No, we aren’t talking about Che Guevara here.
Being a GAA fanatic can be a thankless and lonely task at times (or so we’ve heard), but this has been one of St Brigid’s manager Eunan Conway’s better weeks. With his beloved Tyrone getting through to the All-Ireland final last weekend and his equally (more?) beloved St Brigid’s claiming a vital win last night in their push for promotion, not a single one of the ravers at Sasha and John Digweed at Custom House Square would have been anywhere near Eunan’s level of euphoria last night.
“There’s nahin’ won yet,” to quote any number of wise oul’ GAA heads over the years. There are still two big wins to secure promotion to Division One for St Brigid’s’ senior men. But last night – in front of a large, loyal and vociferous support – the team put on a fine display against a tough and experienced Aldergrove.
“Take your points and the goals will follow”/”Goals win games” are two equally oft-used phrases in the typical GAA underage coach’s handbook, and this contradiction has doubtless confused the mind of many’s a talented youngster. One way to solve this issue is if you simply aren’t able to kick the ball over the bar, and so have to score goals out of pure necessity. This mirrored much of St Brigid’s’ first-half display in shooting terms. Excellent all over the field, the side were struggling to convert point-scoring opportunities. At the back, Conor King and John Toner were resolute, while Ben Sinnott displayed admirable levels of fitness after months of travelling (no doubt maintained by a strict regime of being chased from one South American village to the next by a horde of enraged fathers/husbands/bar owners). Patrick Finnegan was setting up attacks with all the style of his carefully-arranged barnet, while Peter Lundy was looking very sharp at half-forward. With all the good work going on out the field, it wasn’t long before the forwards converted it into points on the board, starting with the man known in South Belfast circles as the “Red Jesus”.
While his adopted home of Berlin may be the home of Techno, Crumlin briefly became the home of some serious Tekkers at around 7.23pm last night, as Ruairi O’Neill received the ball wide on the right, turned his man and proceeded to send the entire opposition defence, goalkeeper, fellow St Brigid’s forwards and most spectators off to the local chipper for a fish supper with an absolutely outrageous dummy before sticking the pig’s bladder right in the top corner. We could refer to a certain famous goal once scored in Croker, but there have already been enough Tyrone references in here for one day. So let’s just say that it was greeted with significant (but civilised) applause from the gathered Biddies faithful.
Shortly thereafter, John Blaney found himself in possession of the ball near the Aldergrove net after neat forward interplay (I assume, I can’t really remember what happened leading up to it to be honest). And, as often happens in these scenarios, the ball found itself inside the Aldergrove net. An exquisite finish from Blaney, fired into the top left corner, and now St Brigid’s were in the ascendancy.
With two screamers, our next goal would inevitably be a bit of a scrapper, and to provide it up stepped a bit of a scrapper, Jack Dowling. After his low, driven effort produced a brilliant save from the home goalkeeper, Dowling managed to get his big toe on the rebound, Xabi Alonso-style, and raise another green fleg. Half-time, and St Brigid’s were ahead. But Aldergrove were sure to come back at them in the second period – and so it would transpire.
Aldergrove came out and showed just why they are pushing for promotion, kicking a couple of fine scores at the start of the game. We were in for a tight, physical second-half. Oran Boyle showed huge bravery on a number of occasions, in several instances risking the fate generally reserved for criminals in France up until 1981. The same could be said for Ulster/Thailand/Instagram beach volleyball icon Mikey Cummings and Ethan Carleton, who used every bit of his craft and cunning to set up and win frees and scores. Ronan McGrady was excellent from general play – and also put his health at risk on a number of occasions – while Sean McKernan’s man-marking was as tight as his Quiz organisation.
There was one rather seminal moment in the second half as James Smith openly – and in full earshot of all assembled players, management, supporters and journalists – asked Ronan McGrady, “Are you sure?” ahead of a relatively straightforward free-kick from thirty-five yards out. While McGrady had been having a tough time from frees by his own standards, he showed guts to nail a couple of important ones in the second half. The Smith-McGrady dynamic becomes more reminiscent of Sexton-O’Gara by the day.
In the end, St Brigid’s did well to close the game out against a very difficult side at their home patch. A fine win and one to build on in the weeks ahead as two wins out of three are needed to guarantee Division One football next year.
Final score: Aldergrove 0-10, St Brigid’s 3-10
(Photo: Bert Trowlen)