WHEN Cathal O’Donovan started playing hurling with Leitrim, there were those that thought he was mad, but he’s had the last laugh, as he has ended the season with an All-Ireland medal and a Carbery GAA Monthly Award.
O’Donovan and Ben Murray have the unique distinction of bringing the only All-Ireland senior hurling medals to Cork this season.
O’Donovan plays his hurling with Argideen Rangers intermediates while Murray plays with Ballinascarthy juniors. They both attend UCD, O’Donovan as a veterinary surgeon and Ben as an agricultural science student. While in UCD they were both invited to play inter-county hurling with Leitrim.
O’Donovan began hurling with Leitrim in 2017 and that year the team was beaten by Warwickshire in the All-Ireland final.
In 2018 Murray was on placement in Mohill in Leitrim and also threw in his lot with the Leitrim county hurlers. The team played in the Nicky Rackard Cup, Tier 4, hurling championship in 2018 but then regraded to Tier 5 in 2019.They went on to reach the Lory Meagher All-Ireland final in Croke Park and after a hectic game that went to extra time, Leitrim won by a single point, 2-23 to 2-22.
Murray made history by becoming the first player from West Cork to win an All-Ireland hurling medal with Leitrim and a South West junior medal with his club Ballinascarthy in the same season.
Recently at The West Cork Hotel, the Carbery Monthly GAA June Award was presented to Murray and O’Donovan for spreading the hurling gospel from West Cork to Leitrim and achieving the unique honour of winning All-Ireland senior medals as a result.
It’s been an adventure for O’Donovan who got involved with the Leitrim hurlers after setting up camp in the county for a 24-week placement in his third year in UCD.
‘I was in Manorhamilton, in north Leitrim, a small community and not exactly hurling territory. There wasn’t much happening there, except football and a few lunatics like myself playing hurling,’ he said.
One of his friends in college was a Leitrim man who played hurling with his native county and was also on placement too. That was the link that joined the worlds of West Cork and Leitrim hurling together.
‘My friend was going training and, as I had nothing else to do, he asked me to come along,’ O’Donovan said.
‘Half the Leitrim hurling team is based in Dublin, either working or in college and the majority of the training takes place in Mullingar, halfway. Weekend trainings are generally in Carrigonshannon. In fairness, we got a massive welcome from the players, no problems who you were or where you were from as long as you played hurling. Ben joined me the following year.
‘We travel down Tuesdays and Thursday nights to St Loman’s, Mullingar. We’d fill up the car, usually five of us from UCD, two of us from Cork and three from Leitrim.’
O’Donovan’s short career with Leitrim hasn’t been all roses and medals as the team struggled for success in the lowest grades.
‘In 2017 we reached the All-Ireland final of Tier 5, the Lory Meagher Cup, but were beaten by Warwickshire,’ explained O’Donovan.
‘However, both teams were promoted to Tier 4, the Nicky Rackard Cup, for 2018, but we didn’t do too well there. We did reach the final of the National League, Division 3, in 2018 but lost the final to Lancashire by a point after extra time.
‘In 2019 we regraded back to the Lory Meagher championship and reached the final where Lancashire were again our opponents in Croke Park. This time, thank God, it was we who came out on top by a point after extra time. It was brilliant to play in Croke Park.’
So what does the future hold for O’Donovan, with an All-Ireland medal already in his collection?
‘This is my last year in college, and I hope to get back to Cork when I qualify,’ said O’Donovan.
‘I suppose I’ll have to give up my Leitrim career then as the travel would be too much. I will miss it and it was a great experience to be involved in, but I think the fairytale is over now.
‘I’ll continue playing with Argideen, they thought I was mad when I started playing with Leitrim but when they got used to the idea, they were totally supportive.
‘Hopefully, we can put a good Carbery team together for the senior championship. There was a good effort made this season and if we can get 25 really dedicated hurlers together, just like Leitrim, who knows what we might achieve.’
Having got the taste for glory O’Donovan is anxious for more and who knows where his future hurling career will take him. After winning an All-Ireland medal, everything will be a bonus from here on.