Darryl Heatley: Sudden death of talented GAA player and coach (38) plunged Co Antrim community into shock
THE Tír na nÓg club in Randalstown and wider GAA community in Antrim was plunged into deep shock and sadness as news spread of the sudden death of Darryl Heatley at just 38 years of age.
Darryl had represented the club in both hurling and football right through the age groups to senior level, and indeed captained many of those teams.
His potential as a hurler was recognised in his early teens and he represented Antrim through to minor level.
At schools level he was also a leading player in both codes for St Louis Grammar, Ballymena, winning an Ulster Colleges All-Star at left-half back in hurling in 1998, the same year that he wore that number 7 jersey in Croke Park in the All-Ireland Colleges Senior B football final.
When he stepped away from the playing field, he coached the Creggan camogie side to the Antrim intermediate final in 2015 alongside his father Leo, with whom he enjoyed a special relationship centred around the camán and sliotar. He was most recently involved with his cousin Robert Graham in taking the Tír na nÓg minor hurlers.
But Darryl was much more than a talented and dedicated GAA player and coach.
He was a valued friend, work colleague and family member; a cheeky chappie with an infectious smile who was comfortable in any company and made others comfortable in his, whatever their age; a go-to person who always got the work done or the right solution to a problem.
The Heatley name is closely linked to the game of hurling in Tír na nÓg and the family have made a big contribution to the GAA.
Before Leo had finished his playing career he was a respected referee, officiating at all levels in Antrim and on the Ulster schools circuit in all codes. He also served several terms as club chairman, chairman of south-west Antrim GAA council and delegate to the County Board. Darryl seemed to be preparing to make a similar contribution before his untimely passing.
Often alongside his brothers Cathal and Connor, he was the mainstay of the Tír na nÓg senior team for almost two decades, following in the well-worn footsteps of Leo, their uncles and indeed their grandfather Bobby who was one of the key men keeping hurling going in the club more than half a century ago.
Darryl made huge contributions through campaigns that netted an Antrim intermediate football title at the turn of the millennium, a junior hurling title in 2002 and an Ulster Division 2 hurling title in 2013. He was the 2002 winning hurling captain.
Away from sport he was a popular member of staff at the Jobs and Benefits office in Antrim, where his easy interaction with colleagues and the public saw even the most difficult problems resolved without fuss.
As was evidenced by his huge funeral last Sunday, Darryl will be missed by the whole Tír na nÓg club and the wider GAA community, but he will be more sorely missed by his family - his wife of less than four years, Oonagh (née Kearney), his parents Leo and Geraldine, brothers Cathal and Connor, sister Leona (Doran), the wider Heatley, Kearney, O’Loan and Walsh families and his many, many friends.
We have all lost someone special from our lives.
Leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aige.