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There are no competitions quite like the Electric Ireland Higher Education Championships for giving players from so-called ‘weaker counties’ a chance to shine against the best and brightest that hurling has to offer.
In Kerry, the county has become intertwined with Gaelic football since the dawn of time given the county’s huge success rate from underage through to senior level where they stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of history.
When it comes to hurling, however, the Kingdom would be considered a second-tier team.
Despite this, what many don’t know is that North Kerry is dominated by the small ball game with one village, in particular, having produced one of hurling’s next big stars.
That village is Lixnaw and that player is UCC and Kerry star, Shane Conway.
Conway was a force to be reckoned with in last year’s Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup. The young Kerryman was a star player on a star-studded UCC team that defeated Mary Immaculate College by 14 points to claim a famous double after their football side had collected the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup three days prior.
The Lixnaw man finished the college season with 0-32 from five games including 0-6 in UCC’s final win. His performances earned rave reviews across the country and saw him named the Electric Ireland Higher Education Hurler of the Year.
According to his club chairperson, Mike Kelliher, who described hurling as “the first topic of conversation in Lixnaw”, Conway’s success came as no surprise to those who knew him.
“That was always going to happen. Shane’s not the biggest of men but he has great heart,” Kelliher told Pundit Arena.
“He’s fearless, has a great temperament and as well as that, he has sublime speed and skill.”
Conway and UCC’s run to the final made headlines around the country, not just because of the Kerryman’s eye-catching performances but because he was the only player who qualified for the final representing a county outside of Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League.
A proud moment for the community of Lixnaw, Kelliher, alongside some club members travelled the country following Conway’s exploits with the Cork college.
Support for Conway continued to grow and come the final, those in the village had organised a bus to cheer on their famous son.
“Ah, he was very good,” says Kelliher.
“We’d have gone to the games leading up to the final and then when they qualified for the final we organised a bus and about 35/40 of us from the village headed up to the game.”
“I remember one point in the match, in the second half, Shane was around the centre-forward mark when the ball came his way. He got hit and ended up on the ground. Rather than stay down though, Shane got up, he played on and scored a cracking point from about 30-metres out.
“A true mark of the man and a proud moment for us watching on.”
Following that win, as expected, the UCC team were on the celebration trail.
Given that one of their star players had just found himself in the unique position of being one of only a few representatives from his county to win an Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup medal, the team decided they would head for the Kingdom.
They organised a bus and made the trip to Lixnaw to pay tribute to Conway as well as his community, neighbours, club members and family who had followed his journey every step of the way.
Thank you to the people of Lixnaw and the Conway family for the courtesy and kindness they showed UCC Fitzgibbon Cup team tonight. Great memories and great friends @UCC @UCCSport @LixnawGAA @Kerry_Official @tomas5ky pic.twitter.com/9ie13P2qHf
— UCC GAA (@ucc_gaa) February 25, 2019
Kelliher described the night as a great occasion.
“I got a phone call around 2 o’clock on the Monday saying the whole UCC team were on their way to Kerry and coming to Lixnaw.
“So, I don’t know, all of us just came together on short notice and said we’d organise something. So we got a truck and placed it at the top of the village outside our main sponsor’s shop and we had a homecoming for Shane and the team.
“Yeah it was a great occasion, club members, neighbours a lot of the community came out in support and sure it was a great night.”
Lixnaw will be hoping that the Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup will make a repeat journey to the club this season. Conway and UCC continue their campaign in the quarter-final stage when they meet UCD on Wednesday, January 29 in the Mardyke at 6pm.
Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and Higher Education Championship campaign, FirstClassRivals, showcases the unique trait of these historic GAA competitions that sees unexpected alliances form when fierce county rivals put aside their differences to play together, challenge together, and win together.
Electric Ireland is proud to support the Higher Education Championships and will live stream a selection of Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games. Watch the games and follow the Championship at www.electricireland.ie/hec and be a part of the conversation on social media using the hashtag, #FirstClassRivals or visit @ElectricIreland on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.