History - Football: a team to remember

 

A Team to Remember


It is a rare event for a Bredagh football team to win a league. A side that captures three league titles (with three unbeaten campaigns) at different age-groups, plus a championship win, is a team to remember.


By Paul Doran, November 2011


In 2002 Damien Canavan asked me to join him with a group of Under 12s he had been involved with, building on good work by Dermot Mac Greevy. The boys were mad keen but had only taken up Gaelic Football as a result of the Youth Initiative and Schools League organised by Jerome Quinn. We had interesting conversations with them about our plans and the nucleus of a team emerged with the first game away to the previous year's County Champions, Bryansford. As we couldn't tell the difference between Donal McKegney, Emmet Costello and Damien Moreland, we made the inspired decision to put them all in the half-back line and the lads are more or less still there.


While the record shows a narrow defeat, it doesn't show that the debutants were ahead at half-time and played with passion and commitment.

That year we were beaten in the East Down Under 12 B final by St John's but the journey had begun.


In 2003 we were joined by Damien Mc Closkey and the intensity picked up.  The team was blessed with outstanding individuals but they developed a close bond which would see them through many tough challenges. An unbeaten league campaign and emphatic league final win over Kilcoo inevitably led to an A Championship final against the same side. In a display described by Journalist Matt Fitzpatrick as the best he had ever seen at underage level, a first half blitz saw off the Magpies again. Down Player Conor Laverty was the Kilcoo manager on that day and he recently told me a number of the Kilcoo players have every possible Down medal (including Senior championship) - except Under 12!


The County final against Mayobridge was an epic- the highlights are available on you-tube. A one point defeat was cruel particularly when you see a left-foot piledriver from nine year old Danny Nolan skimming the crossbar in the last minute ;centimetres away from a County Championship win.


The team regrouped at Under 14 level and, while I temporarily resumed my playing career, Maurice Rooney stepped into the management team with the Damiens. The lads represented Down at the All Ireland Féile in Tyrone and impressed their Newtown Stewart hosts on and off the field.  Many of the team were dual players and played key roles in successful underage Bredagh Hurling teams.


At the under 16 age-group, Marty Hannity and I rejoined the fray and again an unbeaten league campaign followed, led by inspirational captain Michael Magee. Around this time the talent in the squad was showing in other areas- Conor Mc Closkey and Jamie Cleary were offered professional soccer contracts, Michael Mc Allister represented Ulster at Under 17 rugby, Conalll Devlin played basketball for Ulster, Niall Wright reached the top 5 in Ulster Tennis while Under 12 captain Declan O'Hara, playing off scratch, competed in major golf tournaments including the Irish Schoolboys and North of Ireland Championships.



Off the field these young men were also successful- Niall Wright starred in the 2004 film 'Mickybo and me' (written by former Bredagh underage player Owen Mc Cafferty) while Michael Magee acted in several local plays and had a part in the 2003 film 'Song for a Raggy Boy'.


When Bredagh teams reach Minor level it takes a big effort to keep them together and it was no different for this group.  Michael Devlin, Seamus O'Hara and Dermot MacGreevy rejoined Damien, Maurice and myself in a management team that oversaw an historic Minor league win in 2008.  Stunning championship victories over Carryduff (a last minute Peter Graham goal securing victory before the biggest crowd ever seen at a Cherryvale game - a tribute to Bredagh legend Patsy Owens who had died the night before), Ballymartin and An Riocht set up a championship semi-final with Bryansford. Despite the long-term absence of Captain Sean Armstrong as well as losing full-back Conalll Mahon-O'Neill and centre-forward Paddy Hannity on the day of the game to injury, the lads tore in and , two points down in the last minute, threw everything into attack only to concede a sucker punch with the last kick.


Ten of that 'Ford team went on to play in the 2010 Senior Championship final so we knew we were at the top table. This was confirmed the following year when the team qualified for the first ever Premiership All County Minor League and, in our last home game, drew with old rivals Kilcoo, the outstanding Minor team in Ulster that year.


So a memorable seven year campaign came to a close but it is fantastic to see that the backbone of the current Senior side is made up from this squad alongside local players like Owen Costello, Joe Steele, Niall Devlin, John Mc Kenna and Matthew Hollywood who have come through from earlier teams managed by Frank Mc Kenna and Jim Mc Elroy. Paddy Heaney's article sets out what is needed for the next step but these young men are up for it!