Luke Meade’s importance to Cork ahead of their All-Ireland SHC final is unsurprising according to those who know him best writes Ger McCarthy
Luke Meade and Micheal McSweeney came up through the Newcestown ranks together. The latter tells an interesting story about his friend’s dedication when it comes to practicing his skills.
‘The Meade’s have a wall at home and I’m almost certain that because of Luke and his brother Jack, it has had to be rebuilt a couple of times,’ McSweeney informed The Southern Star.
‘That wall has fallen over because those two lads have pucked a sliotar off it every single chance they got since day one. That’s a true story and why you know Luke has had a hurley in his hand every day since he was young.’
Newcestown senior hurling manager and club stalwart Cha Wilson knows Meade better than most. As the West Cork club’s underage Chairperson and Coaching Officer, Wilson occasionally trained some of his nephew’s teams.
Yet, Meade first came to his uncle’s attention as a youngster displaying the kind of enthusiasm and willingness to improve that exists to this day.
‘We would have seen him pucking around as a child in his grandmother’s garden next door. He and his brother Jack have always been mad for hurling,’ Cha Wilson said.
‘Anytime they would visit, the two lads would have hurleys in their hand and go out for a few pucks. Luke would have been 5 or 6 with Jack a couple of years older. Jack had as big an influence on Luke’s hurling as anyone else.
‘Luke was a natural hurler from day one. You’d often be giving him pointers and he was and still is someone that looks for feedback. He was like a sponge back then, asking how do I do this, am I doing this right or wrong? He was like all keen youngsters at that age who were looking to learn the game of hurling.’
The current Cork senior inter-county player impressed in his native Newcestown’s colours from a young age. Meade played in every juvenile grade for the Carbery club, winning back-to-back West Cork U21 titles in 2013 and 2014.
A year later, the rising star claimed a premier intermediate adult county championship medal and scored 0-3 in the win over Valley Rovers.
‘My first time seeing Luke in action was in a U14 game,’ Newcestown’s Carthach Keane said.
‘He was a year or two off the age and a good bit smaller than everyone else. Left-handed, tidy, stylish and tigerish, you could see a very good player emerging, even back then.
‘Luke would have come on the scene when Newcestown were getting close to making the breakthrough. He always had the touch and always seemed to do the right thing.’
‘Luke was only 16 going on 17 when he played senior for Newcestown but fitted straight in,’ added Micheal McSweeney.
‘His first championship game was against Kilbrittain, a fella going into fifth year and he scored two or three points that day. Nothing phased him then or now. It wasn’t a bother to him.
‘I don’t ever remember him playing a bad game for Newcestown. That is the character of the man. He is always an eight or nine out of ten player.
‘Luke always runs himself into the ground. I think people are beginning to see that now with his Cork performances. Against Dublin and Kilkenny, he could barely breath coming off the pitch. He pushes himself to the limit for both Cork and Newcestown.’
Cha Wilson recalls a time Meade, only 15, made his mark in a minor county final.
‘He was three or four years younger playing in those age groups. Physically, he was small at the time but his skill levels were so good,’ Wilson remembered.
‘We would not have put him in teams like that unless we felt he was good enough. Lots of people were fans of Luke back then and wondering why he wasn’t getting a run with the Cork development.
‘In truth, he played intermediate with Newcestown, not aged 17, at corner forward when we got to a county final. It was around then that the Cork selectors finally took notice and the next thing he was playing minor the following year. Once he was in, he took off.’ Luke Meade scored 2-4 in his Munster minor championship debut against Kerry in April 2014.
Three unsuccessful seasons with Cork’s U21s followed. In between, an approach to join the senior panel was gratefully accepted in 2015. The Newcestown player also won a Munster intermediate medal before making his senior championship debut against Tipperary in the 2017 Munster SHC.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength and become an indispensable member of Kieran Kingston’s team.
‘There aren’t that many West Cork players that get called up for the Cork senior panel,’ Carthach Keane noted.
‘It was a surprise at the time simply because Luke was 18 and still at school. He banged in three goals against Limerick in one senior challenge game and people knew there was something special there. Luke is now an integral part of the Cork senior setup. I think that’s true for the last four or five years. Cork have chopped and changed him but any game Luke hasn’t been there, they have underperformed.’
‘We, his uncles, aunts and family travel to every one of Luke’s matches since he started playing for Cork,’ Cha Wilson added
‘I can’t say I’m any more proud than any other of his uncles or aunts because the whole family is extremely proud of him. The Meade and Wilson families are steeped in GAA. We love our GAA, particularly hurling. To have one of your own out there playing senior for Cork, you would be thrilled.’
Now aged 24 and about to play in an All-Ireland senior final, Luke Meade remains as humble and down to earth as ever. ‘We are fortunate in that Luke is teaching in Newcestown National School,’ Cha Wilson said.
‘From that point of view, it means that the local children have a role model amongst them every day. It is all Mr. Meade!, Mr. Meade!, Mr. Meade! from the youngest classes who get hugely excited whenever they see him.’
‘Luke is such a remarkably popular guy,’ Carthach Keane added.
‘There are no airs or graces about him. He works harder than everyone else. We see the extra runs he makes. That’s the type of teammate everyone wants and why Luke is integral to Cork. I don’t think they would have reached an All-Ireland final without him.’
We will leave the final words on Luke Meade to Micheal McSweeney who has seen first-hand the effect the Cork inter-county player is having on his parish, club, county and region.
‘Luke doesn’t speak too often but when he does everyone listens,’ McSweeney said.
‘Everyone in the dressing room has the utmost respect for him. I’ve never met anyone who doesn't like Luke. He is still such a down to earth fella.
‘I was involved in a GAA summer camp with St Oliver Plunkett’s recently. After Cork beat Kilkenny, all the kids wanted to do was hurling the entire week. Luke came out to the camp on one of the days and you could see the admiration in the kids eyes.
‘The same is true all around West Cork and Luke is a major reason for that. Having one of our own on the Cork team is a big thing in West Cork.
‘Luke is only 25 in October but you think he has been around forever because he was so young when he first broke through. He is only going to get better because he is the fittest man on that Cork team and the player with the best touch. The sky’s the limit.’