AIB Club JFC: St. Brendan's hoping to build on their breakthrough
By Kevin Egan
During the winter months, it’s not uncommon for significant numbers of sporting followers to gather at airports and hop between Ireland and Britain with a view to attending football matches.
The usual flow of traffic is from Ireland to big cities like Liverpool, Manchester, London or Glasgow on Friday evening or Saturday morning, returning the other direction on Sunday evening.
This weekend, a passionate group of players, club members and supporters will go the other direction, leaving Manchester today and tomorrow in order to be in Crossmaglen on Sunday afternoon for the AIB All-Ireland junior football quarter-final between Denn of Cavan and St. Brendan’s GAA club, who were crowned All-Britain champions for the first time in their six decades of history at the end of 2021.
“We’re still the most successful team in Lancashire with 20 county titles, but we never had that All-Britain championship in our hands before, so there is incredible excitement among current and past members of the club all over Manchester and in Ireland this weekend,” said club chairman Barry Collins.
“We hadn’t won the Lancashire championship since 1996 and since then John Mitchels reached a couple of All-Ireland junior finals, so we’d love to believe that we could do the same.
“This year we picked up an extra two or three players that have made a big difference to us, we always had a base of around ten good players that were consistently part of our panel, but finding the few extra and the management of Stephen Moriarty, who has brought a lot of fun and togetherness to what we do, had really brought us on” he added.
While players coming in and out of panels is a fact of life for all clubs based outside of Ireland, St. Brendan’s have also put some focus into developing home grown players. The twin track of underage development and still taking advantage of the regular inflow of emigrants from Ireland has been very much in evidence in their recent big games.
Full forward Colm Conway is Manchester born and bred and it was his fisted point deep into injury time that clinched the county final against John Mitchels by 2-11 to 0-16, while his father Mickey Conway emigrated from Burrishoole in Mayo to be part of the team that won their previous championship in 1996. Goalkeeper Fintan Harkin, midfielder Niall Connolly and his brother Ciarán, half forward Conrad Tierney and wing back Michael Collins are all players who have grown up in the club and are delighted to have finally emulated the local success achieved by previous generations.
“St. Brendan’s always used to field underage teams and send them over to Ireland for Féile, and these guys would have grown up in the club hearing about the achievements of their fathers. It was great for them to finally win a title of their own, and now they’re looking at surpassing that and hopefully going on a run in the All-Ireland series” said Collins.
“We’ve renewed our focus on underage football in recent years and it was great to see a lot of those younger players follow us through the local championship and then in the All-Britain championship after that. These youngsters will all be following us over to Crossmaglen this weekend and it’s great for them and great for the club. As an adult club, we haven’t really made a habit of coming over to Ireland for games but it’s something we’d like to do, to build up that tradition.”
Founded in 1959 by Michael Mangan, a native of Loughglynn in West Roscommon who was there to celebrate the club’s recent successes in the Lancashire and All-Britain finals, it was fitting that St. Brendan’s have been drawn to face Ulster opposition on Ulster soil in the AIB All-Ireland series. Ten starters from their county final side come from home clubs in the northern province, including Paddy McCoy of Armagh Harps, who will know the Crossmaglen field better than any other player on the pitch this Sunday.
Yet you get the sense that regardless of where the game was to be played, it’s a special occasion that was never going to be missed.
“People are tearing down the house figuring out how to get over for the game, and it’s a very emotional occasion for some of the longer standing members of the club as well” said Collins.
“It’ll be an incredibly special day for us all”.
Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland junior club football championship quarter-final will be available to stream from Ulster GAA TV at the following link: https://www.beosport.live/products/ulster-jfc-twinning-final-denn-v-st-brendan-s