Easkey… Hardly a hurling stronghold…
In fact, the small Sligo village just 15 miles from the Mayo border is more known for its connections to the ‘big ball’ with Easkey GAA club founded just four years after the GAA itself in 1888. The club were among the first participants in the Sligo Senior Football Championship and has won five titles in their history.
As stated… hardly a hurling stronghold.
However, you’d be surprised. Hurling in Easkey and Sligo as a whole is on the up. The county were victorious in last year’s Lory Meagher Cup but they weren’t the only victorious Sligo hurling team as they were also division winners in the BOI Celtic Challenge last summer and are back this year with no less than five Easkey representatives on the team.
They’re also captained by an Easkey man in Fionn Moylan.
The towering midfielder has proved an influential force for both club and county throughout his career and is currently representing the county for the third year running in the BOI Celtic Challenge.
However, while hurling complimented his physical attributes, the real challenge Moylan and his teammates faced growing up was the fact that the sport couldn’t possibly be played in Sligo, even less so in a village as small as Easkey.
Never underestimate the power of want though. Growing up Moylan wanted to play hurling and no stereotype was ever going to stop him according to his father, Enda.
“They said no way, it couldn’t happen. You couldn’t play hurling in a small parish where there is no hurling,” said Moylan Sr.
“But Fionn stook at it and dug his heels. He went to the national school, always hurled, always trained. We got him up there with the GAA lads and he’s never looked back.”
When others thought hurling couldn’t survive in a place like Easkey and talent like Fionn Moylan may be lost to another club or worse, totally from the game, it took a special group of young men to keep it going.
As Enda Moylan puts it, these young men “voted with their feet”. The thrill of hurling was something they were never going to do without no matter what anyone said and they don’t realise it yet but their heroics in keeping the game alive in the area will ensure that future generations will be brought up with hurls in their hands.
“But the young guys voted with their feet. They kept coming to training and their skill levels just kept going up and up.
“They ended up going to a Féile down in Tipperary and earned the respect of all these teams from the so-called ‘traditional’ hurling counties. They didn’t realise a team from Sligo could have so much skill.”
That determination to keep going and never give up is something that Moylan has transferred into his inter-county career. The Easkey boys earned the respect of these traditional hurling counties before and it’s something that they and their Sligo teammates have continued on with throughout this Celtic Challenge campaign.
In the opening round, they faced a fancied Galway Tribesmen outfit that were expected to make light work of their Yeatsmen counterparts, however, Sligo earned the respect of everyone watching.
More importantly, they earned the respect of their opponents. These Galway lads who were born with hurls in their hands got their fill of it from Sligo.
Moylan, in particular, had a stormer that day as he plucked ball after ball out of the sky, giving the Tribesmen headaches and problems to solve throughout a barnstorming 60 minutes that saw him awarded with the Best & Fairest accolade.
To be honest it was of no surprise that on his first outing as Sligo captain Fionn Moylan would ultimately be the driving force behind a huge team performance and for father, Enda, seeing his son lead out his county that day and putting in that performance will go down as one of his proudest days.
“Oh absolutely. Seeing him leading a Sligo team out there is one of the proudest moments of my life. They went up against Galway and they may have lost but everyone was talking about the team after and how they underestimated the skill level of these guys.
“Those Galway lads have had hurls in their hands from when they were no age, they have that sense of tradition when it comes to hurling so to see Sligo go out there and hang with them and watching Fionn playing midfield against guys who’ve hurled all their lives and matching them toe-to-toe, it makes me very proud.”
Moylan and his Sligo teammates have proved the doubters wrong before. Many of them already have a Celtic Challenge medal in their back pockets and you’d be hard pressed to bet against them going forward in this year’s tournament.