantly: “On earth you were a star both as a hurler and a gentleman. May your star shine brightly in heaven. Rest In Peace mo chara. You will be sorely missed”.
He also told the BBC: "We are rocked to our very core and heartbroken. His loss is incalculable. On behalf of Tyrone hurling management, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Casey family.”
In a tribute this afternoon, Mr Casey’s club, Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon, said it was “devastated” by the news.
“No amount of words can express fully the depth of their and our despair at this awful time, nor can any amount of words fully capture what Damian meant to his family, his club Eoghan Ruadh and GAA in Tyrone and beyond,” a statement said.
“Quite simply he was a unique talent, but above all that, a truly wonderful son, brother, teammate, friend and leader. For one so talented, he was blessed with a modesty beyond belief.
"Accolades were bestowed on him for his achievements on hurling fields across Ireland and though acknowledged quietly and privately, they never changed the modest, team focused, club focused lad who first walked into our club over two decades ago.”
On the county scene, Mr Casey first lined-out for the Tyrone seniors in 2012.
The full-forward started his county’s first game that season and amazingly he started every game for Tyrone since then – 100 outings in total. To put that into context, Galway hurling’s long-serving midfielder David Burke (32) will become his county’s record appearance maker with 63 outings, when they play against Cork later today.
In 100 appearances Damian Casey scored in every single game.
Announcing his death, Tyrone GAA said: “Heartbreak and grief can come in many forms but are especially cruel when brought about by the sudden death of someone young, talented, outgoing and in the prime of life.
“Accordingly, Gaelic Tyrone is totally shaken by the news of the tragic death of Damian Casey, a supreme hurler just now at the peak of his powers.”
Tyrone County Chair Michael Kerr said: "This breaking news is beyond belief.
“Someone who brought honour, delight and simple, straightforward gladness to our whole county, and far beyond, is gone and it’s so hard to take in.
“There are very difficult days ahead for Sean, Susan, Louise and Catherine, for Damian’s wider family circle and many friends and associates, for his team-mates and for the Gaels of Dungannon and Tyrone.
“Our deepest sympathy goes to them, and our focus must now be on providing the support and comfort that will be so badly needed.”
Tyrone GAA added: “Damian Casey was a special gift to Tyrone and to hurling. We were the richer for his presence and are the poorer for his passing.”
On May 21, Mr Casey starred as Tyrone beat Roscommon by five points in the Nicky Rackard Cup final at Croke Park. That day he racked-up 14 of the team’s total of 1-21.
In the semi-final he scored an impressive 1-12, which also brought him over the 400 championship points mark.
It was the second time he had won the trophy, having captained the first Tyrone side to lift it in 2014, when he delivered what was described as an "inspirational” performance, scoring eight points at Croker against Fingal.
In total the sharp-shooter racked up 39 goals and 908 points for Tyrone in league and championship action – or 1,025 points – during his decade of service.
Mr Casey’s record makes him one of the country’s most lethal forwards in recent years and his stats rival senior championship greats, including Cork’s Patrick Horgan who is the record scorer at senior level.
In fact Horgan’s point average per game stands at roughly 8.4 while, Damian Casey’s was 10.01 as of his last outing.
Today, tributes flooded in from across the GAA world and beyond.
The Gaelic Players Association said: “Damian stood out as a person and leader. On the pitch he was a magician of rare skill. He was one of us. He was among the best of us.”
Mr Casey was a former player with Dungannon Clarkes GAA Club. His father Sean is a past Clarkes chairman.
A spokesperson said: “Damian was a former player with the Clarkes and was an extremely popular member of our club for many years, though it was as a hurler that he truly made his name, going on to be recognised as one of the best players to ever grace our ancient game.
“For years we have proudly watched Damian deliver heroic displays for Tyrone and his club Eoghan Ruadh, lighting up countless games with his skill, passion and leadership. We know how special he was to everyone at Eoghan Ruadh and we offer our sincerest condolences to them.
“Damian was truly a champion, and conducted himself as one both on and off the pitch. He was much loved and hugely respected by everyone who knew him, and his passing is a terrible loss to our community.”
He was a former pupil of St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon.
A statement from the school said:” We are saddened to hear of the untimely passing of Damian Casey RIP. Damian was a terrific sportsman and the Academy and Tyrone's most prolific hurler. He represented both with grace and skill.”
Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said: “The community in Dungannon, and Gaels from across Tyrone and Ireland, are heartbroken with news of the tragic death of Damian Casey, a fantastic hurler with Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club and Tyrone GAA.
“We are all thinking of his devastated parents and sisters, his family and friends, his teammates and all those who loved him.”
Local Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew said the Dungannon community was shocked.
“Damian was a prolific hurler for his club Eoghan Ruadh and Tyrone Hurlers, helping them claim the All-Ireland Nicky Rackard Cup in May. Possibly the best hurler ever in Tyrone his death is devastating for the county, but unimaginable for Sean, Susan, Louise and Catherine,” she said.
“I have spoken to his family and club to offer my sincerest condolences and support to them and all of Damian’s friends and teammates at this sad time.”
Dungannon councillor Barry Monteith said: “Damian was a great among us and Tyrone's greatest ever hurler. We are honoured to have shared his time with us in Dungannon and Tyrone.”
Broadcaster Adrian Logan, who is from Dungannon, said "He was a top class hurler and a great lad. Everybody is clearly and utterly heartbroken, devastated and distraught.
"Going from celebrating victory in Croke Park to this. He was such a decent and good lad as well as a great athlete.”
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last month, Mr Casey said: “I grew up wanting to play for Dungannon and Tyrone all my life.”
On his remarkable scoring record, he had said: “It’s about taking your deep breaths, taking a step back from the ball and having a look at the ball, taking a look at the posts. A couple of steps forward, another couple of breaths. Things like that.
“Opposition teams are going to be shouting and roaring, opposition fans are going to be on your back. But it is about having that set routine, going through it every time and it’s repetition then.
“It becomes natural, whether it’s the first minute of the game or the 70th minute of the game. It should all be flowing and natural. And hopefully the ball is going over the bar after.”