GAA Football

St Brendan's hoping to continue championship voyage as Ulster contingent return to home shores

NIALL KEENAN

St Brendan's GAA was formed in 1959 and is steeped in tradition but on Sunday afternoon they will take part in a full-sided game on Irish soil for the first time.

Lancashire's most successful club secured their 20th senior title in 2021 before becoming All-Britain champions for the very first time back in October as they defeated Sean McDermott's (Warwickshire) by 2-10 to 2-8 at McGovern Park in Ruislip.

Ulster junior champions, Denn of Cavan, now await and after many seven-a-side trips to Ireland including to Crossmaglen, perhaps it is fitting that St Brendan's maiden championship voyage to these shores takes them to a province with which they have an esteemed connection.

Nine of the 15 players who started in Brendan's first All-Britain triumph are from Ulster and represent five counties in the northern province with a Fermanagh man among the substitutes.

Down's Hugh-Peter Ward (Bryansford), Chrissy Ryan (Clann Na Banna) and Callum Gribben (Mayobridge) all played in the back-line alongside Padraig Mallon of Edendork in Tyrone.

Antrim's Ethan Gibson, who starred in St Enda's intermediate run to an All-Ireland final in 2019, lined out in midfield alongside captain Owen Clarke (Liatroim), also of Down.

Armagh Harps' Paddy McCoy starred in the forward line with Tyrone's Owen Roe O'Neill's representative Ryan Devine and Derry's Jamie Donaghy (Claudy).

Andy Kane trains the team with Brian Johnston as one of the selectors, both of Bryansford.

No fewer than 23 players from Ulster have togged out in the maroon and white of St Brendan's this year, representing seven of the nine counties in the province with a plethora of homegrown talent having roots in Ireland.

Chairman Barry John Collins hails from Glenavy and is looking forward to a real test and to seeing some old faces.

“This is a great opportunity for our players to challenge themselves amongst the best teams at this level. Some with their respective home clubs may not be used to getting so far in championship competition, so they are relishing every moment," he said.

“The game is a nice reward, to play at such a prestigious club as Crossmaglen Rangers are. It is also fitting that the game being in Crossmaglen that our north Leinster contingent are not far away to support the lads.

“Whatever the result, myself and fellow members can be proud of the efforts all round. Let's hope the championship journey continues after this Sunday.

“As for the club, we have a dedicated supporters group coming over from Manchester which will be greatly reinforced with former members who relocated back home and friends and family of players.

In the late 1950s, emigration was at its peak and indeed many young Irishmen headed to the UK and further ashore in search of employment.

For many, Manchester was a preferred destination and Michael Mangan (Roscommon) took the opportunity to found a Gaelic club known as St Brendan's.

Father Emmett Fullen (Desertmartin) who was on the Derry team beaten by Dublin in the 1958 All-Ireland final, was heavily involved with the club during its infancy.

Colum McKinstry, who passed away last year and who lined out in the 1977 All-Ireland final for Armagh, picking up an AllStar along the way, played for Brendan's during the 80s.

PJ McGowan who played for the club during the 1960s went on to manage Donegal and Fermanagh but perhaps the most notable Ulster alumni is former Down goalkeeper Neil Collins.

Collins played for the St Brendan's club in the late 80s before becoming a double All-Ireland winner in 1991 and 1994 with the Mournemen.

In the St Brendan's half-centenary celebratory book published in 2009, Collins said:

“I will always recall my Brendan's days with great fondness. The generosity and commitment of everyone in the club was unbelievable. From my experience with St Brendan's the hard work from the exile GAA community to keep our games going was evident and 50 years of existence is testament to that.”

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