Declan Bog: Damian Casey was a phenomenon… the highest scoring hurler to ever play the game and a great player off the field.

On one such Monday, Damian Casey planned to collect the Nicky Rackard Cup, the Division 3A Cup, and bring them from his home in Dungannon to the playing fields of Balligawley.

This is where our humble and young throwing and camogie club, CĂșchulainn An Ghleanna, hosts weekly youth training. He came to demonstrate free-taking, talk to young people and show silverware.

As a role model, it’s hard to imagine anything better. Now they will not have that chance after his tragic death in Spain, which became known on Friday.

Now the Gaelic Tyrons are again, incredibly, burying the county captain, a man in his prime.

Tyrone was, is and always will be a football district for the vast majority of people. But in areas like Dungannon, Carrickmore and Coalisland, there are clubs with a very strong identity, supported by small groups of tireless volunteers.

Someone with obvious athletic ability, Casey could easily have just played football, but his first love was throwing for Eoghan Ruad and Tyrone followed suit.

He made me a promise after an interview I gave him before the Nicky Rackard final when Tyrone met Roscommon.

Damian Casey’s record was broken before this game by statistician Younan Lindsey.
In a semi-final victory over Donegal, Casey broke the 400 mark in the dunking championship over 39 matches.

In the league and championship, his score was 39 goals and 894 points. He followed it all up with a 0-12 win in the final against Roscommon.

As incredible as it is, he is considered the highest scoring hurler to ever play the game. The leading scorer in the Senior Throwing Championship is Cork’s Patrick Horgan averaging 8.4 points per game while Casey averaged over 10 points per game.

Any arguments about the quality of the opposition must also take into account the quality of service that Casey was getting, as well as the attention he would be getting lower in the standings without the cameras to keep the defenders fair.

The man was a phenomenon. All around the small factions of Ulster, people are devastated by his loss, by the families of Eoghan Ruad and Tyrone GAA, and by his own family.

He was universally regarded as a man with a good sense of humor and an excellent character.

And yet he was here, ready to spend an evening to go to another club, to spend an evening talking to kids he didn’t know, adults he didn’t really know, all in order to grow throwing games and camogie.

Moreover, he mentioned how excited he was to do so. While we were preparing for this, Tyrone’s hurling manager Michael McShane contacted me and said that he would be inviting several players to our youth practice soon.

In what other sports culture do things like this exist? Let’s remind ourselves that McShane lives in Ballycastle and doesn’t have any more Tyrone cases when their season is over.

For the sake of the T-shirt window of our lives, we can participate in competitive sports. It’s nice to make the most of it. But selfishness can often be mistaken for competitiveness.

Casey was a competitive beast who wanted the best for himself and the teams he played on.

Last January, the Tyrone County Board still hadn’t organized a manager to take over the county’s senior team. Casey was furious and tweeted the question: “Are the @TyroneGAALive hurlers the only district team in the country that doesn’t have a manager when it was a week before collective training resumed?” He then added to this by saying in colorful language that the county council didn’t care about the throwing team.

His concerns extended to other areas as well, such as the fact that there was a locker room with a hot and cold recovery bath, which was apparently meant solely for the use of the county’s footballers.

Casey ruffled enough feathers to get the county council to act. They went out and did an impressive act of hiring, made possible by the new split season, by hiring Slaughtneil’s hurling manager Michael McShane.

McShane is not one to take half measures. For the first time, hurlers were to be treated equally with the county football team.

The first year came and ended with a defeat in the final of the Nicky Rackard Cup.

By the end of its second year, the county was playing and winning at a higher level than at any other time in its history.

It was because of Casey. As he told me, “these bullets had to be fired, and it worked very well.”
What impresses me most about him is this; Since his debut in early 2012 as a teenager, Casey has started his next 101 league and championship games.

This means that not only has he never lost form from being thrown or injured despite working hard in northern England and Scotland.

But he never received a dismissal. He played the game cleanly and honestly, with respect for his opponents and for himself.

It leaves a gap that will never be filled.