Naomh Éanna buoyed by 16th man ahead of Club Final
By John Harrington
If you suffer from tinnitus or you’re afflicted with a seasonal earache, you might be well advised to sit some distance from Naomh Eanna’s supporters in Croke Park for Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland Club Intermediate Final against Kilcummin.
They’ll be there in huge numbers, and they’ll be loud. Very loud indeed.
The colour they bring and the songs they sing make them Naomh Eanna’s 16th man according to team half-forward, Peter Healy.
“The number of people behind us is unbelievable, it's a buzz that I never thought we'd experience,” Healy told GAA.ie
“The number of young kids at the games especially and behind us the whole way makes it just surreal.
“They're singing songs the whole way through the game and the end of the game they're coming to give everyone a hug and have photos taken and it does make you feel special.
“It's something that playing at county level and with college you obviously don't get that same interaction with the young fans.
“We're doing it for them as much as anyone else.”
Naomh Eanna will arrive in Croke Park on a wave of emotion, and not just because they’re so well supported by their local community.
As a club they endured incredible adversity during The Troubles. Five of their members were murdered and their club-house was burned to the ground on multiple occasions.
Thankfully, those days are now very much in their rear-view mirror as the club goes from strength to strength, and for the current crop of players this All-Ireland run is a way of giving back to the generation who kept the flame alive during darker days.
“Absolutely,” said Healy. “It's something we know we carry on our backs every time we put the jersey on.
“This club has had a never say die attitude for the last 30, 40 years and that's what has brought the club to where it is now. The club has grown over the last ten years and it's a credit to them that we've gotten to where we are now.”
The potential of this Naomh Eanna team has been apparent for some time. Many of the current senior team also played together on the club U-16 side that won an Ulster title in 2012.
According to Healy, the final piece in the jigsaw was the appointment of the experienced former Antrim manager, Frank Fitzsimons, as team manager at the start of last season.
“Frank brought the key ingredient. We've had a very good team for the past two or three years, but it was a very young team. And Frank brought that key ingredient of some experience and confidence.
“Frank has been saying from as soon as he came in at the start of the year that this team is going to win the Ulster Championship. Everyone else was saying, 'Frank, that's a long way away'.
“But Frank believes in this squad and that's the ingredient that's gotten us this far.”
They’re a young, fast, skilful team who play a very attacking brand of football and Healy believes Croke Park will suit their style of play.
Here’s betting it suits their vocal supporters too.