If there is one thing you can tell when speaking to Eoghan McNamara, it’s that his passion for hurling runs deep. His hunger to achieve in the sport is infectious, influencing those around him to strive for greatness as well. Whether he is talking about his involvement with his club in East Limerick, Doon, playing intercounty hurling for Limerick or wearing the red and black hoops of the Trinity Senior Hurling Team, it is clear that the sport has become an integral part of his life.
An ever-threatening presence in the underage ranks over the last number of years, Limerick have progressed to the point where the Treaty County watched their under-21 team claim the spoils in Semple Stadium on September 9th, beating Kilkenny by 0-17 to 0-11 to become the All-Ireland Hurling champions. McNamara was delighted with the win. “It was a brilliant way to end the year”, he told The University Times afterwards. Limerick’s dominance in the game was evident from the first minute to the last, meaning it was the Treaty County who would celebrate when the final whistle blew. McNamara put their success down to the preparation prior to the final. “The training we put in all year, it just really pays off. It was brilliant to celebrate with the lads.” Yet it was watching the younger generation swamp the pitch after the game that really delighted him. “It’s just brilliant to see their enthusiasm for the game. It made you re-evaluate what the game is all about like, just enjoying yourself.”
Talking to McNamara, over the phone and over email during a break from his training, it is clear just how important the All-Ireland is to him. “All-Ireland Finals are what every lad dreams of”, he says, a chance to be part of history. He was fortunate to be a part of the Limerick set-up from a young age. This helped him to become captain of the minor team in 2015, a path that led him to becoming the current goalkeeper during the under-21 championship this year. Yet he is humble about his success and sees it as a joy to be able to represent his county. Reflecting on the moment he was appointed captain, I query whether he felt more pressure taking on the role. McNamara instead speaks of how becoming captain helped him mature as a player: “It’s a privilege and an honour, the manager isn’t expecting you to change when it’s given to you, he’s expecting you to do more of the same.”
It’s a privilege and an honour, the manager isn’t expecting you to change when it’s given to you, he’s expecting you to do more of the same
It is no secret that McNamara is regarded as one of the best young goalkeepers of his age on the intercounty scene. Indeed, he was still young when he was drafted into the Limerick under-21 set up in 2015. McNamara credits the underage structures in place in the Limerick academy for the team’s fluid progress from the minor grade to under-21. He comments that “the organisation they put in place has meant that it just feels like a gradual step up”. While he admits it may seem like a “drastic change” in the beginning, the challenge of such a quick move from one age grade to the next is eased by the academy’s conscious embedding of “a winning mindset and mentality” through every level. It is something McNamara hopes can be emulated within the senior set-up in the near future. “You’ll always have talent coming through with Limerick hurling, but it’s just trying to get fellas who are used to winning and bring that mindset to senior. I think it’ll take a couple of years… might take five to 10 years but I think it’ll pay off in the end with senior.” An impressive feat, the strong underage structure has now started to bear fruit with the ever-growing recognition of Limerick as a force to be reckoned with.
Reflecting on the year to date, he describes the championship’s knock-out nature as “cut-throat”. Considering this, I ask him which game he believes was the toughest prior to the final. “The Galway game”, he says. Galway were a well-organised unit and “played very intelligently…we pushed on at the right time”. But last week, McNamara was not the only Trinity representative in Semple Stadium, as his college clubmate Conor O’Carroll was named on Eddie Brennan’s panel for Kilkenny. Speaking before the final, McNamara paid due credit to O’Carroll, praising him as “goal scorer-in-chief for the Fitz [Fitzgibbon Cup], and … such a class player, so it’s brilliant to finally come up against him. It’s brilliant for Trinity to have two lads in the final”.
When it comes to playing for Trinity, McNamara is more likely to be seen playing in the half-back line than wearing the number one jersey, which has been held by Dubliner Eoin Skelly. He is content in defence, though he does contend with a laugh that “I think I’d be an ideal full forward, but strangely enough the management have never been of the same opinion, probably ‘cos of my complete lack of scoring ability”. As much as he would like the change of scenery on the field, he relishes the chance to play in a position such as wing back. “Wing back is lovely though if you want to hurl as much ball as possible, you can let your skills do the work and read the game as much as possible.” With such versatility on the field, it’s no surprise how successful he is as a goalkeeper. I ask him what attracted him to this position the most. “I like the emphasis you need to put on basic skills: first touch, handling and striking.” He notes that you must be better at these skills in goals than any other position on the field, as “every mistake is amplified”.
If Michael Cusack, the founder of GAA rose up and saw Trinity GAA club, I think he’d be delighted with what he saw, a proper club
Turning to review the previous year with the Trinity Senior hurlers, McNamara sees it as “a big step up, and a massive leap forward”. He credits the work done by his team members, including Manager Shane O’Brien, Chairman Eoin O’Leary and President Tom Heffernan, for all the progress that has been made and the fact that Trinity now competes in the top division of college hurling. McNamara paid due credit to O’Brien in particular, saying how he is “bringing a totally different mindset into Trinity hurling”. “The training was ridiculously tough, but it’s great to see the step-up in the club, especially with the freshers after winning last year, it’s that winning mentality. Hopefully now the change will keep going with the club. Next year now we’ll push on that bit further with Fitzgibbon because we’re a club on the move and on the rise, so hopefully we can keep it going”, he says. The club’s ambition is palpable, as they aim to improve on last year. There were promising signs in their final game of the championship, despite the fact that they ultimately came up short by two points against Dublin City University (DCU).
When I ask McNamara how he has enjoyed his time with the club, he tells me that it has truly “given me perspective on what hurling is all about”. He reiterates that the sense of community which can often be lost in the modern game is “alive and strong in Trinity GAA”. His pride for the club is evident. “It’s a club in the truest sense of the word. You play a game to create a sense of community and to form friendships.” The openness and opportunity to make close friendships in the club is perhaps one of the most appealing factors, McNamara says, noting how the club has “such an eclectic mix of people involved. There’s no cliques or snobbery, we come together to play a bit during the week, and then head to Chaps [Chaplins Bar] for more craic”. For anyone reading this, this club can become a home away from home where you can have the chance to play GAA and gain lifelong friends.
McNamara’s pride for the club shines through in every sense, especially when he thinks back to the very beginning of the GAA and their vision for what a GAA club would be. “The best compliment I could give Trinity GAA is that if Michael Cusack, the founder of GAA, rose up and saw Trinity GAA club, I think he’d be delighted with what he saw, a proper club.”