BY NIALL SHERRY
Tyrone’s Damian Casey gone too soon
The hurling world was shocked to the core last weekend, with the news of the passing of Tyrone’s greatest ever hurler, Damian Casey.
The 29-year-old Dungannon man died while in Spain, where the gifted stick man was due to attend a friend’s wedding.
Tyrone GAA announced the sad news by saying:
“Heartbreak and grief can come in many forms but are especially cruel when brought about by the sudden death of someone young, talented, outgoing and in the prime of life.
“Accordingly, Gaelic Tyrone is totally shaken by the news of the tragic death of Damian Casey, a supreme hurler just now at the peak of his powers.”
Tyrone GAA added: “Damian Casey was a special gift to Tyrone and to hurling. We were the richer for his presence and are the poorer for his passing.”
Chair of the Tyrone Couinty Board,Michael Kerr said: “This breaking news is beyond belief.”
“Someone who brought honour, delight and simple, straightforward gladness to our whole county, and far beyond, is gone and it’s so hard to take in.”
“There are very difficult days ahead for Sean, Susan, Louise and Catherine, for Damian’s wider family circle and many friends and associates, for his team-mates and for the Gaels of Dungannon and Tyrone.
“Our deepest sympathy goes to them, and our focus must now be on providing the support and comfort that will be so badly needed.”
Dungannon Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club, where Damian learnt his craft and played with distinction for years, shared the devasting news on their social media channels on Saturday morning.
“The Committee, Officers, team mates and members of Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club Dungannon are devastated by the sudden passing of our Senior Hurler Damian Casey. Our thoughts at this time are with his heartbroken father & mother Séan and Susan, his sisters Louise and Catherine and the wider Casey family circle.”
“No amount of words can express fully the depth of their and our despair at this awful time, nor can any amount of words fully capture what Damian meant to his family, his club Eoghan Ruadh and GAA in Tyrone and beyond.”
“Quite simply he was a unique talent, but above all that, a truly wonderful son, brother, teammate, friend and leader. For one so talented, he was blessed with a modesty beyond belief. Accolades were bestowed on him for his achievements on hurling fields across Ireland and though acknowledged quietly and privately, they never changed the modest, team focused, club focused lad who first walked into our club over two decades ago.”
“Eoghan Ruadh’s Club House will open each evening and all are welcome to call. “
Ar dhéis Dé go raibh anam uasal.
Tyrone Senior hurling manager, Michael McShane simply said
“On earth you were a star both as a hurler and a gentleman. May your star shine brightly in heaven. Rest In Peace mo chara. You will be sorely missed.”
Across the Island, the reponse to Damian’s passing was widespread. Kilkenny GAA said:
“Kilkenny GAA and all in the hurling community locally are terribly saddened to hear of Damien’s death. Such a talent gone far too early.”
Damian Casey – incredible, phenomenal, understated, a true Gael
As we all know, Tyrone is a hot bed of Gaelic football. Hurling largely plays second fiddle to the big ball.
Damian hurled from a young age with his beloved Eoghan Ruadh club and played Gaelic Football with the Thomas Clarkes club, both in Dungannon. He was a natural athlete, excelling in both codes, and showing those leadership qualities that would stand to him during his senior playing days.
The sliotar became his main focus from about U14 upwards, and by God did he master his craft. Damian attend St Patrick’s Acadamy before studying at Ulster University, where he represented them at Fitzgibbon Cup level.
His club are second only to Eire Og of Carrickmore, in the number of Tyrone senior hurling championships won. 24 in total. The hurling club in the town has been going since the early 40’s, but never had its own base. Eoghan Ruadh would play games at Dungannon Clarkes O’Neill Park and other neighbouring pitches, until the opening of their own sports complex in November 2015.
Casey helped his club win four of those treasured titles, and it was while staring for his club that he came to the attention of the County hurling selectors. Damian represented the red-hand county from U16 level upwards, winning All-Ireland titles at both U16 and minor level. He progressed through to U21 level, before making his senior inter-county debut in 2012. Just two years later, Damian would captain his county to their first ever Nicky Rackard Cup title at just 21 years of age, scoring 0-8 in the final win over Fingal.
Just a few weeks ago, Damian was an instrumental in his county’s second Nicky Rackard win. That day in Croker against the Rossies, Casey finished with a personal tally of 0-14. The modest Dungannon man had spear-headed his county’s rise to play hurling at its highest level ever. Anyone whoever crossed his path, speaks highly and fondly of Damian.
From his senior debut in 2012, Casey represented the Red Hand’s for the 101st time in that win at Croker last month. Not one single match did he miss having made his debut. Phenomenally, he registered a score in every single game that he played in the red and white of Tyrone. Even when working across the pond, Casey made the journey home for every match. His dedication and desire to play his game, unbelievable.
Casey’s scoring total for Tyrone in league and championship stands at an incredible 39-908, that’s 1,011 points. To put it in some sort of context, Cork’s Patrick Horgan became the senior championship’s top scorer of all-time, when he overtook the legendary Joe Canning of Galway recently. Horgan averages 8-4 points per game played. Damian averaged just over TEN. He was to Tyrone what TJ is to Kilkenny.
A winner of numerous awards across his career, Casey remained grounded and wasn’t entirely comfortable when the accolades were spoken about in his presence. Humble and modest, a product of his rearing, Daman Casey just loved to hurl.
As Buff Eagan tweeted after the news broke:
“Heartbreaking to hear of the Death of Tyrone hurler, Damien Casey. One of the Best Forwards to come out of Ulster. The Dungannon man played over 100 games for his county, and INCREDIBLY averaged over 10 points a game. May the Tyrone Sod Rest lightly on this Hurling Warrior.”
In a recent interview prior to the Nicky Rackard Cup Final, Casey said “I grew up wanting to play for Dungannon and Tyrone all my life.”
Damian loved his club; he loved his town and he loved his county. Hurling was everything to him. Our sport is worse off without Damian.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Sean, Susan, Louise and Catherine at this terrible time and in the days and weeks ahead.
The Hurler’s Prayer
Grant me O Lord, a hurler’s skill,
With strength of arm and speed of limb
Unerring eye for the flying ball
And courage to match whate’er befall
May my stroke be steady and my aim be true
My actions manly and my misses few
No matter what way the game may go
May I rest in friendship with every foe
When the final whistle for me has blown
And I stand at last before God’s judgement throne
May the great referee when he calls my name
Say, you hurled like a man; you played the game.
– Seamus Redmond