History - Camogie Revival 2005 - 2011

Bredagh and Camógie: Revival 2005 -2011

As a vital and growing part of the Bredagh family of Gaelic Games, camógie within the club has enjoyed a rebirth since 2005 which has had a significant impact on sporting and cultural activity for women and girls in South Belfast.

By Anne Costelloe, Carol McAlister and Emer Hinphey, November 2011

After almost a decade of relative inactivity, a revival of camógie within Bredagh was brought about in 2005 initiated by Anne Costello, a native of County Clare who had relocated to the South Belfast area. Anne’s passion for the game of camógie, her committed work as a volunteer coach in local schools and her innovative recruitment style, led to the formation of an enthusiastic and hard working Camógie Committee which set about laying down the foundations for a very successful and fast growing camógie club.  Playing key roles in this effort were the founding Committee members: Carol McAlister, Nancy McGarry, Rosie Rocks, Maria Graham, Dorothy McKay, Ciaran Hughes, Pat Hollywood and Kevin McVeigh and joined later by Bernie Deighan, Ciaran White, Seamus McKillop, Bernard McKee, Emer Hinphey, Martina Doyle, Anne Hegarty, Christina Smith and Louise Friel.

Integration of Bredagh Camógie with Bredagh GAC 

In 2007/2008, the Camógie club integrated with Bredagh GAC and it is no surprise that many of the founding Camógie committee members are currently active members of Bredagh GAC Senior committee. Carol McAlister has widened her focus from camógie to developing the cultural aspects of the entire GAC. Pat Hollywood started out as Child Protection Officer for the Camógie Club, has been the Children’s Officer for Bredagh GAC since 2006.

In 2005, Bredagh’s fledgling Camógie set up entered both U12 and U14 teams in the County Down League and Championship.  Their finest hour was at the County Down Féile na nGael competition in Portaferry when the girls were superbly turned out to win the Best Presented Award and won the Shield Final in a dramatic shootout.

In 2006, camógie in Bredagh saw further growth; structures were set up to deal with an expanding coaching staff which was put in place to oversee the development of under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14 and under 16 girls. Because some of the girls were moving up from under 16, and there weren’t enough players for an under 18 team, an unofficial junior team was set up and the players themselves got together to arrange some friendly matches.

The first was a memorable one against Gort na Mona. It was hard to believe the enthusiasm of the children, parents and coaches for the game. That enthusiasm can be attributed in large part to the influx of rural club members from Loughguile, Dunloy, Cushendall, the Ards, Dungiven to name but a few, settling into the South Belfast area and immersing themselves whole heartedly into the life of the club.  These families brought with them pride in club and parish and they joined the local Belfast stalwarts in helping to grow what has become an important outlet and confidence builder for many girls and young women.

Bound for Boston!

In 2007, it was evident that camógie was going from strength to strength with a committee full of energy and ability. Paul McAlister was asked to co-ordinate a three year strategic plan and, with the assistance of Carol, Pat Hollywood and Kevin Kelly (Ulster Camógie Development Officer), Bredagh camógie set about planning for the next three years.  At underage, the camógs were beginning to show their strength and skill as the under 12s contested the County Championship final against An Riocht.

The junior team was officially formed in 2007, perhaps prompted in a small way by an invitation to attend a tournament to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Éire Óg Camógie Club in Boston, USA. Anne Costello’s recruitment drive swung into action and players were drawn from many sources. One woman from County Derry (who hadn’t hit a sliothar in ten years) was walking her dog in Cherryvale one evening, and a month later was on a plane to the USA with the Junior team! This trip was an amazing undertaking and great credit goes to the main organisers Bernie Deighan, Nancy McGarry and Carol McAlister and our sponsors Diarmuid McGarry and Seamus McAlister. This was a bonding exercise for the club, the benefits of which can still be felt today. Bredagh contested a highly competitive final against Chicago, captained by All Ireland medallist Carol McAlister, having defeated teams from Boston and New York along the way. It was a great way to enter their first year while holding the Bredagh banner high!

While 2007 was the year Bredagh hurlers won championship and league honours, 2008 saw Bredagh Junior camógie team win the double in the Division four league and championship. Under the stewardship of Rory Galway, the girls won in style without losing a match, and conceding very few Scóres.

"It was great coaching the girls”, commented Rory after their win. "They are enthusiastic and skilful
and have made great strides after only a second year as a junior side”.  Emer Hinphey (Chair and Senior player) comments; "Three years later and the work at junior level continues. The team spent a challenging year in Division 2 under the guidance of Fintan McDonnell, Ciaran White and Ciaran Hughes. The panel continues to grow and the team is developing that essential sense of team spirit and community. The work at underage is already showing with a number of blossoming young players now playing with skill and passion as Senior members. The story of one girl gives an insight into the passion of the mentors. She recounted that, when she was playing her first adult match, her underage coach was in tears on the side line watching the young prodigy playing on the junior team for the first time. As the natural cycle continues, eight members of the U16 panel will move up in 2012 bolstering that panel and increasing the capability for competition at this level”.

Underage success

The underage structure continued to show promise with the U14’s winning the Ulster Féile in 2008 coached by Ciaran Hughes, Ciaran White and Fintan McDonnell.  Congratulations go to Catherine Rocks and Paula McKay who proudly wore their County colours as part of the U14 Down squad. The U12’s were deserving winners of the Shield final against Portaferry (4:2 to 0:0). This was the first time that the U12‘s brought home silverware and congratulations to all the girls and to team manager Seamus McKillop.

This was the highlight of the camógie year and a big win for the club as a whole.  Ciaran Hughes (under 14 mentor and coach) reflected, "The U14 panel had trained outdoors right through the winter and had notched up sixty training sessions before the league had started. As the Féile is played at the start of the season, we knew that pre-season challenge matches were vital in order to hit the ground running. The team's performances steadily improved and we had a convincing start to the league campaign. On the morning of the Féile, the excitement was building and it was butterflies all round – and that was just the management team! The girls all arrived on time fully made up in case of photo opportunities.  I warned the girls that we weren’t just aiming for the best dressed team award and so the challenge was laid down. I agreed that, if we won the Féile, I would allow them to put make-up on me and I would walk around the pitch.  BUT - I drew the line at fake tan! On our way to the final we did not concede a single point and, although Ballygalget were the hot favourites, I began to get really worried that the girls would win and I would have to follow through with the challenge.  Against the odds, Bredagh made history by winning their first County Féile in dramatic fashion. After the medal ceremony the girls all reminded me of the challenge I had made earlier in the day and I did what I had to do. I have been assured no photographs were taken.  It was a day never to be forgotten!”

Dorothy McKay comments; "the girl’s determination to win was incredible, an example of this was when Aislinn McFarland showed exceptional bravery as she continued to play in the second half with a very painful hand injury (which turned out to be a fracture.) All the girls were on form and their fitness and focus saw them win superbly against a very skillful Ballygalget side.”

The U14 girls represented County Down in the Féile na nGael in County Laois where they drew two games and lost one. This was a fantastic experience for all concerned – players, parents and a special thanks to 
the tremendous work of the mentors Ciaran Hughes, Dorothy McKay and Una McFarlane.

In 2010, the hard work continues to pay off as Bredagh under 14s, under the management of Ciaran Hughes, Dorothy McKay and Una McFarlane won the County Championship 9:8 to 1:3 against Clonduff. Six members of the panel (Olivia Boyle, Aislinn McFarland, Monica McKay, Niamh Hazard, Molly McMullan and Megan Hughes) were picked for the Down development squad.

U16 All Ireland success

The U16 camógie training season continued throughout the winter under the management team of Dorothy McKay, Una McFarlane, Anne Costello and guest coach Eugene Irwin, who has done so much this year to promote the ethos that every player no matter what skill level they possess is important to the team. All through the winter months the girls were put through their paces with a lot of the focus on commitment, skill and team development. Seven of the U16 girls were picked to be part of the U16 Down panel which won the All Ireland U16 C title against Carlow.  Bredagh’s own Catherine Rocks captained the side and Monica McKay, Niamh Hazard, Olivia Boyle, Aislinn McFarland, Maria McFarlane and Megan Hughes all played their part.

Club School Links, 2002-2010

Bredagh has always recognized the importance of the club - school link and this has led the committee to focus their attention on the three primary feeder schools for the club; St Michael’s PS, St Bernard’s PS and Holy Rosary PS. From the outset, Jerome Quinn gave great support and advice by accessing grants which enabled the schools to get equipment for camógie and hurling as well as seeking the backing of the school’s PTA.

While all three feeder schools have supported Bredagh’s efforts St Michael’s has been the most successful to date.

St Michael’s camógie teams won league finals and championship finals in Casement Park in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, and the league in 2010 in the Cumann na mBunscol Schools’ competition.  With that came the nomination of two girls every year to play in the Belfast Schools’ team which played Dublin as part of Cumann na mBunscol Dublin / Belfast school’s competition. In 2008, the girls won all four cups in the Belfast School’s competitions: INTO 7-a-side Cup, 5-a-side Indoor tournament as well as School’s league and championship.

Anne Costello; "It has become evident over the years that all the coaching development work done in the schools by Bredagh has helped the children academically, socially and personally; building character and self-esteem is as important as winning. Feeling part of the school and the club community even after leaving primary school is very important to maintaining links with Bredagh. The children will often comment that it’s so nice to meet their primary school friends at Bredagh training after they have gone on to different secondary schools. The success at school level over the years has been achieved through the work of the dedicated volunteers going back to 2002 notably Nancy McGarry, Maria Graham, Dorothy McKay, Rosie Rocks and more recently Bernard McKee, Bernie Deighan, Eugene Irwin through Hurlcam and the County Down and Ulster development officers.”

As a sign of further growth, St Bernard’s Primary School, contested the Belfast Championship Final in Casement Park for the first time this year. Developments like this have been important to Bredagh’s own progress.
Ita O Connor Memorial Cup, 2005-2011

There have been some significant developments throughout the years with Bredagh camógie working to contribute to the wider camógie community in Down. The Ita O’Connor Cup since its inception in 2005, has become the recognised annual tournament in Down for the under 10 age group and scores of young girls, their families and coaches have been welcomed to Cherryvale each year. Kevin McVeigh has been instrumental in the organizing of this yearly event and progress at under 10 was showcased this year when Bredagh contested the final in a hard fought battle against Portaferry. For the second year in succession, Bredagh also ran a parallel under 8 competition where 6 teams competed providing an opportunity for the Ita O’Connor Cup competition to continue to grow.

Since 2006, an annual trip to the All Ireland Camógie Finals in September has been a mainstay on the schedule for the girls from Bredagh to witness the game played at the highest level. This year, 2011, they saw Down lose narrowly to Waterford in the All Ireland Junior final.

Peace 111 Project

Bredagh camógie has also endeavoured to build relationships across the community. In 2009 the Senior camógie team got involved with Malone hockey club, to share their experiences of their sports and build relationships.

In September 2010, six members of the under 16 camógie team engaged in a six month cross community project called ‘Yes We Can’. This involved three clubs combining the skills of Hockey and camógie in an effort to facilitate communication and friendships through sport. The three clubs involved were Mossley Hockey Club, St Enda’s Camógie Club and Bredagh GAC. This project enjoyed excellent success and the friendships made with these young women have continued to thrive both among the players and mentors. With over 170 players Bredagh camógie is now supported by a growing network of coaches and volunteers. Thank you to all the young volunteers who have helped us down through the years as underage coaches and referees notably Liadh White, Alice Donaldson, Emma Holland, Niamh O Connor, Gemma Mullan, Sian Deighan, Emer Murtagh, Paula McKay, Niamh McKinney and Catherine Rocks. Every effort: from coaches selflessly giving of their time; parents providing lifts; referees and fundraisers are needed to make our club work. In the great tradition of our organization, community effort has developed camógie within Bredagh GAC.

In the end though, without players there are no teams. From the most determined wee girl going out to hit a sliótar with a hurley stick (some times as big as herself) to the many accomplished and experienced sportswomen at Senior level, Bredagh has been served on the playing fields of Down, Ulster, the island of Ireland, England, Scotland and America by women of all ages who have put on the Bredagh shirt and have done the club proud.

From such endeavours, skills are developed, games are won and many are lost. But most of all, friendships are forged, memories are made as young and not so young grow to love a truly great game.