U20 GAA star opens up on cancer battle as he prepares for All-Ireland final showdown

Offaly's Leigh Kavanagh (left) with goalkeeper Liam Hoare
-Credit: (Image: ©INPHO/James Lawlor)

Another All-Ireland final against Tipperary at Nowlan Park beckons for Offaly youngster Liam Hoare, but he’s on quite the journey since the last one. A few months after keeping goal in the 2022 All-Ireland minor final, Hoare’s life took a chilling turn when, at just 17, he was diagnosed with a form of Lymphoma, with intensive treatment soon following.

While several of his teammates quickly graduated to the under-20 side that rode the momentum from 2022 and reached another All-Ireland final, this time against Cork, he was reduced to a watching brief. But although he couldn’t play, he was still very much part of the group. Manager Leo O’Connor made sure of that.

“I was just about finishing up chemo,” he reflects on this time last year as the final approached. “So yeah, it was a joy to watch the lads. They always brought happiness to me and everyone else in Offaly when I was going through it so it helped out.

Read more: Tyrone look to recapture All-Ireland winning formula but stats underline alarming decline since lifting the Sam Maguire in 2021

Read more: St Mary’s CBGS aiming to recapture Mageean glory days after a hat-trick of hurling titles this term

“Leo and the management, they kept me a part of it. They always helped me out and done whatever I wanted to be done. It was super. It kept a bit of normality to the whole thing.”

By the end of June, he was given the all clear to return to hurling and featured for his club, Carrig and Riverstown, before the year was out. He naturally slotted back into the under-20 squad when they started training for the 2024 campaign and has been one of their standout players en route to another All-Ireland final, an eagerly anticipated clash with Tipperary tomorrow evening, with a capacity crowd expected.

In each of the last two matches, the Leinster final and semi-final against Dublin and Kilkenny respectively, Hoare saved a penalty in games that were won by just a single score, along with some other crucial interventions.

There’s no great science behind it, however.

“I just kind of go out and hope for the best as such. You try and look at the way they’re going and hopefully they go that way then.”

He’ll be happy enough not to have to face down another one tomorrow evening all the same.

Hoare is one of three Carrig and Riverstown players, along with Cathal King and Caelum Larkin, on the Offaly panel and their predicament is a unique one.

Coming into Riverstown from nearby Birr, once you cross the bridge over the Little Brosna river, you are in Tipperary. You’re reasonably deep into Tipp territory before you come to Carrig, some three miles further down the N52.

But it’s all within the Birr parish and the club is affiliated with and plays in Offaly, though an attempt to align with the North Tipperary board in the ‘60s amounted to nothing, despite strong local support at the time.

Conversely, the village of Moneygall is in Offaly, yet they play in Tipp.

In Carrig and Riverstown, there have always been those who follow Tipperary and the club’s most famous player, former Offaly captain Ger Oakley, even supported the blue and gold as a child.

His emergence with Offaly didn’t sit well with some locals however, with abusive graffiti appearing when he played in the 2000 All-Ireland final, eventually leading to prosecutions and fines.

The Hoare family home is in the Tipperary side of Riverstown, and Liam says that the old bitterness has faded, even on weeks like this when the counties are in opposition.

“It’s interesting anyway. Over the last couple of years a lot of lads nearly changed from Tipp to Offaly. There’s a few families that changed after our success and stuff, they’re happy out to support us. It’s not as much of a rivalry as it used to be.

“I haven’t seen a Tipp flag out there now in a good while. There’s a good few Offaly flags out there now so it’s good.

“A lot of the aunts and uncles on the father’s side now, they’re living in Birr so they’re all Offaly. Everyone is Offaly.

“Carrig are super, super towards all of us on the panel. They always support us.”

Sign up to our free sports newsletter to get the latest headlines to your inbox