There has been so much talk about how prolific a hurler Damian Casey was — and rightly so — but it should be highlighted just how much he not only loved the sport, but loved playing for his county and his club.
Last year, as the world was about to come out of another Covid-19 lockdown, Damian tweeted that he believed the Tyrone county board didn’t care about its senior hurling team, as one week away from sports training being allowed to resume, they had not yet appointed a new manager.
The post went viral and caught media attention, which made the county board notice, and a fortnight later they recruited renowned Slaughtneil hurling manager, Michael McShane.
Damian said recently that ‘those bullets needed fired, and it worked extremely well’.
At the time of the tweet, I had contacted him to write a story about it. We had gone to school together and were in the same year at St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him properly in a few years, as I haven’t lived there for a decade now, but any time I ran into him back home, I knew I’d be greeted by a smile and a friendly yarn.
When I rang him, that’s exactly what it was — not a ‘professional’ interview, but a good chat between old school mates.
With Tyrone typically known for its achievements in Gaelic football, the hurlers and their well-deserved successes can often go under the radar. Damian was determined about changing that and getting them the resources and recognition they deserved.
“I’ve no gripe with them boys [the footballers] getting whatever they get, all I ask for from a hurling point of view is a fair crack at the whip,” he told me in February 2021.
“Our best years were 2014 and 2015. It’s no surprise to me that we were backed by the county board in those years and they were brilliant years for Tyrone hurling. Is it any coincidence that Tyrone got to Croke Park and won the Nicky Rackard then? That was unheard of for Tyrone hurling.”
It’s fitting and well warranted then, that thanks to Damian’s persistence and passion, the county board took note, and with support, the hurlers acquired the Nicky Rackard Cup again just last month, with Damian securing 14 of the Red Hands’ points that day.
He had also been previously asked by the Irish Examiner about the prospect of joining a ‘Team Ulster’, which would be made up of the best players across the province, to play in the Liam MacCarthy — the highest tier of Ireland’s hurling championship.
The 28-year-old had said “of course” he would have loved to play in the competition, “but the way it was being talked about, you wouldn’t have been able to play for Tyrone then”.
“I grew up playing for Dungannon and then going on to play with other lads from different clubs in underage county teams,” he added. And obviously now I am in the county set-up for the last 10 years, so it wouldn’t have sat well with me, for a Team Ulster to take away from Tyrone.”
That’s how much Damian loved his county. He loved his club. He loved his town. He loved his friends and family. He would give up his free time to help others, whether that was by giving talks or a few tips to other GAA clubs, helping the younger generation love hurling too, or by modelling his Eoghan Ruadh club gear for local GAA stockists, Begley’s Sports — Damian had time for everyone.
He represented everything that is positive about the GAA, and I know Tyrone and Eoghan Ruadh will always play for him and with him in their minds going forward, with fighting spirits.
He represented everything that is good about his county and his town. Everyone in Dungannon knew who Damian was and everyone always had great things to say about him. It will genuinely never be the same. Here’s to never forgetting our most prolific hurler — but also our most passionate role model.