Keith Raymond has dedicated 15 years to the Sligo Hurlers and last weekend his dream came true. He marched up the steps of the Hogan Stand on Jones Road to collect The Lory Meagher Cup. Keith made his debut back in 2003 and since then has played in nearly every position for The Yeats County, but no day will compare to that of Saturday the 23rd of June 2018.
The Sligo captain and centre back was delighted for the people of Sligo who have followed this team through thick and thin throughout the years. “There are six senior clubs here in Sligo and maybe ten underage clubs also, so there is a small hurling population here. However, we have four or five coaches, no different to any county, that are training kids each week to promote the game. Hopefully this win will inspire more to kids to play hurling.”
The game itself he cannot clearly remember, due to the pure focus of the job at hand. All that was on Keith’s mind was the next ball or what he would do with the sliotar to ensure that the cup was heading back the M4 to Sligo. A trait all top sportspeople have, tunnel vision. “The day itself was a blur, you’re just in a bubble, with pure emotion and adrenaline” Keith had special praise for two of his teammates on the day and who have played huge roles in their success this year, Kevin Gilmartin and Gerard O’Kelly Lynch. Gerard who lined out wing forward for the Sligo Hurlers in Croke Park also featured for the Footballers versus Armagh later that evening.
“Gerard has been a real leader not only on the field but off the field also. To be honest, I didn’t see him after the game for long. He raised the cup and had to leave straight away. You don’t see that too often with the way the game has gone and its intensity but thankfully he made the call during the week that he was going to play. Personally, I think it was the right call and it just shows the character and type of man he is by committing himself to both codes for our county.”
Keith also praised full forward Kevin Gilmartin who scored three goals on the day, including one in added time to clinch the title. “Kevin has really struggled with injuries this year and I am delighted to see him play such a big part in the day. He has put a lot time into the gym to get himself back in the hunt for a place on the team. He took his goals well and caused a lot of trouble for the Lancashire defence. That’s his main asset, his speed and running game towards defenders.”
On Friday last, the Sligo team had a surprise visit at their hotel from Alan Nolan, the Dublin Senior Hurling Goalkeeper. Keith and his teammates found this talk hugely beneficial before lining out in Croke Park and can’t thank Alan enough for what he did to psychologically tune them. “Alan spoke to us for about 15 minutes and not only did I find it useful for my game but enjoyable. We carried out every word he told us and it proved vital. We can’t thank Alan enough.”
The Calry/St.Joseph’s man believes that Sligo need to ‘push on from this win’ and playing in big games, against the best possible opposition is the way to do this. “We’re delighted to have played in Croke Park this year. To think of all the legends and quality of hurlers who have played in that field and even the players who haven’t played there. I’ve played there four times now. The buzz around the place is something special.”
However speaking to Keith he feels that the earlier rounds of the competition should also be promoted. “We want to play on the big days more often. It doesn’t have to be Croke Park! Playing before Leinster, Munster and Joe McDonagh games would really raise the profile of the competition and its players. I know it’s something the GPA is working towards alongside the GAA. Hopefully in the near future, we’ll play on bigger days, in bigger parks and have more media and TV coverage”
Keith is hugely optimistic for the future of Sligo Hurling and next year as they progress to the Nicky Rackard Cup. “Our U17 team played Mayo last night in the Celtic Challenge Semi Final. They had a great win and have a really nice team. We all travelled down to the game with the cup to give all the support and advice we could to get them over the line. It’s really encouraging for our lads too, to see the likes of these lads coming through. It’s been a great week for all and hopefully they can go on and add another trophy to the cabinet”
Keith also acknowledged a recent visit from GPA Engagement Officers led by Alan Kerins, prior to the first round of the Lory Meagher competition on a sunny evening in Strandhill. It was important for many of the new members of the squad to understand the importance of striking a balance in their on and off field careers to maximise the opportunity for success.
“Our young team is constantly developing. We’re training hard each week and are now reaping the awards. As I said, there is real excitement about this squad going into the future. It was great for the GPA to come down to Sligo and inform us of all the services they provide for players. Small added incentives like this and knowing what is available to us as Inter County players is always nice to hear. Lads have already started to engage with the GPA which is great to see.”
Looking forward to next year, Keith feels they have real chance of adding another cup to this year’s one and believes with the players coming through, there are really exciting times to come in the future. “On our panel this year, we had three lads who sat their leaving cert last week. What a week they have had. No doubt if we can introduce two or three new lads each year, Sligo Hurling will only improve and prosper”