History - Football, 15 yeas on

Bredagh GAC, Football 15 years on

By Ciaran O’Keefe, November 2011

Football in Bredagh continues to be a real conundrum; at underage we have large numbers of boys participating to varying degrees of success in our games and yet we have struggled to make any impact achieving one of our main goals- getting our Senior Men’s team from Junior ranks to Senior status. History and the memory can sometimes play tricks on us; people can view the past with rose tinted spectacles but the facts speak for themselves. 

The Men’s football team achieved immediate success after the club was formed, racing through the various competitions and winning league titles on the way to Division 1. However after participating in two Senior Championship semi finals and being relegated from Division 1 via a league restructuring the Senior team endured many years of being a top Division 3 to mid Division 2 side without consistent development work being done with Juvenile teams.

During these years teams like Mayobridge came to Belfast to play Bredagh as they worked their way from Division 4 to the lofty position they have now (1980-Division 4 Champions, 1993- Division 1 Champions); it can be done. However with Bredagh, if there was one word to sum up the performance of the men’s Senior football team over the last 15 years it would be ‘frustration’.

In the 25 year book, Jerome Quinn mapped out a season in Division Three under the management of Gerry Rógers which culminated in a last minute defeat to Drumgath to deny promotion to Division 2. The team had spent two years in Division 2 in the early Nineties (when at one point there were 6 All-Stars in the same Division !) where they beat teams like 2010 Senior champions Kilcoo three times so it was a shattering blow when the team went down to Division 4 in 1997 following a one point defeat to Darragh Cross. There was an expectation that it would be a short stay in Division 4 but with the retirement of many experienced players and no flow of upcoming players to fill the gaps there was a period of transition.

In December 1998 the club played it’s last games at the old Nazareth Lodge pitch; ex players and supporters all congregated to say their goodbyes and look forward to a an uncertain future. Plans were initiated and driven forward by Jerome Quinn to improve the underage structures in the club; 

From 1996 – 1998, the underage structures had disintegrated to the stage whereby Bredagh was not entering teams at various age groups (U16 or Minor).  Things looked slightly brighter when a youthful side managed by Liam Mc Kenna narrowly lost the Millennium Junior Championship final to Ardglass. This proved to be a false dawn. Despite the efforts of a number of dedicated club servants like Paul Mc Evoy, Ciarán O’Keefe, Nicky Mc Cafferty, Peadar Doyle and Kieran Boyle plus the ever present training input from Sean Cunningham, the team consistently lost out in promotion play-offs and championship semi-finals (1999 Intermediate Semi Final, 2002 Junior Semi Final and 2004 Junior Semi Final).

In an urban club like Bredagh, there is always a dilemma between recruiting experienced players who have moved into the parish and bringing through young players who may not be ready for Senior football.  The Senior Reserve team did well in this period, picking up two East Down Reserve league titles – one under the guidance of former player Dermot Mac Greevy- and generating enough numbers to field a Thirds team . In 2004 the Senior team again was defeated in a Junior Semi Final and lost out on promotion finishing in third spot for the fourth time. A new focus was required with a plan to get the Senior team moving forward; help was sought through the introduction of older and more experienced players with a proven pedigree. In 2005 with player managers Paddy Heaney and Shane Donnelly - assisted by former players Tommy White and John Gilmore and the backing of the club committee chaired by Paul Blaney - the team got serious and clinched the double in 2006, following an epic replay win over Teconnaught in the Junior Championship final.

The momentum had begun but the challenge was to sustain the move forward with more home grown talent to supplement a talented but ageing team. In 2007 and 2008 our Senior team lost out on promotion on both occasions via play-off defeats. In 2009 the team maintained a mid table position and hopes were high for 2010 after a fantastic start (5 wins and 1 draw in the first 6 games). However the season took a real turn for the worse with injuries and work commitments taking a number of players out of the team and, after more play-off defeats, the team was very unlucky to drop back down to Division 4.

At time of writing Bredagh are in the Junior Championship final and in the promotion play-offs under Fermanagh native Mick O’Callaghan but, as always, with previous frustrations still in mind, no-one will be relaxing until silverware is on the table. However there is real hope for a brighter future on this occasion; while the team of 2006 had some great players (Enda Gormley, Jody Gormley, Mark Diamond to name a few) the age profile of the team was much higher than it is now. The vast majority of the current Senior team has come through the ranks and the average age of the team is 22.  The current squad has 15 members of the successful Minor team of 2008 in the ranks so the work that was started in 1999 has now started to bear some fruit.....but it is a long and bumpy road that has many highs and lows and to move forward as we plan to do will require much more from both the existing coaches and new helpers. Some of the major tasks that we have to contend with are:

Quantity versus quality – we have huge numbers of children participating in our games but not enough of them appear to be committed to our games; can we cater for them all?  

Parental involvement – We need parents to take a more active role in the education of the games with their children. 

Dual players – Down is traditionally a football county that plays hurling; while there is success in the hurling code in the club the county struggles to make any inroads at a local or a National Level. We cater for both codes at underage and somehow need to ensure that we bring our talented "dual” sportsmen along without losing them.

Other factors tend to be outside our control but have a major bearing on our future – boys going to university in England or Scotland (9 players in 2010 and 2011) , unemployment, emigration.

During the last 15 years there have been some excellent footballers to grace the maroon shirt and some memorable moments - some that can be printed but some that will have to remain part of the  redagh ‘oral tradition’. In the late Nineties and early 2000’s fine young players such as Dermot Owens, Conall Toland and Johnny Cleary could and perhaps should have worn the red and black but it was hard to attract the interest of Down selectors when you are at the ‘wrong ‘end of the county and your Senior team is not playing Division one or two football.

More recently some of our players have been requested to attend trials for the Down Senior squad and the feedback on performances from Kevin Harte and Owen Costello was very encouraging. We have high hopes for a number of upcoming players to gain representation at County level be that at Minor /U21 or Senior; names like Donal Hughes, Kevin Dornan, Lorcan McMullan and Kealan Devlin among others should surely be coming to attention of our county selectors at the various grades. 

The ‘blending’ of country ‘blow-ins ‘ with city youngsters has always been a challenge and is the subject of Paddy Heaney’s article in this publication. However, despite the immense added value of people like All-Star Enda Gormley, who brought so much more than the best left foot of the Nineties to Bredagh, the current emphasis is on growing on our own talent.

All County Premier Reserve Team

Bredagh is one of only two clubs outside of the top two Divisions that fields a team in the All County Premier Reserve Leagues. The standard in these two Divisions provides an excellent grounding for the clubs younger players coming through to Senior ranks. This team has been very well looked after by Brendan O’Connell and more recently Frank McKenna, assisted by Paul Hickson; the fruits of their labour has been an excellent 2011 campaign when the team has performed to a high standard all year and finished in the top 3 in the Division collecting a number of notable scalps along the way including Downpatrick, Longstone, Saval and Ballyholland among others. The determination to keep the team at this level ensures that there is competition for places in the Senior squad and an improvement in the overall standard of games for the players.

Juvenile Football

In the first 25 years of the club history Bredagh was a dominant force in underage competitions in East Down, alongside Downpatrick, Castlewellan and Bryansford. A large part of this has already been documented in the book celebrating the first 25 years. As outlined above there was a rebirth of juvenile football in the club after 1999 when teams at U10 and U12 were restarted. By 2000 we had teams participating at U10, U12, U14 and Minor and by 2002 we had teams back competing at all age groups in the East Down Divisions. In 2010 we actually got to a position whereby we were fielding 2 teams at U12, U14 and U16.

To make all of this happen took plenty of determination and stamina by a number of people and Des Fahy’s interview with Jerome highlights some key milestones.
That work has been carried on by a dedicated bunch of GAA enthusiasts who turn out every week to coach upwards of 220 children who participate in our sessions at the various levels.  Juvenile football began to see increasing numbers of children joining the club in 2003/04, as Gaelic football increased in popularity and the demographics of the area noticeably changed. A youth committee was formed in early 2005 to focus on managing and organising underage teams in all codes. The youth committee was set up and chaired by Jerome Quinn, who was supported by a number of people including Martin Hannity (coaching coordinator), Simon Francis (Registrar), Paula Durkan (Equipment officer), Edel Teague (child protection officer), Paddy McAlinney and Michael Flanigan (Scór), Paddy Quinn (Pitch Bookings), Cera McArdle (girlsfootball), Eamon Mulvenna (hurling), Deirdre Fitzpatrick and John Deery (sponsorship and funding), Carlo Angellone (photographer), Anne Costello (camógie) and Eugene Irwin (boys football). 

The youth committee was significantly involved in organising underage structures within the club but the continuous growth of the various codes at underage and individual’s interest in a particular code led to the formation of sub-committees for each code. As a result, the early work of the youth committee was subsumed into the code sub-committees and the youth committee was no longer required.

The introduction of the football subcommittee in 2008 was a major step forward for football in the club. This allowed close examination of strengths and weaknesses in terms of football development at all levels and has commenced the process of improving football throughout the club. One thing that has been learned is that it is impossible to realise significant change overnight and a process of improvement to meet strategic objectives will take years of hard work. This work has now begun and the club looks forward to the next key milestone in its history with the anticipation that football will be much improved and all children will feel a great sense of honour wearing a Bredagh shirt.

Throughout the last 15 years there have been numerous successes. We have won prestigious tournaments across various counties at all age groups from U8 to U16; we have won East Down Divisional titles at U12, U16 and Minor and have been in the top 3 in our leagues for most of the more recent years. One very memorable success was the U12 East Down Championship football title in 2008. It took two games against Bryansford in the final to decide on the winner.  The first game in Ballykinlar was a thriller, with Bredagh taking a commanding lead, only to be clawed back in the second half and see Bryansford move into the lead. The young Bredagh lads dug deep and secured a draw in the closing minutes of the game. The replay in Teconnaught was another tense affair as very little separated the teams throughout. Two goals late in the second half by Daire McPeake and Conor Kelly saw Bredagh deservedly winning a great championship.

Primary Schools Blitz

Bredagh has been running a Primary schools Blitz for the past 11 years and while the format has changed slightly the day is always a key date in the calendar for the local schools. In 2011 we had 9 schools involved with a number of these fielding both boys and girls teams. The games are always played in great spirit and it is encouraging to see so many of the boys and girls who attend Bredagh coaching sessions putting into practice the skills that they have been taught. It really is a sign of changed times when there are 11 schools coming to Cherryvale with some 150 children all playing our National games.

It is important for the club that the links with both the local primary and the second level schools develop to ensure that the children who play for Bredagh get to participate at Gaelic games when they attend school and to continue to enhance their skills. 

One very notable observation is that there is a significant core of players at all age levels that continue to return year in year out wanting to play football and showing a tremendous sense of commitment and loyalty. The club owes development and success to these footballers and to all future footballers that show that same level of commitment and loyalty.  It’s very apparent when the players mature sufficiently at U16 and Minor level they recognise the huge benefit they have and will have with continued involvement in Gaelic football and the GAA.

As well as the enjoyment of playing football, lifetime friendships and a sense of community are established, along with fitness, health benefit and a discipline framework.

The Senior team was relegated in 2010 and that did give the whole club a major jolt but specifically those who were working hard at promoting football; But we do have a plan and our plan is to get our club to Senior football and to challenge want to see our players representing our county and all our focus is aimed at these objectives. There are  some indications that the plans are starting to pay off; we have brought through at least two waves of players to the Senior ranks now (the U12 All County Finalists of 2003 / East Down Minor League Winners of 2008) and we are very hopeful that the current Minor Squad will provide a number of very excellent additions to the Senior squad including Kealan Devlin, Kevin Dornan, Danny Nolan and Michael Robinson among others.
Currently, the Seniors are back in the promotion play off and are also through to the Final of the Junior Championship.

In 2011 Bredagh football is healthy, ambitious and has tremendous potential to deliver a better product.

Watch this space!