Sunday 4 December 2016

VIDEO: Liam Neeson gives his support to Cushendall Ruairi Ogs in the club hurling final

Nevin Farrell

Published 15/03/2016 | 21:48

He may be a Hollywood superstar but Liam Neeson has not forgotten how to hurl and he has made a special video urging Cushendall Ruairi Ogs to capture the All-Ireland club trophy on St Patrick's Day in Croke Park.

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Ahead of the big match, Neeson is pictured standing in the Glens of Antrim with a hurling stick in his hand and he implores: "Bring the trophy home boys" before roaring: "Up the Ruairis!"

Neeson can then be seen confidently swiping a hurl and sending a ball hurtling through the air. He used to play hurling at school in his home town of Ballymena but often stays with family members in Cushendall and is now seen as an 'adopted' Glensman by residents.

He was the just the latest person in the Glens to make their own phone video ahead of the big match which shows fans of all ages, men and women, showing their support for Cushendall by swiping the ball off screen as if they are passing it to each other.

A club insider said last night: "It is great Liam took time to do this. He is obviously swept up in all the excitement and it is great to have him on our side."

Supporters of Cushendall are bidding for glory in the AIB All-Ireland Club hurling final and they say they would love it if Neeson is in the Croke Park stands on St Patrick's Day cheering them on.

Neeson has many links to Cushendall and often visits the scenic coastal village when he is home to visit his family and after making an appearance in Ballymena on Monday, fans of the Cushendall Ruairi Og hurling team say it would be great if he is on the touchline roaring them on against Limerick side Na Piarsaigh.

On Tuesday there was speculation the 63-year-old star was set to do something to help spur on the team in Cushendall, where his sisters have homes, and his two sons Micheal (20) and Daniel (19) often visited as youngsters and as boys could be seen at the hurling pitch in the centre of the village.

Neeson has a hurling pedigree, having turned out for St Patrick's secondary school in Ballymena, in the 1960s and he was pictured in a hurling team.

One of St Patrick's big rivals in those says was the former St Aloysius school in Cushendall and although hurlers are known for their keen sense of rivalry, after fifty years fans of the Ruairi Ogs say that although big Liam is from Ballymena he is welcome at Croke Park as an 'adopted' Cushendall man.

It is the first time Cushendall has reached the final after nine semi-final defeats and excitement is at fever pitch in the village.

Recalling Liam's many visits over the years to Cushendall, the club source added: "I never saw Liam around the hurling pitch. He he has not been here for a long time, his sons would come more often than he would.

"I remember a couple of years ago you would have seen the two sons around the hurling pitch but Liam is more than welcome to come and support us."

Another member of the Cushendall club said last night: "We know big Liam is a fan of hurling as he played the game when he was at St Patrick's secondary school in Ballymena away back in the 60s and he was at Slemish College in Ballymena for an engagement on Monday.

"If he is still about on Thursday we would love to see him in among our crowd supporting the Ruairi Ogs.

"Some people might think hurlers have long memories but even if Liam did play against St Aloysius before he will still get a big welcome in Cushendall. The thing about it is when he is down here nobody bothers him, they might just say hello and that is it."

Cushendall is hurling mad and it will be a case of last one out turn out the lights this Thursday.

Another fan said: "The training is all finished and the team will probably travel down to Dublin on Wednesday. Most of the fans will travel on Thursday morning so a few people could be scanning cars to see if Neeson is on his way south sporting the maroon and white colours of the team. Win or lose a big street party is planned for Cushendall on Thursday night."

Neeson's likeness for boxing as a child is well known but he was also a hurler for his school team.

A picture of a young Neeson shows him with team-mates from his school hurling team at St Patrick's Secondary School in Ballymena in the 1960s.

Neeson was a member of All Saints Boxing Club in Ballymena as a lad and was an accomplished fighter and it was also known Neeson was a fine athlete performing well in school sports at St Patrick's.

His old school, on Ballymena's Broughshane Road, is now called St Patrick's College and is now regarded as a centre of excellence on the basketball court with teams doing well on the all-Ireland stage.

Neeson attended St Patrick's between 1963 and 1967. The school book notes that Ballymena was not a hurling hotbed with the 'clash of the ash' being more associated at schools which served hurling strongholds in Dunloy, Loughgiel, Ballycastle and the Glens of Antrim.

The book said: 'There has been a strong tradition of hurling in St Patrick's dating back to when the school first opened. Even our most famous son - Liam Neeson - enjoyed the game.

'Where the interest in hurling came from is something of a mystery as very few of the feeder parishes would have had a hurling dimension in those days. Ballymena, Glenravel, Ahoghill and Cloughmills did not start hurling until well into the 1970s.

'The boys coming into the school in those early days would have had very little experience of hurling. Even the television and press would have been dominated by Down's succes in Gaelic football in the 1960s so they would not have been influenced from that source.

'Back then the boys played against teams from hurling strongholds such as St Aloysius (Cushendall), Star of the Sea (Ballycastle) and Our Lady of Lourdes (Ballymoney) where Loughgiel and Dunloy were the main feeder parishes. Amazingly, St Patrick's were more than a match even against some formidable opposition.'

Belfast Telegraph

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