Friday, April 01, 2005

A New Recruit | by Jay

A few weeks ago Charlie and Company hosted a Junior Day for about 80 players, and it looks like the staff will continue to bring in more kids as the semester winds down, and try and get a headstart on recruiting for next year's class.

One player, in particular, might be something special. If you've been reading the premium-access recruiting message boards the last few days, you know that a few rumors have been floating around about a certain "overseas" recruit that may be making an appearance on campus sometime soon for an official visit. In trying to research the story, I came upon this article in the Irish Times of Dublin from this week. Take a look.


(GAA NEWS) It's not often that a Gaelic footballer would merit notice from his counterparts in the States, but all that is about to change for one Finbar Rory O'Hanlon of Donegal.

Keen observers of this year's Connacht Club league might know the name; O'Hanlon, from Tory Island, latched onto Letterkenney Gaels FC at the end of the season, played in a grand total of two matches, yet stunned the locals with his lightning-quick reflexes, his innate, almost preternatural skill with the leather, and his country good looks.

"He's maybe the fastest I've ever seen on the field," remarked Hugh Downey, assistant coach of the Gaels. "He's a blur of shaggy red hair. If you blink, you'll miss him."

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.O'Hanlon, known as "Tunney" to his mates, is already a sensation in Donegal. "Nobody knew about him. From what I heard, he grew up on Tory, and never played the game until this year. But I've never seen a lad his size move that quickly and throw, catch, and kick so fluidly. It's like he was born to play the game," said Downey.

O'Hanlon debuted at halfback, but he was soon moved up to full-forward. "You'd think he was too big to play up front," said Downey of the 1.93m lad, "but he's faster than everyone on the field, so it doesn't really matter, does it?"

"He really is from out there in the water, you can barely understand the lad," says team manager Tim Mooney, "but he's the full shilling. Smart and instinctual. And tough."

Tough would be an understatement. Opposing defender Mike McHugh of Donegal Town found out just how intimidating O'Hanlon can be, when he went toe-to-toe and got the full shiner right in the face. "He flattened me, period. And I'm not a small guy. When he barrells down at you, it's hard not to be a little shook." Tunney seems to live for the hard crunch, often going out of his way to deliver a blow en route to a score.

Tracking down O'Hanlon's legacy is a bit of a challenge. He grew up on Tory the son of a fisherman and a schoolteacher, although Mrs. Bridie O'Hanlon has been retired for some time. Tunney never enrolled in the local school, having been taught by his mum for these ten years or so. This probably explains why he never surfaced on the local GAA scene until now.

"We always knew he was something special," explained the honourable Mrs. O'Hanlon. "When he was a child, he would run and chase the gulls on the beach. When he got bored with that, he would chase goats. After a while, he was faster than the goats, so he chased rabbits. And he caught them, too."

O'Hanlon's father was a fisherman, and he taught young Tunney how to cast and reel. Soon, however, he was fishing without a pole. "He would simply stare at the water, sometimes for twenty minutes, and then, in a flash, his hand would dart into the water, and come out with a very surprised mackeral in his grip. His father loved to watch him catch fish this way, and would just laugh and laugh, God rest his soul." When Tunney was done fishing, he'd jump into the sea, fully clothed, and swim with the seals who would gather around the Tory docks. Sometimes he'd circle the island with a pod of the friendly sea creatures, mimicking their fluid movement and getting faster and faster. "Sometimes he'd swim to the mainland, and be back before lunch," says Mrs. O'Hanlon.

Ned HanlanO'Hanlon's father, Finbar senior, aka "Finn" O'Hanlon, was also a local quarryman who supplied most of the stone for new houses on the island from a quarry he dug himself. Foregoing draft horses and mechanized equipment, Finn would lift the gargantuan rocks onto his back and lug them seven or ten miles for a new construction. Oftentimes Tunney would tag along, chipping in by carrying the odd boulder or slag at his father's heels at the age of four. Together they built most of the structures on the island, including a holy Grotto to Mary, modeled after the one at Lourdes.

Tunney was homeschooled by Bridie for most of his formative years, learning language and customs and folklore and the manual arts. He makes most of his own clothes on a loom in his bedroom, he plays both the violin and the saxophone, and he enjoys translating the legends of Finn MacCool (a distant relative of his) from the original primitive Gaelic. His translations are widely considered the definitive works on the subject, and the manuscript, along with a collection of his poetry and several short novels he's written, are on display at Trinity College in Dublin.

But it's his athletic endeavors that really capture young Tunney's heart. Bored with a lifetime of outrunning and outsmarting most of the wildlife on Tory island, O'Hanlon finally made his way to the mainland last year and took up a more human challenge by joining the Gaels FC. He was immediately taken by the competition and camaraderie of the energetic matches.

If there is one Achilles heel to the great O'Hanlon, it is his love of drink. When he was a child, a terrible storm swept through Tory, sending great waves upon the beach and contaminating the local water sources for a few weeks. To supplement the water supply, the O'Hanlon's turned to a healthy stash of Guinness they had in the cellar, and a bottle was filled with the brown nectar and given to young Tunney. He lapped it up like a puppy, and developed quite a taste for the stout that continues to this day. It's said that he often goes through an entire barrel by himself in the course of a month's time, and often he'll be seen on the bench at a match, sending some young lad down to the corner pub for a fresh pint before the half ends. The drink never seems to affect his play adversely, however; in one of those rare phenomena of nature, it is perhaps the beer itself that sends O'Hanlon's skill from the merely superior and into the stratosphere.

"His natural talent is simply breathtaking," said Downey, apparently struggling for more superlatives. "You can't teach it -- it's all from within. He's got a bright future -- but I hope he stays in the GAA. He could play just about sport, I think. I'm not sure if it's the beer, or what, but he can do anything."

In fact, after the second (and last) game of his career, Tunney seemed to be a little bit bored by his achievements. A keen eye could sense a restlessness in his heart, as if his journey to the mainland that took 17 years was merely the first step in a round-the-world adventure.

This is where the Americans enter the picture. Two weeks ago a few Yanks on holiday were playing the west course at Ballyliffin and saw young O'Hanlon running along the water, as he usually does for morning exercise. The men were shocked by the speed of the young sprinter. Just then, O'Hanlon stopped, and picked up a good sized rock, and hurled it seventy or eighty yards through the air, striking a flying sea gull dead between the shoulder blades. The men were amazed. Their caddy, a local ruffian by the name of Jim Muldoon, filled them in. "That's Tunney O'Hanlon -- yeah, he's fast and all. And smart. And friendly. And a great player. I can't stand him." The men immediately asked to be introduced. They managed to flag down O'Hanlon, who was about to dive into the ocean and swim back to Tory, and offered to buy him lunch.

One of these happened to be a man by the name of Gene Corrigan, a prominent member of the American college sporting landscape, and a former athletic director at the University of Notre Dame, a college known for its American football team. Over a sheperd's pie at Flynn's (still the best in Donegal) Mr. Corrigan began to talk about college in the United States and an opportunity to play American football. As he pitched the game, describing the strange pads, the unorthodox scoring system, and arcane rules, O'Hanlon became more and more intrigued, and by all accounts, at the end of the interview O'Hanlon was faintly salivating at the prospect of proving himself with yet another challenge. Corrigan began to put the plan into motion. O'Hanlon ordered a beer.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Now, the wheels are turning. Last week a coach from the University of Notre Dame, a Mr. Robert Ianello, flew into Shannon by way of Chicago and rented a car to drive to Donegal, whereupon he met with Tunney O'Hanlon on the GAA local field, and put him through a battery of tests. Jumping, throwing, catching, kicking, and running -- above all, running -- O'Hanlon flew through the drills, and left the American with his mouth agape. It was, as an onlooker described it, as if Ianello had seen the Future. Trying to suppress his shock, Ianello turned to several onlookers and said, "Well, he's pretty good, isn't he? I'm glad we got here first." Ianello departed with promises of future meetings, and discussed a possible trip to the States. O'Hanlon's never even been to Dublin, let alone out of the country.

Someday soon, Finbar Rory "Tunney" O'Hanlon, this son of a fisherman, who runs like a rabbit, swims with the seals, and drinks Guinness for breakfast, may be trading the leather for the pigskin, donning a golden gleaming helmet, and playing for the only American squad that could honestly bear his membership: the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Who knows? Instead of a flight overseas, he might just swim it.