September 03, 1993
Great Galway Hurling memories of the recent past and ace attacker Noel Lane go hand in hand
Every nook and cranny guarding tit-bits of information concerning Galway's hurling tradition and pedigree will be well and truly hoovered before a ball is pucked in anger next Sunday. The countdown's on towards complete banality as regards the last column inches penned in previewing this weekend's All-Ireland Hurling final between the best from the West and the Top Cats from Kilkenny.
In full flight the media machine is a slick well oiled and well versed outfit which lifts every carpet it has to fill pages, fill air time and such like. Not surprisingly the scribes and broadcasters have dwelt quite a bit on exploring the nature, strength and style of club hurling in resurgent Galway. Reckoned to be the foundation and springboard for the county's rise and rise this year in particular, the club scene is deemed to be the cornerstone of Galway's burgeoning game. Hardly something new though. An old chestnut as far as the 'oul hands in the media are concerned and especially for players in Galway long enough in the tooth to remember the domestic club scene in decades past.
Players like Galway old boy Noel Lane of Ballinderren fame, played all grades of club hurling in his native county, excelling in each era and tasting the best of action on offer over the course of four decades. During Noel's sojourn on the club scene (he's just hung up his boots last season) quality hurling was common coinage in the heartland of hurling that is the south of Galway. According to the former All-Star, not a lot has changed except that the standard of hurling has even got higher!
"Club hurling has been the backbone of successful Galway hurling teams over the years and at the present time the standard of hurling among the clubs here is as high as I've ever seen it. The fact that the two years speaks for itself. Kiltormer and Sarsfields won back to back All-Ireland titles and overall club hurling around the county is in a very healthy situation."
Coillte Teo's Regional new business manager based in Galway city, Noel Lane talks as good a game of hurling while playing out his retirement from competitive fare as he once played it. Extremely lucid, obviously knowledgeable and patently passionate about the game he has loved so well, the former star attacker with the cutting edge to mow down the toughest defensive formation as sadly never gleaned the rewards he might have been due from his days on the club circuit with home club Ballinderren. Somehow the cliché which goes something like "it wasn't for the want of trying" fits particularly snugly around the profile/interview herewith being penned on the affable 39 year old 1984 Galway Hurler of the Year
Noel's best days with Ballinderren were confined to his underage days on home ground, south of the county. the play-anywhere front runner with the ability to carry balls great distances at speed and in full control. A menace, in essence, to a defence under siege. He used his precocious skills to great effect too, winning south Championship medals at Under 14, 16 and 21 levels. In an area given over exclusively to that most unique of field games, there was plenty of local encouragement for Lane and his peers. Surrounded by a hot bed of talent in workmanlike clubs like Gort, Kinvara, Ardrahan and Craughwell, the young Lane had all the inspiration and all the role models he would ever need.
Strangely, Noel Lane, the would-be medal smothered county man never made the Galway Minor or Under 21 first fifteen. An archetypal late developer, Ballinderreen's best back in the early seventies played more football than hurling, while pursuing his interest in forestry and agriculture at college in Athenry, Kinnity and Avondale. Still, he never broke his service with Ballinderreen all this time and when eventually he was re-installed in 1976 back home, linking up with seasoned county Seniors and club colleagues Joe McDonagh and Michael Coen spelt success.
In 1977 Ballinderreen reached the semi final of the Galway Senior Hurling Championship, performed bravely but came away with nothing to show for it. Progress would soon be made on an individual and collective basis. Such was Noel's form and quality performances during the campaign that his elevation to county Senior ranks was already being canvassed by those that knew his game inside out at grassroots level. Messrs. Frank Fahy, Imky Flaherty and Josie Gallagher knew their stuff though and the tearaway 23 year old half forward was duly given his opportunity in the maroon of Galway for the 1977/'78 National League campaign.
"My first game was against Clare in Tulla and although it might have been an unfamiliar position for me, I was just glad to get on the team. The likes of myself, Bernie Forde and Jimmy Cooney were introduced as new blood on to the side and I was delighted to come into such an established team", recalled the currently domiciled Kilcolgan underage coach and present day Ballinderren G.A.A. committee man.
Following in the footsteps of his uncle Tommy, he was never to part company with the county Seniors thereafter. In good company he excited, played out of his skin and enjoyed rising his game to bet better opposition. There was good stuff all around him too. Apart from the emerging conglomeration at county level, there was the like of John Faul, Mick McTeague, Pat Gill and Steven Gill at Ballinderreen. Players whom you'd always like to have on your side in a war. With such an amalgam of talent at club level, Noel Lane had every reason to feel optimistic about hitting gold at Galway Senior Championship level.
For the Ballinderren boys, the county Championship of 1978 was to turn out to be a watershed for the club and a year which would host the singular most disappointing event for Noel. A passionate and totally committed clubman, county final defeat to arch rivals and fellow parishioners Ardrahan in '78 left Noel a heartache which to this day is hardly cured. "There was brilliant atmosphere and a tremendous build up to the final but to loose after a replay and after extra time was a huge disappointment especially when one considers that we were four points ahead with four minutes to go in the drawn game at Ballinasloe". The retirement of several club players and a plethora of injuries thereafter pre-empted untimely exits in subsequent Championship seasons. Fortunately better times were just around the corner. Galway exited from the '79 All-Ireland series sooner than they would have hoped but for Lane there was the consolation of picking up the Goal of the Year Award. Letting fly from just under the Cusack Stand in the final against Kilkenny, his shot flew like an exocet past none other than Top Cat Noel Skehan in the Kilkenny goals. Understandably Noel can still hear the buzz of the applause ringing out around the ground as the net vibrated.
Married to Carmel and daddy of daughter Aoife and sons Patrick and Mark, Noel Lane arguably played his best stuff with Galway and when Inky Flaherty and Cyril Farrell got the Tribesmen believing in themselves, few players blossomed as much as the Ballinderren battler. Galway's best day out since 1923 saw the county claim the 1980 All-Ireland Senior title and for the man who just loved to run at defences, it provided one of his greatest memories from the game he served so well. "I feel a great sense of pride and honour to look back and remember being part of the breakthrough for the county. Galway deserved their success and the team management, supporters and players", acknowledged the star full forward 'cum forty yards man who helped himself to three points in that historic triumph thirteen seasons ago.
A player of the socialist brigade who was instinctively a players player (sometimes to the detriment of his own physical well-being) Noel Lane accommodated other team mates and was sometimes more identified as human catalyst rather than outright match winner or goal point scoring machine. Despite his thoroughly selfless style of play Noel's opportunist scores at timely occasions and his ability to win possession when the odds dictated otherwise left him picking up All-Star Awards in 1983 and '84 (significantly earned on foot of performances for Galway when All-Ireland defeats were the order of the day. A handful of Railway Cup medals followed on as the Lane star maintained it's upward curve.
Still, victories at All-Ireland final level in 1987 and '88, would provide him with greater glee than any personal moments ever afforded him. Still, the memory of '80 keeps coming back to remind Noel of the legacy left by him and pals way back then. "After our win in '80 a lot of work and emphasis was placed on underage coaching in Galway and since then this work has reached it's fruitation at Senior level as is evidenced this year. Galway hurlers were suddenly the heroes locally instead of ones from Cork and Kilkenny. The breakthrough did an awful lot for hurling in Galway and I am thankful that I was part of it". As the song goes, "memories are made of this". Noel Lane, take a bow.
Written by Hogan Stand Magazine
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