Hurling and camogie

St Enda's Glengormley ace Joe Maskey taking the road less travelled to Antrim seniors

Joe Maskey was sorely missed during last Saturday's Joe McDonagh Cup defeat in Westmeath Picture: Seamus Loughran

YOU won’t find much traffic on the road between St Enda’s, Glengormley and the Antrim senior hurling team.

Young Joe Maskey is living proof that you don’t have to hail from one of the hurling strongholds dotted around the north coast to make the grade.

But the towering 21-year-old wasn’t an overnight success.

He was a regular fixture on county development squads since his mid-teens. Without pulling up many trees he kept plugging away and is now one of the county’s success stories.

“I knew Joe because he was the same age as my youngest son Christy and they were on the same development squads,” says Antrim’s joint manager Terence McNaughton.

“There is no doubt Joe was a slow developer. He was a big, tall, skinny guy – where the body wasn’t in control of the legs – but he’s just got better and better.

“You’d have to be surprised with the standard he has reached.”

Former goalkeeper Brendan Prenter was the only St Enda’s clubman who made the senior county grade, featuring in the 1994 All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick.

Maskey is the first outfield player from the Glengormley club to become a regular on the county squad.

The left wing-back was first invited onto the Antrim senior panel in October 2016, and he’s been there ever since.

Ask any Antrim panellist about the St Enda’s man – affectionately known as ‘The Big Sleep’ - and, to a man, they will wax lyrical about his remarkable rise.

It is no exaggeration to say Maskey was well on his way to claiming a Joe McDonagh Allstar award until he suffered a broken bone in his foot in Antrim’s win over Carlow at Corrigan Park on May 12.

“To be honest, he has been a massive loss to us,” McNaughton acknowledges. “His ball winning ability, his athleticism, going forward and using the ball is second to none. He has really come of age.

“He’s a great kid too. He’s an inspiration to every kid because he doesn’t come from a hurling stronghold. The fact that he doesn’t come from Cushendall, Loughgiel, Dunloy or Ballycastle, some people are maybe surprised by him.

“He just kept at it and, bang, he’s arrived. He’s got a massive career ahead of him for Antrim.”

Maskey was threw in at the deep end in Division 1B this season, marking Galway’s Paul Flaherty and Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe, and more than held his own.

McNaughton adds: “Joe has brought a lot of new attributes to his game. He’s now closing people down, he’s hooking, blocking, he has a lot tools in his bag. He’s aggressive and he’s got that big, long reach.

“He’s deceptively wiry and strong too, but his greatest asset is he has got the mentality for it, the right mindset.”

Maskey, McNaughton says, is a coach’s dream.

He listens, learns and applies the lessons.

He never misses a training session and is low maintenance.

“He’s roomed with Neil McManus a few times and that ensures he will come through with the right attitude.”

McNaughton also revealed that Maskey, a baker by trade, won the hearts of the Antrim management team when he turned up to training one night with a freshly baked lemon drizzle cake.

Maskey works in his father’s restaurant in Belfast called The Pump House.

“You’ll never eat a better lemon drizzle cake in your life,” insists McNaughton.

“We call him The Big Sleep because if he was any more laid back he’d lie down. Him and Eoghan Campbell have a competition to see who is the most easy-going.”

Despite his injury woes, Maskey hasn’t given up hope of playing some hurling before the summer’s out, but it may not be at county level.

The Antrim hurlers have suffered back-to-back losses to Laois and Westmeath in the Joe McDonagh Cup and need to beat Kerry on Saturday and hope Westmeath beat Carlow to reach the decider.

Maskey gets his cast removed on June 25, with the McDonagh final being played on July 2.

He has booked a couple of sessions in an oxygen tent to hasten his recovery and has even tried some spiritual healing.

“My club manager’s wife is into spiritual healing,” Maskey says. “I’ll try anything to get back fit.”

Maskey didn’t get much game-time last season but has made a dramatic impression on the management team this year.

“The likes of ‘Woody’ [McKinley] and Terence [McNaughton] pushed me. If you’re progressing, you’ll get playing. I think everybody wants to play for the county. Pulling on the Antrim jersey is a proud moment but I’m just as proud pulling on the St Enda’s jersey.

Dunloy native Tam McGilloway and St Enda’s duo Ciaran McCavana and Martin McNicholl are currently managing the senior side, and hope to have Maskey back in their ranks sooner rather than later.

“St Enda’s are playing Division Two this year but it was Division Three before that. It’s a big jump,” Maskey says.

“Now I’ve been there for two years I know what I’m capable of.”

Maskey, who also plays club football, breaks his own game down in simple terms.

“I said to myself: ‘What am I good at?’ For example, I’m good at running with the ball. If you get by the first man, then you have that extra 20 yards. When you have that 20 yards you think: ‘What am I going to do with the ball?’

“Once you start to do that it gets easier. You almost know what you’re going to do with the ball.”

Joe Maskey's season may have been cruelly cut short by a foot injury - but he's already left his mark in 2018.

And maybe he will inspire others to take the same road as he did.

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