Brídíní Óga bid to write the final chapter in their fairytale

AIB All-Ireland Junior club final:

Saturday 7th January, 2pm in Kinnegad

Brídíní Óga Glenravel (Antrim) v Knockananna (Wicklow)

It will be a case of ‘last one out, turn off the lights’ on Saturday in Glenravel when all roads lead to Kinnegad, Co Westmeath where Brídíní Oga take on Wicklow and Leinster champions Knockananna in the All Ireland Junior A Camogie final. While many of those travelling will feel aggrieved their journey is going to be twice as long as the fans of their opponents, most will be just trying to take in the fact that their club will be competing in an All Ireland final.

Camogie has had a few incarnations in the Glenravel club over the past 90 years or so, the first team photo, taken in 1933, features in the club history of 2016.

A Glenravel camogie team of 1933 Back row, L-R, Mary McToal, Susanna Higgins, Nora McBride, Susie McBride, Mary McBride, Peg Higgins, Jeanie Dunlop, Moira Miskelly. Front, L-R, Kathleen Higgins, Bernadette Higgins, Vera Healey, Elizabeth McDonnell, Mary McQuillan, Mary Higgins.

Like so many clubs throughout the country the game faded away for a year or two, but in the mid-fifties a new group of young women emerged and soon began to be competitive, going on to beat St Agnes in the Intermediate final at MacCrory Park in Belfast in 1957. However with many of that young team leaving the parish to go to boarding schools and to work elsewhere, that strong pool dwindled and the dropped out of the leagues again. Some of them did go elsewhere though and Olive Scullion, Kathleen Forde, Kathleen Scullion were part of a county and Ulster senior championship winning team with Ahoghill.

1975 saw the start of another strong period for the club and backed by many titles at juvenile level the game was strong in the club for many years, culminating in winning their first Junior Championship title by beating Rasharkin in the 1990 final in Glenariffe. Malachy McToal, who managed that team along with his brother in law Killian McElroy, is part of the current management team who steered the club to their first Intermediate crown earlier this season. Catriona Higgins, who was part of that winning team in ’75 went on to win a string of honours at the highest levels in the game, including Ashbourne Cup with Jordanstown and Senior county and Ulster titles with Loughgiel.

The Glenravel team who won the 1990 Junior Championship in 1990. Back row, L-R, Malachy McToal, Shauna Higgins, Noreen McCafferty, Claire Gaul, Patricia O’Loan, Moira Doherty, Edel O’Loan, Anne Marie Hughes, Sheena McKeown, Una O’Loan, Killian McElroy, Front L-R, Rose Reid, Anne Marie O’Donnell (with Sean O’Donnell), Rosie McCafferty, Tessa O’Boyle, Cationa Higgins, Helen Kerr, (Danielle McElroy on Helen’s knee), Roisin Higgins, Bernie McToal, (Shauna Marie McMullan and Karen Davis standing – Donna Marie McElroy and Margaret McToal – kneeling)

Catriona was just one player who lined out for the Shamrocks during different periods of inactivity in the Glenravel club, with her cousin Anne Higgins, Patricia O’Brien and the Duffin sisters Roisin and Maureen wearing the famous red jersey with great distinction. Only this season Chloe Higgins was part of the Loughgiel team who reached the All Ireland final.

The current Brídíní Oga club was started just over twenty years ago, initially as part of an amalgamation with St Brigid’s Cloughmills, and has proved a great success competing in all age groups. The driving force behind it was Seamus McAleenan, a man from Laoitrim Co Down who married a local girl and settled in the parish He has been involved with the club in many roles ever since. The team won their first Junior Champions title under the Brídíní Oga name in 2016 when they beat Dunloy in a thrilling game in Portglenone. They went on to add the Bridie McMenamin Shield, the club’s first Ulster title.

The Brídíní Oga team who the Junior Chamionship in 2016, beat Dunloy in the final in Portglenone.

They competed in Division 1 for a season or two and played their championship Camogie in the Intermediate grade. Winning that Intermediate title has been the aim since that Junior success in 2016 and after suffering defeats in the finals of 17, 18 and 19 to Loughgiel there were those who wondered if they would ever get over the line. However there was young talent emerging in the intervening years and with Rodney Kerr back at the helm he assembled a strong backroom team.

The first round back in August saw them get over the first hurdle when they faced Creggan at home, winning in the end by 0-17 to 1-9 but there little in the performance that day to indicate what lay ahead. It was the next round, when they faced their old rivals Loughgiel that really saw the upturn in their fortunes and when they beat the Shamrocks with a much improved second half display, the belief began to grow.

Aimee Traynor celebrates her goal against Cargin in the semi-final of the Antrim championship

The semi-final win over Cargin was another tough encounter and it took a bit of magic from Brídíní Oga’s version of Lionel Messi, Aimee Traynor, to give them the win. Portglenone were next in the Antrim final and it took goals at vital times in that game to see them take that next big step in the club’s progression by becoming Intermediate champions.

Running alongside all this was their Intermediate Football Championship campaign and the Camogs came through the first round of the Ulster Camogie campaign against An Riocht of Down in Kilkeel in early November before wrapping up the football title against St Gall’s two weeks later. The pressure was really building as the games came thick and fast, and when they lost to Derry senior champions Steelstown in the opening round of the Ulster Intermediate Football campaign, it was probably a blessing in disguise.

With just the small-ball game to concentrate on their Ulster Camogie final against the fancied Armagh champions Granemore saw them turn in the best display of the season to date.

They improved on that display in the All Ireland semi-final against Limerick and Munster champions Adare at Abbotstown. They got a lucky break coming into the game when the original fixture with Adare was called off just the night before the game, with many of the team attending the wedding of team doctor Nicole Laverty, sister of team captain Kirsty. No doubt all of those attending were on their best behaviour, but it is much easier to prepare for the biggest game of your life sleeping in your bed the night before, and they needed to be at their very best to get past the Adare challenge.

Laoise McKenna in action during the semi-final win over Limerick champions Adare

They will need something similar, or maybe even better, if they are to complete the fairytale on Saturday against the Leinster champions Kockananna. If they were to lose they would still be the most successful team in the club’s history, and each and every one of us will be rightly proud of them. However not one of this great group will want to end it that way. Victory, is their only aim, just as it was in the other seven games in this great journey, so give it your best girls one more time and the glory can be yours.

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