Youth, experience and winning connection may be enough to end drought
Tipperary club’s rise in recent years owes much to underage development
Nenagh Éire Óg’s Kevin Tucker celebrates reaching the Tipperary SHC Final with two of his sons, Aodhán and Eanna, after beating Kildangan at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Bridget Delaney
It hasn’t escaped attention in Tipperary that back in 1995 when Nenagh Éire Óg won the club’s only senior hurling championship to date it was in an autumn that saw Clare win the All-Ireland hurling title and Dublin the football.
A more tangible link with that team is its only member who will be hurling in Sunday’s county final against Loughmore-Castleiney.
Kevin Tucker turned 38 last month and while not zipping down the wing any more, he continues to provide a mobile presence at centrefield.
“I was still very young in ’95,” he says, “and there were a lot of senior lads on the team. I was just in my third year and I was blessed because there were other lads who had retired the year before.
“If you’d told me back then that 18 years later I’d still be waiting for my second medal I don’t think I’d have believed you.”
The club’s rise owes much to the traditional methods of underage development. Since Éire Óg’s last appearance in a county final in 2006, the club has won six divisional and two county minor titles.
For club chair Jim Nagle, this season hasn’t been out of the blue. “We were expecting to come again,” he says. “Expectations have grown after a bit of a transition. There’s a good combination of young lads and older, experienced heads. We’ve played 13 games this year and lost just one, to Toomevara.”
He says injuries to two of the most established players, Hugh Maloney (who with Michael Heffernan was a member of Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning panel three years ago) and Richie Flannery required the introduction of younger players.
“It was out of necessity. We field about five minors. Only two of them would start and a couple more come on. There’s a couple of experienced heads too, a good mix that gelled. Kevin’s the link with ’95 and a couple of his team-mates weren’t even born when the club won that.”
Nenagh is a big population centre in the county. This has its advantages in terms of numbers and the local CBS – which won the colleges’ All-Ireland last year – but against this there is also the competition with rugby and soccer as well as the supposed lack of edge of a ‘town’ team when playing against rural opponents.
Nagle laughs at the stereotype. “Nenagh’s seen as this having this huge potential and there is the urban-rural rivalry because they’re trying to beat us every time.
“We’ve a population of about 7,000, which makes us probably the biggest hurling town in Tipperary with Thurles – I think we’ve more at the moment . . . but in the county a lot of the big population centres aren’t strong at hurling, like Cashel and Clonmel.”