On one of these Mondays, Damien Casey planned to collect the Nicky Rackard Cup, the Division 3A Cup, and bring them from his Dungannon home to Ballygowlie Playing Fields.
Hats off to where our humble and youthful hurling and camogie club, Cuchulain en Ghalinna, is our weekly youth training session. He was coming to give a little demonstration of free-taking, to talk to the youth, and to show off the silverware.
As a role model, it’s hard to imagine many better. After his tragic death in Spain, he will no longer get that opportunity, the news of which came on Friday.
Now, Gaelic Tyrone finds himself again, unbelievably, captain of a county team, burying a man in the prime of his game.
Tyrone is, to most people, was and always will be, a football county. But in areas such as Dungannon, Carrickmore and Collisland, there are clubs with very strong identities of their own, run by small contingents of tireless volunteers.
Someone with Casey’s obvious athletic gifts could easily just play football, but her first love was for Ioghan Rudh, and Tyrone followed suit.
His promise to me came after an interview I conducted with him before the Nikki Rackard finals, when Tyrone was meeting Roskoman.
Damien Casey’s record had been flagged off by statistician Greece Lindsay before that game.
In a semifinal victory over Donegal, Casey broke the 400-point mark in over 39 appearances in championship hurling.
In league and championship, their tally was 39 goals and 894 points. He followed it up with a 0–12 against Roscommon in the final.
As incredible as it is, he stands as the most prolific bowler to ever play the game. The leading scorer for Senior Championship Hurling is Patrick Horgan of Cork, with a scoring average of 8.4 points per game, while Casey’s was over 10 points per game.
Any argument about the quality of the opposition will also have to take into account the quality of service Casey receives, as well as more attention being paid to a league table without cameras to keep defenders honest.
The man was a phenomenon. Around the small groups of Ulster Hurling, people are devastated for his loss, to the Ioghan Ruad and Tyrone GAA families and their own families.
He was universally seen as a man of good humor and great character.
And yet here he was, ready to spend an evening going to another club, to spend an evening talking to children he didn’t know, adults he didn’t really know, all hurling. And to develop the game of camogi.
Also, he mentioned how excited he was to do it. While we were making these arrangements, Tyrone Hurling manager Michael McShane contacted and told me he would soon bring some players into our youth training.
In what other sports culture does this sort of thing exist? Let’s remind ourselves that McShane lives in Ballycastle and had no more business coming to Tyrone with the completion of his season.
For the shirt window of our lives, we get to play competitive games. It is good to make the most of it. But selfishness can often be mistaken for a competitive streak.
Casey was a competitive beast who wanted the best for himself and the teams he played on.
In January of last year, the Tyrone County Board still had not arranged for a manager to take over the county senior team. Casey was furious and wrote a tweet asking, ‘Is @TyroneGAALive the only county team in the country that hasn’t got a manager, which should have been a week away from resuming mass training?? He then added it in colorful language, saying that the county board didn’t care about the hurling team.
Their issues moved to other areas, such as the fact that there was a changing room with a hot and cold recovery bath apparently for the exclusive use of county footballers.
Casey flapped enough wings to make the County Board Act. They moved out and were made possible by the new split season in an impressive act of recruitment – recruited Slotneil hurling manager Michael McShane.
McShane is not someone who accepts half-measures. For the first time, throwers were to be given the same treatment as on the county football team.
Year one came and ended with a loss in the Nicky Rackard Cup final.
By the end of year two, the county was playing and winning at the highest level ever in their history.
He was down for Casey. As he told me, ‘Those bullets needed to be fired, and it worked great.’
To me, the most impressive thing about him is this; Since making his debut as a teenager in early 2012, Casey started the next 101 games in the league and championship.
This means that he not only didn’t lose his form, or even picked up an injury, despite working for spells in northern England and Scotland.
But he was never suspended. He played the game clean and honest with respect for the opponents and himself.
He leaves a gap that will never be filled.