My Red Hand Journey – Brendan McComb

How do you become involved with the club?

“I first got involved when I was 8-years of age- I had no family connections with the club or anything like that. I’d never even played Gaelic football before and I can remember Jim Brady came into our primary school (St Oliver Plunkett). He took us for a Gaelic session in Andytown Leisure Centre, after the session he asked me if I’d ever played before or did I    play for anyone – I said no and he gave me information about how to join, just go down to Greenways at the bottom of Lenadoon beside Suffolk Library”.

“We met there, and a bus just picked us up on a Saturday morning- I think it was 9 or 10’oclock on a Saturday morning. There was no child protection back then, you dandered down ay 8-years of age to the bottom of Lenadoon and a bus came to get you. I remember the bus too- Shakers bus- it was dodgy with no seatbelts, just two rows of seats up the sides of the bus where the windows were. When you hit the breaks, you would slide down the bus and there was a hole in the floor- you could see the ground when you were going up Hannahstown Hill. That was my first experience, the moment that I went up training- I was hooked straight away and was nearly 30-years ago now”

First recollection of underage achievement:

“I loved the summer schemes – they used to be a fantastic experience and you made lifelong friendships there. I had great craic, there were trips down to Newcastle and things like that- you always remember those kind of things”.

“In terms of playing more competitively, I remember playing in an U-12 B championship and winning that. I think it was in St Pauls and we beat the Aggies in the final in hurling and Barry Armstrong took those teams. That was my first experience of winning anything in the club. I can remember at underage level-winning a few individual player of the year, hurler of the year or footballer of the year at the Christmas presentation nights. They were always special events as well – those were my first experience of winning anything and earliest memories of enjoying the summers up at the club”.

U-12 hurling success and continuation to Div1 hurling:

“I’d say Cathal Kelly would have been playing in the that final for the Aggies – Cathal is obviously a club stalwart now but I think he joined us when he was U-16. The Aggies maybe struggled to get teams out, I know his brother [Diarmaid Kelly] still plays for the Aggies or at least did until recently”.

“That U-12 team, when we won our first championship – we’d have had the three Herron brothers [Ciaran, Brendan and Michael], myself, Christy Tum, Dan McGreevy, Charlie McCloskey and boys like that went onto hurl for about 20-years for our club. It was pivotal, even though it was U-12 B Championship- the work that Barry Armstrong with us through the years in terms of hurling development of the club was huge”.

“I know hurling in the club maybe isn’t going that great but for a period of time we did have success there and hopefully we can get back to that stage again at some point because those teams that Barry took- from U-10 right through to senior; we became a Division One club then and competed in Senior Championship. That was a massive, massive achievement for our club- the first time it’s ever happened. That meant a lot to be part of that to be honest, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my playing career – to be part of the development of hurling, bringing hurling to Division One, playing Senior Championship”.

“Winning the clubs only Intermediate hurling Championship and then a few years afterwards winning the Junior Championship and Ulster Junior was massive. Most of the things I won was towards the end of my career – which was even more satisfying as well. I was playing senior hurling from I was about 16 and you think I’ll win a load of things – but you don’t and it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I picked up my first meaningful Championship silverware and it means more to you then at that stage of your career”.

Senior breakthrough:

“In terms of hurling –  we were obviously nowhere near as strong as we were in football. I made my senior debut in hurling when I was 16 and then probably within a year or two would have almost became a regular in the senior team. Back then you were playing with real characters: Paddy Tumelty and ‘Beansy’ Elliott [Brendan Elliott] were playing and guys like Marty Collins and Eamon McGarry and ‘Bruce’ McKiernan and people like that. I was just a child and these guys were real established club stalwarts and you looked up to them and learned a lot from them as well. They looked after you also but that was a long time ago”.

Who you looked forward to coming up against:

“In terms of senior football, I always had good tussles against the St Galls boys- I looked forwards to coming up against those boys because they were the benchmark for such a long time. I would have really looked forward to marking the likes of Kieran McGourty or Terry O’Neill, the likes of Kevin Niblock or those kind of guys. You wanted to test yourself against the best guys out there. In the league we might have got a result against them but come Championship- it wasn’t until the year we won the Championship that we managed to get over the line against them and that was a very, very special win for us because they beat us in so many Championships previous to that as well. There was a real healthy rivalry between us and them and they were always the games that you looked forward to, even if it was a league game – you were always guaranteed to get a good crowd at it. The Championship matches were always special”.

2016 and 2017:

“The 2016 junior hurling win was really, really enjoyable- it was kind of unexpected because a lot of my generation of hurlers; I played senior hurling for the guts of 20-years and a lot of my generation were coming to the end at that point. It was kind of a final ‘hurrah’, we’d been playing Senior Championship, went down to Intermediate Championship and won the Intermediate Championship and were down in Junior. Junior Championship wasn’t easy to win either, we beat a good St Teresa’s team and a very good Cushendun team in the final in Armoy”.

“Mt first son was actually born in the week that we played the Junior Championship final. He was born on the Wednesday and we played the final on the Saturday and I was seriously sleep deprived for the final. It was a bit of a blur in that regard, but it was a sweet victory as well and to go on and win Ulster – to go on and get that silverware at that stage, it was unexpected”.

“In terms of the 2017 and the senior football win – it was the holy grail. It was what you dedicated your life towards in terms of your involvement with the club for the guts of 20-years. I wouldn’t have established myself as a senior footballer anywhere as near as quickly as I established myself as a senior hurler. I had to work very, very hard to become an established senior footballer so it meant a lot to me when I had a jersey and it meant a lot to me once I had a jersey- I would have done anything to hold onto the jersey; always with the ambition to get over the line and win a Senior Championship”.

“I know what it means to men in our club that have been there and played their whole careers and never won one and maybe got beat in a number of finals. I referenced a few guys earlier that I played hurling with the likes of Paddy Tumelty, Kevin Murray, ‘Beansy’ Elliott and those kind of people- never got the medal they deserved. Even the class of 92 – they have Championship medals, but they were deprived of the opportunity to win it on the pitch.  I know for a lot of those people that I regard as club legends – it was unfair on those because they definitely would have had the team to go on and win that final in 92- the likes of Micky Boyle, Terry McCrudden, Bukey and people like that- who went onto manage me as a senior player. They never got that opportunity to win it on the pitch and I always felt that was unfair on them”.

“For me, it was emotional, it was relief, extasy, unbelievable it was just an unbelievable occasion. One regret in the aftermath of it- we might have enjoyed ourselves a bit too much and when it came to Ulster, we didn’t do ourselves justice and Cavan Gaels beat us comfortably enough down in Breffni Park. But the fact that we beat St Galls on that Championship run- something we had been trying to do for so many years and the fact it was an all-Belfast final against the Johnnies- it was very, very special indeed”.

“What it meant to people like Joe Finnegan, Shanty [Pat McCague], Fitzy [Frank Fitzsimons] in our club- to see their faces, that almost meant as much to me as to win it myself personally. To see what they got out of it and everyone in the club got out of it. To have my family around me that day- they’ve supported me and all the sacrifices I made to try and win a Senior club Championship- it meant a lot too”.

The Future:

“I would absolutely love to continue into coaching- obviously through my job as a teacher at St. Mary’s CBGS- I do a bit of coaching at school. Last year I helped out with Dodger [Colm McCambridge], Gerry [McAleer] and Brendan McCloskey and I really, really enjoyed it. But at the minute I’ve a young family – it difficult to dedicate the time to take a team of your own or being there all the time. My hands are full at home with a 1-year old and a 3-year old and it’s not always as easy as you’d like it to be to get out the house. Definitely in the future, I plan fully to give back as much as I’ve got from the club. If my own kids can get half of what I’ve got out of my involvement with Lamh Dhearg, then that would be something very special for them”.

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