Boosted by the return of Irish exiles, football and hurling experienced huge growth in popularity over the last year.
There are now four hurling teams operating in Sydney, three in Melbourne, and one in Perth and Brisbane. Gaelic football is also becoming extremely popular, with six teams in Brisbane alone.
Michael Cusack’s is Sydney’s largest GAA club with teams across four Gaelic codes, hurling, men’s and ladies football and camogie.
The clash of the ash is now reverberating in Brisbane, where rugby league grips the heart of the city.
Now locals are being given the opportunity to witness the thrills and spills of the fastest field sport in the world.
The establishment of the Brisbane Hurling Club by Inagh native, Kieran Long with the help of a few other hurling die-hards, illustrates what can be achieved once there is a burning desire to continue one of the games fostered by Carron native Michael Cusack over 125 years ago.
Kieran became secretary, his brother, Brendan the treasurer and Michael Fogarty from Laois, chairman.
It all started with a casual puck around in Brisbane on St Patrick’s Day with a few exiled hurlers. Kieran got a few telephone numbers together and started ringing around to gauge interest.
Interest snowballed and once people saw that a structure was going to be put in place they responded with great gusto. The hurling team effectively had to start from scratch.
Sliothars, hurleys and playing gear were in short supply. Sliothars were purchased on order from Tony O’Donnell in Crusheen, while hurleys were bought from Cork hurlers Ben and Gerry O’Connor’s and Carey’s in Kilkenny.
The availability of the Willa Wong GAA clubhouse and pitch in South Brisbane, thanks to the assistance of current Queensland GAA president, Seamus Sullivan, provided an ideal focal point for training.
Brisbane Football Club was set up about 35 years ago and the GAA club has a long-term lease on the field.
In addition to collecting $10 dollars from players at training sessions, a massive sponsorship drive helped provide the necessary money to fund their trip to Melbourne for the hurling championship.
Kieran Long recalled that the players’ love of hurling brought them together and noted the response since the formation of the club has been “phenomenal”.
“Some of the players hadn’t played hurling for about 10 years but once they started playing they really enjoyed it, even when they didn’t make the final panel of 25. Players came together for the love of hurling.
“The standard of hurling in Australia has increased dramatically and is as good as club championship games in Ireland.
“We probably didn’t have the reserve of fitness built up for the final and will be better prepared this year.
“Hurling with the club is very time-consuming but very enjoyable,” he said.
The debut performance of the Brisbane hurling team in the championship run over five consecutive days during the first week of October was encouraging.
Brisbane lost to Victoria narrowly on a 3-12 to 2-13 scoreline, drew with New South Wales 1-11 apiece and lost to Western Australia by 0-7 to 0-5 in a game played in dreadful weather conditions.
Although Western Australia topped the group, Brisbane defeated them in the semi-final by 2-10 to 1-12 before running out of steam in the final when New South Wales proved to be their masters, winning 1-16 to 1-7.
The Brisbane team was captained in the final by Rory Devery from St Rynagh’s in Offaly and included All-Ireland minor hurling medallist Michael Coughlan, who was subsequently voted players’ player of the championship.
Five Clare men started on the team that played in the final. Kieran Long was the custodian and his brother, Brendan lined out at centre-forward. Fitzgibbon Cup medal winner, Alan Murphy from Cratloe was at midfield with another Clare man, Barry Dolan, son of Syl Dolan, Meelick and Keith Devitt from Ballyea was selected at full-forward.
Donie Whelan from Kilkenny was the manager of the team, with assistance from Liam O’Sullivan from Limerick.
Kieran Long (26) played at U-12 level for Inagh hurling club all the way up to U-21 and intermediate while Brendan was a member of the all-conquering Inagh-Kilnamona U-21 team in 2007 and Minor A championship winning side in 2005.
Already, the Brisbane hurling team is making plans for the forthcoming season and hope to participate in the New South Wales club tournament in Gosford north of Newcastle, on March 28.
Conor O’Halloran from Tulla has played for New South Wales while Ronan Hayes from Sixmilebridge has lined out with Western Australia.
The Brisbane team that lost the final to New South Wales included:
Kieran Long, Inagh-Kilnamona, Clare; Stephen McArdle, Armagh; Pat Lanigan, Carrick Swans, Tipperary, Tony Clune, Westmeath; Rory Devery, St Rynagh’s, Offaly, capt; Michael Coughlan, Craughwell, Galway; Rory Conroy, Laois; Barry Dolan, Meelick, Clare; Alan Murphy, Cratloe, Clare; Dan Clune, Westmeath; Brendan Long, Inagh/Kilnamona, Clare; Barry Egan, Tipperary; Jimmy Whelan, Black and White’s, Kilkenny, Keith Devitt, Ballyea, Clare; Michael Fogarty, Laois.
Subs used: Shane Wickham, Wexford; Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Tipperary and Paul Mullaly, Kilkenny; James Fenlon, Carlow, Kevin Carney, Lismore, Waterford; Tommy Doran, Carlow; Liam O’Sullivan, Limerick and Ciaran Quinn, Limerick also played championship games.