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Clonguish celebrate after winning the Girls Division 4 Cup Final at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.
Clonguish celebrate after winning the Girls Division 4 Cup Final at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.

John West Féile Peile na nÓg was a party to remember

By Kevin Egan

The journey from becoming a young teenager to a fully-fledged adult is a long one, with a lot of twists and turns. Similarities between 13 and 14-year olds and the adults they later become can be scarce, and yet in the history of Féile Peile na nÓg, it has been a remarkably accurate indicator of future success for the clubs that take the big prizes.

Go back through the archives and a host of clubs that went on to compete in All-Ireland club finals are there on the Roll of Honour. The very first Féile Peile title was won by Erin’s Isle of Dublin in 1982, and a handful of those players went on to contest the 1998 All-Ireland club final against Corofin. Portlaoise, St. Finbarr’s, Nemo Rangers, Salthill-Knocknacarra, Laune Rangers, Ballina Stephenites, Ballinderry, Ballyboden St. Enda’s, Corofin, Castlebar Mitchells, St. Brigid’s, Crossmaglen Rangers, Kilmacud Crokes, the list is lengthy and meaningful – and when Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes were crowned as this year’s Féile Peil Division One champions after a scintillating display against a powerful, skilful and well-coached South London side, it was easy to imagine those young players also going on to achieve great things for their club in the future.

Yet perhaps the biggest change in Féile over the past few seasons has been the sheer democratisation of the event – where once it was a celebration of the best young footballing talent in the country, it has opened up to become something much more, something more in keeping with the literal translation of the name – a festival of football.

The Kilmacud Crokes players celebrate after winning the Boys Division 1 Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.
The Kilmacud Crokes players celebrate after winning the Boys Division 1 Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.

This year, with the event held all across Connacht, the scale of it was like nothing seen before. Over 700 clubs, approximately 17,000 players, over 1,000 official volunteers and probably a multiple of that who weren’t officially on Féile duty but who spent the recent weeks and months preparing host clubs and facilities, or else fundraising and preparing travelling teams for a unique Gaelic Games experience.

Taken at face value, the event defies convention. Footballers go stay in the homes of strangers, they go half way around the globe to play a series of half-hour football matches, and we say things like “Kilmoremoy are playing New York” with a straight face, not taking that moment to consider the sheer ludicrousness of those two places operating in the same sphere of anything.

On Sunday in particularly, thousands of players descended upon the Connacht Centre of Excellence to the extent that cars were abandoned in ditches and the mobile network could barely handle text messages because it was so overworked.

Yet, just like the traditional Irish institution of the station mass, where families opened their doors to the local community and dusted down the fine bone china that was still kept in the box it came in when given as a wedding present, clubs too saw it as a chance to put their best foot forward and to truly live the spirit of “Mol an Óige”. At a time when the West of Ireland is under pressure in terms of rural depopulation and retaining young people, this was a chance for the adult generations to show their youth of how valued they are, of how they are as much a part of the fabric of the community as anyone, and they pulled out all the stops.

The New York team that won the Division 2 Girls Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.
The New York team that won the Division 2 Girls Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.

Welcome parties, discos, ice cream vans, facebook videos, barbeques, no effort was spared to ensure that those who travelled west went home with only the best of memories.

The buzz around the villages in the county on Saturday morning is electric, as host club prepares to take on visiting club, yet only hours later those clubs will travel to cheer each other on with all the ferocity one might expect if they all grew up in the same houses, instead of just spending a weekend there.

Of course it’s the GAA, so all the usual madness that goes with that still applies. One Mayo club brought a camera for video analysis, one-eyed parents still render themselves speechless and apoplectic with rage when referees have the sheer audacity to give a free against their daughter or son, and while the majority of players relax with ice-creams and minerals after games, a Kildare club instead supplied their players with protein bars.

The North London team that won the Boys Division Three Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.
The North London team that won the Boys Division Three Cup at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals.

Thankfully, it’s more than balanced out with the good kind of madness. A group of Hertfordshire players who have clearly never seen an umpire before ask about why a gang of men with lab coats have suddenly shown up, a Kilkenny club does the most Kilkenny thing possible by walking off the football field and immediately picking up their hurls and starting to have a puckaround, and as the clock ticks down towards a boys Division Eight Shield semi-final, a manager has to cut his passionate speech about making history for the parish short, because he notices two of his forwards are over on the sideline trying to make the acquaintances with a couple of players from the New York ladies team.

From start to finish this festival of football was a glorious, magnificent contradiction that made no sense at all, unless you just abandoned your sense of what’s normal and lost yourself in the rhythm of Féile, as beaten on a Connacht drum. Thousands of people all across the county and beyond sharing in an event that’s all about taking part and making friends, at least until the referee fails to catch a player making two hops. Then it’s the end of the world again.

All the usual things that we come to associate with the GAA apply – the girls of Clonguish cutting short their celebrations after beating Knockainey in the Division Four Cup final, because they have to dash across to another part of the Connacht Centre in Bekan to watch their brothers and friends replicate their success at the expense of St. Mary’s of Sligo. Visiting teams from New York, North London, Hertfordshire and Philadelphia all collect silverware, even if South London’s run to the Division One Cup final remains the most remarkable achievement of any exile team. It’s a global game, and yet it’s still a family one – and for one weekend, the GAA family threw the biggest party we’ve ever seen – at least until next year.

Féile Peile na nÓg 2019 finals results

Boys Division 1 Cup Final: Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 6-2 South London (UK) 3-2

Boys Division 1 Shield Final: New York (USA) 3-8 Parke/Keelogues/Crimlin (Mayo) 2-0

Boys Division 2 Cup Final: Four Masters (Donegal) 4-9 Claremorris (Mayo) 0-5

Boys Division 2 Shield Final: Erin’s Isle (Dublin) 1-2 St. Paul’s (Antrim) 0-4

Boys Division 3 Cup Final: North London (UK) 2-7 Crosserlough (Cavan) 0-5

Boys Division 3 Shield Final: St. Joseph’s Doora Barefield (Clare) 3-6 St. Dominic’s (Roscommon) 1-0

Boys Division 4 Cup Final: Clonguish Óg (Longford) 1-7 St. Mary’s (Sligo) 0-7

Boys Division 4 Shield Final: Kildimo/Pallaskenry (Limerick) 2-7 Bearna (Galway) 0-3

Boys Division 5 Cup Final: Eglish St. Patrick’s (Tyrone) 1-7 Glenullin (Derry) 1-6

Boys Division 5 Shield Final: Naomh Eargnait, Muine Glás (Antrim) 4-3 Erris St. Pat’s (Mayo) 2-3

Boys Division 6 Cup Final: Kilcormac-Killoughey (Offaly) 4-3 St Peter’s, Dunboyne (Meath) 0-6

Boys Division 6 Shield Final: Laragh Utd (Cavan) 3-7 Baltinglass (Wicklow) 3-3

Boys Division 7 Cup Final: Drumhowan Gaels (Monaghan) 2-5 Kilmore/Shannon Gaels/St. Ronan’s (Roscommon) 2-4

Boys Division 7 Shield Final: Hertfordshire (UK) 1-6 Ballaghaderreen (Mayo) 0-3

Boys Division 8 Cup Final: Delco Gaels (USA) 6-10 Carrick Sarsfields (Longford) 0-1

Boys Division 8 Shield Final: Killeagh/St. Ita’s (Cork) 3-2 Gloucestershire (UK) 2-3

Boys Division 9 Cup Final: St. Mary’s Faughanvale (Derry) 3-9 Balyna (Kildare) 0-3

Boys Division 9 Shield Final: Charlestown Sarsfields (Mayo) 0-11 Ballintubber (Mayo) 2-4

Boys Division 10 Cup Final: St. Manchan’s (Offaly) 0-7 Butlersbridge (Cavan) 0-0

Boys Division 10 Shield Final: St. Joseph’s (Wexford) 0-9 St. John’s (Antrim) 1-2

Boys Division 11 Cup Final: Annaduff (Leitrim) 3-9 Doonbeg (Clare) 3-5

Boys Division 11 Shield Final: Aughrim (Wicklow) 0-8 Adare (Limerick) 1-4

Boys Division 12 Cup Final: Fingal Ravens (Dublin) 3-6 Ballyholland (Down) 3-5

Boys Division 12 Shield Final: Kilmacow (Kilkenny) 4-5 Oran (Roscommon) 1-0

Boys Division 13 Cup Final: Aylmer Gaels (Kildare) 1-6 St Michael’s, Foilmore (Kerry) 3-7

Boys Division 13 Shield: Oliver Plunketts (Louth) 3-11 Westport (Mayo) 1-1

Girls Division 1 Cup Final: Claregalway (Galway) 1-2 Clontarf (Dublin) 0-0

Girls Division 1 Shield Final: Éire Óg (Cork) 5-6 Sarsfields (Kildare) 0-1

Girls Division 2 Cup Final: New York (US) 2-3 Carryduff (Down) 1-3

Girls Division 2 Shield Final: Killeavy (Armagh) 3-9 Banner (Clare) 2-2

Girls Division 3 Cup Final: Carrickmore (Tyrone) 1-5 vs Cooley Kickhams (Louth) 0-7

Girls Division 3 Shield Final: Carnacon (Mayo) 4-4 vs Loughrea (Galway) 1-2

Girls Division 4 Cup Final: Clonguish (Longford) 2-3 Knockainey (Limerick) 0-4

Girls Division 4 Shield Final: St. Brigid’s (Roscommon) 1-5 Ballinasloe (Galway) 0-2

Girls Division 5 Cup Final: Gort na Móna (Antrim) 1-1 Clann na nGael (Roscommon) 0-2

Girls Division 5 Shield Final: Dunnamaggin (Kilkenny) 3-3 Clonmel Commercials (Tipperary) 1-1

Girls Division 6 Cup Final: Blessington (Wicklow) 2-9 Michael Glaveys (Roscommon) 1-3

Girls Division 7 Cup Final: Rathcoffey (Kildare) 1-2 Bray Emmets (Wicklow) 1-3

Girls Division 7 Shield Final: Aghaloo O’Neills (Tyrone) 2-6 Lámh Dhearg (Antrim) 0-6

Girls Division 8 Cup Final: Ballinascreen (Derry) 1-9 Roscommon Gaels (Roscommon) 2-6

Girls Division 8 Shield Final: Eoghan Rua (Sligo) 5-4 St. Ciaran’s (Roscommon) 3-0

Girls Division 9 Cup Final: CT Gaels (Sligo) 4-6 Cornafean (Cavan) 4-1

Girls Division 9 Shield Final: St. Ultan’s (Meath) 2-0 St. Jude’s (Dublin) 1-2

Girls Division 10 Cup Final: St. John’s (Sligo) 3-3 Delco Gaels (US) 2-5

Girls Division 10 Shield Final: Drumcliffe/Rosses Point (Sligo) 5-7 Owenmore Gaels (Sligo) 3-3

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