Bruen enjoying Castlerea St Kevin's revival
By Cian O’Connell
“We call it footballitis here, you get that from the cradle,” Dara Bruen says about the relevance of sport in Castlerea.
It has been an encouraging campaign for Castlerea St Kevin’s, who regained top tier status in Roscommon by winning a competitive Intermediate Championship. Now an AIB Connacht Club IFC semi-final is on the agenda against Easkey on Saturday at Markievicz Park.
A lifetime being involved in games has taught Bruen many lessons, but in Castlerea there is a sense of optimism again. When a team starts winning, all sorts of possibilities suddenly exist.
“Not just for the club, but for people because life is tough for people - around this area there has been a lot of knocks between suicides and things like that,” Bruen explains.
“Just to see people with a smile on their face, something to latch on to, for them to come to support. We had a few issues in the club, some of the lads lost a close friend to suicide mid season.
“For them, we allowed them the time to grieve, we were there when they came back. All those things are important when you put them together in a small little rural town.”
Bruen is fully aware that Castlerea St Kevin’s occupy a crucial role in the community. “There is great work going on, promoting the place,” he adds. “It is a brilliant town to live in.
“It was a brilliant town to grow up in, it is a great town to live in now. To see people latching on to something positive means everyone is driving things forward. Just in the GAA club we are a little part of the bigger picture of what is going on around the town.
“When you see older and younger people mixing together, smiling and meeting you on the street, saying congratulations, that makes it worthwhile.”
Capable footballers are beginning to emerge. “We have a lot of good structures in place, so long as we keep on an even keel, there is good stuff coming behind us,” Bruen remarks.
“We have a right good bunch of footballers coming behind us. They are probably two or three years away yet, the plan was to try to leave it ready for them. We have a bit of work to do that yet, but we are going in the right way.”
With seven Roscommon senior titles won previously, Castlerea sit sixth in the roll of honour. That history and tradition counts for something. “We were relegated in 2019, there is a tradition with a lot of really good teams over the years, winning a lot of senior championships,” he says.
“We were the first to win the Connacht club in 1968. This was the second time we were relegated, we were relegated around 1981 or 82, it took five or six years to come back at that time too.
“You always go back into the underage structure when things are gone wrong at adult level to see what is going on.
“That is really where the bones of our success this year came from. We just put the pieces together, but a lot of good work has gone on at underage to pick things up.”
Developing footballers through juvenile coaching was vital for Castlerea to summon a response. “We wouldn't be very strong, we wouldn't have huge numbers, it is a small town,” Bruen says. “We wouldn't have huge numbers, but it is a mad football town, both soccer and Gaelic.”
Signs of promise, though, were evident during the past decade. “Historically, and the same is true at the moment, groups of players come in clusters,” Bruen adds.
“Our team, that won the last day, 10 of the starting 15 were from the 2018 minor team, who were beaten in a Division One minor final by Brigid's. At the moment Brigid's would have the same numbers on their senior team, who won in the Connacht club on Sunday from that minor team too.
“That is historically how things have happened here too, eight to 10 fellas coming together from maybe two years.
“We have a lot of good work going on at underage now which maybe was neglected. I don't want that to sound pointed at anyone or anything, but in the noughties we were very successful at senior level - we won three senior championships.
“Maybe the eye was taken off the ball - I don't know, I wasn't involved, and I'm not pointing fingers. Certainly through the 10s we weren't bringing through the same quality of player as we would have always done.
“Whether it was that they didn't break in because the senior team was strong, that is a possibility too. We have a good underage structure now with a lot of good coaching going on with good people involved. We are heading in the right direction.”
Bruen is thoroughly enjoying managing Castlerea. Stints with Roscommon inter-county outfits at various levels meant plenty of ideas and approaches were monitored.
“You are learning all of the time - once you leave your mind open to learning, you can learn from anybody,” he says.
“I worked with lots of good managers over the years. It started off at junior level with Roscommon with Mick Jordan, I learned loads from him. I was with Ross Shannon for a couple of years at minor level. Then I was with Nigel Dineen at U21 for a couple of years and Paul Staunton.
“After that I was with Anthony Cunningham at senior level, you learn loads of little things. You learn from the players too, you learn so much from players, their professionalism, what they are able to take on and not able to take on.”
So when Bruen assumed the responsibility with Castlerea, his focus was clear. “I've been lucky to get those experiences,” Bruen reflects. “All you're doing then when you come back to the club is to try to bring back what you can and have learned, to help out, and to put things in place.
“It has been busy, but it has been great too. There is a great buzz around the town. It is great to see the kids on the pitch after games with a new set of heroes. We still have to be mindful of the fact that it is still only an intermediate championship, I don't say that lightly.
“We don't want to settle for that now, we want to go, to push on, to see how far we can go. We have a lot of work to do in order to compete in the senior league and championship.”
Bruen acknowledges the rich contribution made by those involved with the team and club, in general. “I've a savage backroom team with huge experience,” Bruen says.
“Seamus Heneghan, he has led teams to Hogan Cup finals with Roscommon CBS, he has done great work there. He is a great coach, the same with Dermot Lyons, who has been involved at underage with Roscommon.
"He was with the team beaten in the U20 beaten in the All-Ireland final, he was with a minor team that won a Connacht Championship. Ollie Finneran has been with that group of minors that I talked about since they were U6.
“So we have lots of experience with a really good club backing us. We are probably getting a bit more credit than we deserve for all that has gone on this year. It is going in the right direction.”
Hope is back in Castlerea hearts.