Bill Neely: St Enda's story should be Hollywood blockbuster
WORLD-RENOWNED political correspondent and former St Enda’s, Glengormley gaelic footballer Bill Neely says the Hightown Road club’s remarkable rise to the All-Ireland stage is a story fit for Hollywood.
The NBC News broadcasting heavyweight hopes to follow the Antrim club’s fortunes against Connacht champions An Spidéal from Navan on social media tomorrow afternoon.
Neely, who was born in Glengormley and attended St Malachy’s College, played for the north Belfast club in his youth before pursuing a career in broadcast journalism.
The 59-year-old got in touch with The Irish News last month following the club’s historic Ulster Intermediate Championship final win over Cavan’s Mullahoran – and now hopes Frank Fitzsimons’ men can go one better by reaching an All-Ireland final.
"The St Enda’s club was a half a mile from where I lived,” Neely explained.
“I played for the club in 1976/77, between the ages of 16 and 18.
“I was never a regular member of the team, though on one occasion I was drafted in to play a game at Casement Park, which for me was the Wembley of my youth.”
The former ITN political anchor has fond memories of scoring a point at the old west Belfast venue.
“I remember thinking: 'What am I doing here at Casement Park? This is absolutely amazing to be chosen to play here.’ I was just looking around in awe of the place.”
Neely, who also lined out for local soccer club Star of the Sea, played down his gaelic football ability: "I would have been the guy who when St Enda's were absolutely desperate - when there was a flu virus that took out half the team - they would ask me to play. I was nothing other than an emergency substitute. I was number 25 on the list.”
Neely was moved by last month’s Irish News article that charted the Glengormley club’s astonishing rise from the ashes.
Situated on the edges of north Belfast, the club suffered terribly during the 'Troubles', losing five members, one of whom was Neely’s former team-mate Liam Canning.
The 19-year-old Canning was shot dead by an off-duty UDR member in 1981.
Since those dark days, St Enda’s have emerged as one of the great success stories in Antrim, boasting the biggest juvenile membership in the county.
"There is probably no club in Ireland that has had such a difficult life and chequered past who've been on the brink of extinction, who had been reduced to just a few members, who clung on and kept it alive,” said Neely.
“It's a wonderful story and it should be written about in all Irish newspapers and be an inspiration to everybody
"It's a universal story, there is hope and inspiration for everybody, this is the phoenix story and more.
“This is Hollywood movie stuff. There were documentaries made about Star of the Sea and the team that Bobby Sands played on and there is no reason why you couldn't have something like that with St Enda's.”
Neely cut his teeth in broadcast journalism with BBCNI before moving to ITN where he spent 25 years.
A Leeds United supporter and keen sports fan, Neely is currently Chief Global Correspondent for America’s television network channel, NBC News.
Approaching his 60th birthday, he no longer has family in Glengormley but regularly holidays in the south of Ireland.
"I think as you get older you feel the need to maintain contact with your past even more, and sport has always interested me,” he said.
“I can't remember how I came across this great run that St Enda's have been on. It must have been on Twitter. It's just great to see the club you were associated with doing so well.
“Reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals is amazing. Getting to the final would be spectacular. To win it would be just unbelievable.”