London GAA loses one of hurling's biggest champions with the passing of Tommy Harrell
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London GAA loses one of hurling's biggest champions with the passing of Tommy Harrell

LONDON GAA is in mourning this week following the death of former chairperson Tommy Harrell at the age of 76.

The Wexford native devoted much of his life to promotion of GAA games in the capital after moving to the UK in the early 60s.  He had been recently re-elected as Oifgeach na Gaeilge at the first county convention he missed since that era due to illness.

Larry O’Leary, who knew him well and also served as chair for the organisation, said hurling in the region was transformed as a result of his impact.

Iggy Donnelly with Tommy Harrell. Picture: Brendan Vaughan

He said: “Tommy’s contribution to London hurling is unrivalled.

 “As a county team, there was one time where they didn’t have any money to fund county teams in the late 80s to early 90s. It got to the stage where I believe he paid for flights for the team himself.

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“He was always a proud Wexford man, Wexford was always very dear to his heart.  He loved to go home and see Leinster finals and All-Ireland semis. But he promoted London and Wexford with equal measure.”

O’Leary said the pair still spoke a couple of times a week until very recently and their connection went back decades. He recalls one memory from their playing days in London: “I was playing for Cú Chulainns and I was sent down to the backs one day to mark Tommy.

Tommy Harrell (centre) with Feile chairman Brendie Brien (left) and Tir Chonaill Gaels' Tom Mohan

"I was wearing glasses as he was, and a ball flew between us.  We were so intent on not letting each other get the ball, the ball passed between the two of us.

“And I’ll never forget what he said to me: ‘Well feck it anyway, with eight pairs of eyes and we still couldn’t see it.’

“He was a terrific man, and for me personally, he was a very good friend. I will miss our conversations.”

Those times of struggle in the late 80s inspired Harrell to develop underage hurling structures in London and O’Leary says that will be his enduring legacy.

“I look at what his son Martin is doing now with the Father Murphy's underage hurling set up. You will often see 60 children ready to play the game now every Saturday in Greenford.

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Tommy Harrell with grandson Oisín and son Martin. Picture: Brendan Vaughan

“Would that have happened without Tommy?  I’m not so sure.

“With the help of his brother-in-law Sean Diviney, who was chairman of Ground construction, they gave that impetuous when it was most needed.  Sean’s son Trevor and John, stepped in and sponsored the underage hurling, which was great. It was a real family thing.

“His grandson Oisín is absolutely passionate about hurling and the minute he sees a hurley he says ‘are we going hurling?’
“I remember in 2005 when I was chairman. Tommy was secretary, but also the county board liaison for the London hurling team. They won the Nicky Rackard cup and it was a great dressing room to be in with him.  All the players respected him, because he was totally a hurling man.”

Noel O’Sullivan, who was Chairman of the London GAA board until 2015 said: “He was a graceful hurler and a graceful man.

“I have been going to county board meetings since 1978. Tommy has always been involved with the county board in my time. He is going to be a huge loss.”
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Funeral details: Reposing at Ryan’s Funeral Parlour: 49 Oldfield Lane South, Greenford, Middlesex, UB6 9LB – from 3pm on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

Arriving at St. Josephs Church, 191 High Road, Harrow Weald, HA3 5EA at 7pm on Thursday, January 3, 2019; followed by drinks at McGovern Park, West End Rd, Ruislip HA4 6QX

Funeral Mass Friday, January 4  at 10am; Burial afterwards at Mill Hill Cemetery, Milespit Hill, London, NW7 2RR; Following the burial you are all invited to The Claddagh Ring, 10 Church Rd, Hendon, London NW4 4EA

Family flowers only. Donations, if desired to St. Luke’s Hospice, Kenton Grange.