If Feile had a smell it would be face paint. If it was a dog. A red setter. And if it was a song. Maybe “The craic we had the day we died for Ireland” by Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly. Some see the show and the pageantry. However its heart and effort that really defines the event.
Feile, for all its supporters and detractors, is simply a weekend of celebration for under-14 GAA players around the country. March 31st 2019 was the day our Ballinteer St Johns’ girls donned the tangerine and black to show how much they had progressed in Camogie since nursery in Broadford and the matches in between from as far south as Stars of Erin and as far north as Naomh Mauras. The girls had bag packed, puzzled over Nathans table quiz and attended movies all to raise the money for the gear to stand proudly in that traditional Feile photo on the morning outside the clubhouse.
With the roll call completed, the hair plaited like a Master Chef’s pastry challenge and the face paint applied like Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn the mentors gloried in how our charges had grown up. The A and B panel offered each other words of wisdom, warm embraces and a steely gaze to “give it timber”. They knew the next time they would be back to that same venue would be the following day. Pizza and spice bags were on order. Wouldn’t they taste so much better with stories of bravery, endeavour and possibly victory?
Cars loaded. Sat navs set. The BSJ traffic lights even seemed to linger on orange longer that morning to bathe us in our club colours and set us on our way. A’s to Cuala. B’s to Olafs.
With more gazebos than an Aldi Thursday special the BSJ team quickly settled in and took their place in the traditional Feile parade. Boden. Crokes. Na Fianna. Raheny. Olafs. Cuala. Lucan Sarsfield. Some massive clubs. Some massive players. Such was the talk from opponent mentors you would have expected the Dalai Lama was employed as their spiritual leader, Jack Black as their motivator and their hurls had been carved from the same wood as Harry Potter’s wand. The BSJ girls took a deep breath of the Sandyford air and laughed, giggled and joked – nothing was unnerving them. This was their day. Win, lose or draw. They’d enjoy themselves. Philip Browne, Martin Tully & the BSJ senior Camogie team had delivered that simple message only 48 hours earlier.
First match Cuala. We’d never actually beaten Cuala at this level. Why not today to break with tradition? Why not indeed? With that in mind Holly Williams was first name down on the team sheet. A BSJ player since nursery and with the dark arts of hockey, rugby and horse-riding skills to call upon there was a clear mentors’ plan. Protect our goal at all costs and build a platform from which to launch counter-attacks and take our scores when opportunities arose. The full back line of Romy “Spice Bag” Stack, Jenna “Jostler” Walsh and Aoise “Don’t get me angry” Campion dug their trench and emitted a “thou shall not pass” blood curdling message to the opposition. With the base of the pyramid firmly in place, the half back line was deftly deployed. Ciara Andrews, our captain by words and ability, took up her centre back position and flanked either side by Caoimhe Comerford and Blathnaid Stack. You might get past one. Past three? You’re having a laugh!
I lár na pairce. Midfield. Centre field. Whatever. Never possible to define a zone on the pitch when Maggie Stack and Isabelle Ryan line up there. Why bother? Like springer spaniels with a nose for adventure they knew no limits or boundaries and covered ground with cheeky abandon.
With the kitchen and living room sorted we now needed to think of the front room and window. What would get us noticed and differentiated would be the neat stick work and score getting of a trio like Clodagh “Let me die with my boots on” Murphy, Aoibhin “give me a ball and a yard a grass” McMorrow and Anna Louise “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up” Finn.
With 2005 remembered by some as when Limerick’s Dolores McNamara won over €100m in the Euromillions it should be remembered by more now as the year when the full forward line of Ailbhe Coffey, Lea Carey and Isabelle Feddis were also born. Ailbhe’s mother was fuelling the girls with sausage rolls, cookies and buns. Lea’s father was on camera duty and mother and siblings on screaming sentry. Isabel’s mother off in London ensuring Theresa May and Brexit wouldn’t interfere with Feile success!
As the saying goes – the same boiling water that soften the potato hardens the egg. It’s about what you’re made of. Not the circumstances.
The match passed by in a blink of an eye. Not before the cavalry of 2006 arrived however. Amy Buckley. Aoibhin Nutty. Siobhan Lane. Eabha Carry. Shouldn’t these girls be intimidated by their older opponents? Shouldn’t they wilt when the going got tough? Should they, like hell! Somebody forgot to tell them.
Wave after wave of attack from BSJ had Cuala with their backs to the wall. However they weren’t to know of local knowledge. Rumour has it that centuries earlier the very Saint John of Ballinteer had passed that way and decreed that a local girl of local parents would score a point in the year of our Lord 2019 with a ground kick of biblical proportions and so it came to pass. Alison Comerford blessed herself in the direction of Knock. Paul Stack genuflected. John Campion looked heaven ward. Some even saw Sarah Keogh throw down her crutches and walk unaided in celebration. Lea Carey with divine inspiration and a right foot as straight as her dad’s 3 iron scored a majestic point. Cuala called on their own religious deities for support but their prayers weren’t answered. Match over. What a winning start!
Such was the Feile schedule that the girls couldn’t sit back on their laurels. Crokes immediately awaited – having rested nicely. Martin “Spycam” Carry though had been doing his homework. He let the girls know the danger Crokes posed in particular positions. With Mick Ryan and Tom Lane standing firm in their postal duties and Clodagh Murphy switched to defence the key to this match was nullifying their star players and Siobhan Lane and Jenna Walsh were taken quietly to one side and knowing winners never quit and quitters never win they immediately knew the task at hand. With classmates as opponents the girls, captained by Izzy Ryan, cast aside friendships for the duration of the game. Having beaten Cuala for the first time could BSJ get one over Crokes. Word had just filtered through that the A team has just won their match. The air crackled with enthusiasm. The sliotar brought forward time and again towards Crokes goal but their defence held true. Held true that is until an almighty team effort brought ball and all over the Crokes line. The Dalai Lama wasn’t much use to them now. Half time followed and John’s defence held firm. One side was all out Stack attack as Romy, Blathnaid and Maggie kept Crokes at bay. Aoise Campion now at full back harried and hassled the Crokes forwards into submission and Amy Buckley broke through tackles like Brian O’Driscoll in his prime. With the clock almost up and the girls out on their feet a Crokes player send the ball through a forest of hurls and it nestled in the back of our net. The whistle blew and the BSJ girls had given their all and remained unbeaten.
However you can’t keep a good thing down. With a bit of gazebo rest, light refreshments and some last minute tweaks the girls readied themselves for their last group match. Unbeaten against local opposition could they do likewise against the maroon and white of Raheny. Captained by Blathnaid Stack, the girls were hell bent on remaining unbeaten. This was so evident in players never say die attitude and going through the pain barrier especially Ailbhe Coffey (hand), Caoimhe Comerford (heel), Clodagh Murphy (knee) and Jenna Walsh (both hands!). Aoibhin Nutty and Eabha Carry were a constant threat and but for the width of the post were unlucky with great efforts on goal. At the other end Holly’s puck outs and side foot blocks ensured the umpires kept their hands warm in their pockets. Cometh the hour. Cometh the star. Placed at midfield Ciara Andrews placed ball on hurl and then like a knife through salty butter cut through the entire Raheny defence and sent an unstoppable shot to the roof the net. A truly deserved score and just reward for all her efforts. BSJ held Raheny scoreless and the ref blew for full time. BSJ were unbeaten and declared group winners. What an achievement!
A long wait unfortunately followed to determine the outcome of the semi final opponents. Lucan Sarsfields had won the honour to play the Marley Park girls. With Aoibhinn McMorrow back from her impressive double jobbing that day, Johns were buoyed by the fresh legs and eye for goal. Captained by Aoise Campion and cheered on by an iced Jenna Walsh on the sideline, BSJ played some wonderful Camogie and looked on course for victory. However Lucan were on a roll from their earlier victories and kept their momentum going. While BSJ continued their scoring form, it wasn’t enough to progress further and they went down fighting. The girls gathered bloodied and bruised in the middle of the field for one last time. Surrounded by proud and emotional parents and mentors, they received massive praise and adulation for their drive and endeavour that day.
The joy they brought was incalculable and hopefully they will stand again shoulder to shoulder in future matches knowing that playing hard and playing smart are important but the memories of playing together is what it’s really all about.