GAA Football

Bredagh planning to stay in big time

Bredagh pushed eventual champions St Enda's all the way in last year's Ulster intermediate championship and are hoping they can make a similarly strong start to senior hurling to that of the Belfast club. Picture by Philip Walsh

Morgan Fuels Down SHC round-robin: Ballygalget v Bredagh (tonight, 7pm, Ballygalget)

WHEN Eamon Mulvenna cajoled and corralled men out of the woodwork 15 years ago, he had a vision for Bredagh.

The club had been running underage hurling teams since 2002 and a couple of years on, Glenarm native Mulvenna and former Ballycran and Down start Danny Hughes were pulling different ways on the debate over a senior team.

“I said it’s too early but Eamon insisted and got boys like myself to play,” recalls Hughes.

They weren’t long started when Mulvenna set the target of 2020 to win their first Down senior hurling championship.

You have to be in it to win it, so at least they stand a chance.

Tonight, Bredagh will play only their second ever senior hurling championship game when they travel to Ballygalget.

Their first excursion was a sore one in the early part of the last decade, a one-off tie with Portaferry that ended in a heavy defeat.

They weren’t ready at that stage and truth be told, they’re not 100 per cent sure they’re ready now.

Before 2020 went the way it did, they’d eyes on regaining their intermediate championship (which would have been tougher with Liatroim dropping down) and having a cut off Ulster.

But when the provincial and All-Ireland championships were pulled and the Down intermediate moved into the winter months, they figured there’s only ever one way to find out how hot the fire is, and that’s put your hand over it.

“We won Down [intermediate] last year and we just thought what was the point playing at that time of year when there’s no Ulster, where’s it going to leave us? So we said to hell with it, we’ll go for senior,” says Hughes, who coaches alongside Donal Sheehan.

“It’s a couple of years before we anticipated hitting senior but just with the year that’s in it, we thought we’d go with it. We’ll be playing hurling at the time of year it should be played.

“We’re testing the waters and it’s the proper year to do it. We just took the view of being stuck playing in November, we may as well have a go at the senior. It’s always been our intention to push for senior.

“We’ve a good big squad together at the minute. There’s no reason why these boys shouldn’t be up at senior. It might be a year or two too early, or it might not.”

For their first three games, all of which they won in the Joe McCrickard Cup, Bredagh were able to field full senior and reserve panels side-by-side. Their training numbers are in the forties.

It’s a far cry from how it all began just 15 years ago, when Danny Hughes came out of a seven-year retirement to play against, among others, Ballycran Thirds.

He’d played for his native club up until he was 35 and admits there were times in that game he almost passed the ball to a black-and-amber jersey.

“It was back strange going back down to The McKenna to play against them. I played that long for them that in the heat of the moment, you’d nearly pass the ball to them. It’s very, very strange.”

Since agreeing to start up a youth summer camp in 2002, he hasn’t been out of coaching. Hughes, an outstanding hurler for club and county before retiring because of a head injury, came back to play four years for Bredagh as they got things up and running at senior level.

Winning a low-grade Ulster League and then a Down junior championship, the latter playing alongside his eldest son Cormac, were memorable days, but it was only ever about building a bridge.

Now, the imports are largely second-generation. The current squad, barring Swatragh duo Oran McFlynn and Tom McGuckian, Aaron Carey (Loughgiel) and Neil Torney (Ballycran, and a cousin of Hughes), are all Bredagh born and reared.

That’s the only way the club could progress properly. Having won an Ulster junior in 2012 and then a few intermediate titles, their own underage teams have been making massive strides too, winning the 2018 Down minor ‘A’ title against Ballycran before losing last year’s final by a point to Portaferry.

They’ve gathered up titles right across the grades and Hughes, whose three sons Cormac, Donal and Sean all play but are all injury doubts, feels they are getting there in terms of competing at senior.

“We were getting to the stage where we had boys coming into the senior team who were able to compete with the three Ards teams and beat them. It’s just a matter of getting it into the head now that we can do it at senior level.

“They’re winning ‘A’ competitions at underage in Down, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be up somewhere close at senior level. I know it doesn’t work that way, it’s a big step up.”

Crucial to surviving long-term will be climbing the Antrim leagues. They were devastated to miss out on promotion from Division Three last year, and with no league this year, there’s a significant gap to the three Division One sides they’ll play in this year’s championship.

Liatroim have tried their hand at senior championship with little reward, and they did it off some underage joy of their own.

The format this year offers them home and away games against the big three, Ballygalget, Portaferry and Ballycran. Bredagh will target their home ties, though the loss of Sean McGourty to a cruciate last week is significant too.

A first venture is unlikely to make good on Eamon Mulvenna’s prophecy, and Ballygalget could be a bumpy place to set off on the road.

But Bredagh have the cut of a club that are here to stay.

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