Liam Watson’s 3-7 was the talk of hurling after Loughgiel Shamrocks won the All-Ireland club final on Saturday last, especially when coupled with his phenomenal tally of 16 points in the Antrim side’s defeat of Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh in the semi-final.
Among a number of outstanding individual displays in both of those games, however, there was also another Loughgiel player who really caught the eye.
“Who was the number four?” everyone was asking, “Where did this guy come from, why haven’t we heard of him before?”
Well, that number four is 20-year-old Ronan McCloskey, built in the mould of Seán Flood, the terrier from Clougbawn and Wexford, sporting the same mop of curly black hair and hurling with the same tenacious style. Seán isn’t Ronan’s inspiration, however, for either the hairstyle or the hurling! “Hair-wise, I haven’t modelled myself on anyone, this is something I’ve just done myself; I’ve been growing my hair since the start of the championship — I did it last year and we made it all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final, did it again this year and we’ve won, we’re the All-Ireland champions.”
And hurling? “I always looked up to Ollie Canning, he was the man I most admired in that position. He’s a pure hurler, always did his best to play the ball but he’d also do his best to keep his man from scoring — that’s all you can do.”
There are a few surprising elements to the Ronan McCloskey hurling story, the most prominent of which is probably the fact he’s a newcomer to the game. Started when he was 16, Loughgiel manager PJ O’Mullan told us on Saturday — no, laughs Ronan, it was earlier than that. “I started when I was 15 actually. I was never into it at school — my friends all played, so did my brothers and I tried a few times but I could never get into it. Finally though it caught up to me and I started playing — I haven’t stopped since.”
If it took a while for Ronan to discover his love for the game, it took no time at all for him to discover his position. Corner-back isn’t a glamour spot, you’re never going to grab headlines the way a Liam Watson will; for Ronan, however, there was never anywhere else. “Everyone hates it but I suppose I was just built for that position, it’s the place that suits me best. I’ve played a lot there at this stage with my school and my club so I’m used to it by now.”
Another surprise — though he is Loughgiel bred to the bone, though he had three brothers on the field with him in the Loughgiel team that finished Saturday’s final, there was no history of hurling in the family. “We still live in the house where my father grew up but he never played hurling. He was a great supporter though and still is to this day. The four of us all play — Tony and Eddie are the older brothers, Dan is two years younger than me, he’s only 18.”
The thing is, their father didn’t need to play — it was a community effort. “There’s plenty of hurling tradition in Loughgiel itself,” Ronan explains; “Hopefully now we can bring back more titles to Loughgiel in the next few years.”
In the year when the GAA is starting a major push on the promotion of hurling in Ulster, the Táin league now in full swing, the whole province should benefit from this, says Ronan. “It’s not just the glens and Antrim, this should bring on Ulster hurling, let them know northern teams are in there with a shout now. We’re going home as All-Ireland champions, the stereotype of northern teams not being able to hurl has been broken. It’s good for Ulster hurling.”
As for Ronan himself: “I played U21 last year but nothing at senior yet. Maybe the future.” Expect a call sooner rather than later from Jerry Wallace.
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