GAA Football

Ulster rounders delegate Anna Bradley is aiming to 'grow' the game - and beetroot

Anna Bradley, the Ulster Rounders delegate from Ballymaguigan, outside her new farm shop.
Picture by Hugh Russell

THE usual saying involves little acorns, but although Anna Bradley is from the Oak Leaf county, she wants to grow different things. The game of rounders and also, to her mild astonishment, a lot of beetroot.

Work-wise, the Ballymaguigan woman has opened up her own farm shop at home.

When she has time to play, she's trying to encourage involvement in rounders throughout Ulster.

The 23-year-old was a talented footballer, but had to retire prematurely from Ladies Football: "I played for my club, school, uni, and county, it was such a big part of my life, from under-7s right up to senior, 21.

"My ankles kinda went, then my leg - I just can't turn any more. It's gutting, so it is."

The pain in her voice is evident.

Yet discovering rounders has brought joy to her and many others: "Football was my main sport, but too many injuries led to me having to retire somewhat prematurely.

"I was absolutely gutted about that because I love GAA and I didn't want to stop playing sport, to lose that connection with the club.

"I was just looking into other games to play. I had no idea about rounders, or what happens, but I thought, 'Hi, I'll give it a go and we'll see', and everyone else thought they might as well try it out. Once you try it out you realise just how good it is. That was our beginning.

"We put out a poster around the townland, 'Everyone welcome' to first training, and we got nearly 30 there. It grew from there, from talking to people, we're 'head-hunting' now to get people who will play for the Championship, others come on an irregular basis."

Although St Trea's, Ballymaguigan has produced a few Derry legends, notably Jim McKeever and the late Eamon Coleman, rounders was new to it:

"We hadn't had any history of rounders in the club. The most common comment was, 'Oh, we played that in school'. One of our ladies played in a tournament in Lissan, which used to be very big for rounders."

Anna name-checks Peadar O Tuatain, basically a long-term one-man promoter of rounders in Ulster; she's now picked up the bat.

"I'm the Ulster Delegate; rounders doesn't have provincial councils, there's one all-Ireland body. I try to organise different tournaments and things. I'm in contact with Ulster GAA, they're really helpful. Eugene [Young] used to be my basketball coach, I knew him anyway. We're trying to get more involved with the GAA itself."

Rounders is very limited currently in the six counties. Cavan and Monaghan have a few clubs - Erne Eagles (Mullahoran), Cootehill Celtics, St Clare's (Cavan town), Carrick Emmet's (Carrickmacross), Drumhowan - but the only active clubs north of the border are St Trea's, Sean Treacy's of Lurgan, and now Greencastle Wolfe Tone's just north of Belfast.

Despite the limited number of clubs in Ulster, Erne Eagles are the sport's dominant force. Record 14-time men's champions from 1976 onwards, including a phenomenal 10-in-a-row between 1998 and 2007, and being the title-holders and winners in three of the past four seasons. The other winners in that time were Monaghan outfit Carrick Emmett's. Erne Eagles also won the Senior Mixed title last year.

Bradley insists rounders is a sport for all: "Our club is a 'one club' model, so last year we decided we'd try rounders, as it's a GAA sport.

"I got out players who still play, young people, ex-players, people with injuries, people who'd never played before. It was just great, a real community sport.

"We've entered a Championship this year, so that's just the ones who want to properly compete, but during the summer months other people just come out for the craic of it.

The season officially started in early April, and there's scope for a wide range of abilities, explains Anna: "Senior, Intermediate, Junior, each have Men's, Ladies, and Mixed. You apply for a place, CCC determine what grade you get into. Nearly every weekend there are Championship matches.

"Provinces also organise social tournaments, we had Ladies Juniors, clubs can organise their own matches.

"The Novice, Junior day in Dublin, that's brilliant, where you learn to play. Last year we went down after three training sessions, didn't have a notion about the rules, I think we were playing with the wrong rules - and our men got to their final. They're delighted that they got to an All-Ireland Final after three training sessions.

"In the province, hopefully at the end of season, near the end of September, we'll hopefully have a big provincial mixed tournament day, just for clubs to get a lot more games and meet each other. You'll learn so much. We're hoping to have an exhibition match for the Ulster [provincial] teams."

So what is rounders? You know it, really.

"There's nine on a team, allowed three subs - it's a grandparent of baseball. You use baseball bats and hurling balls and it's the same kind of diamond idea. That's the basic layout.

"You have one person minding each base [three in total], three outfielders, a short stop, a pitcher, and a catcher.

"There are some differences, one of the main one is that in baseball with three good balls [pitched] the batter is out, whereas in rounders…you still have to run. As far as you can get the bat, you fling it!"

The equipment required is fairly simple, she explains: "Bases, you can use carpet cut into squares, sliotars, then two hurling helmets. Bat - depends. Some get them from America and they cost a few hundred [pounds].

"We bought a starter kit from GAA Rounders, which included two wooden bats, they're just as good, for us anyway. A lot of people like the metal bats, because they're lighter. There's a great noise off them, that's why they like them even more.

"Lots of people don't wear gloves, you can feel the ball better. Some wear hurling gloves, some juniors wear football gloves to protect their hands, but you don't have to - it kinda hurts anyway, with or without them."

As for the diamond, all you need is a space of a minimum 70 metres by 70 metres.

"Most play on a Gaelic pitch, or just a grassy area. They're 'imaginary' lines , you kinda know it. Technically if you get over that distance you're granted two bases, it doesn't happen a lot. Most people don't really know about it; not many juniors can get it far."

And the beetroot?

Bradley's other field of dreams involves her love of the great outdoors.

"I went to NUIG, four years, Creative Writing with English and History. Didn't really know what I wanted to do. Knew I didn't want to be sitting down all day really bored, because I love being outside."

So she has set up a farm shop. She only started sowing in spring but "hopefully in the summer we'll have our own. Local farmers who grow veg are going to supplement it, we'll all work together.

"I'd like to get to a point where we don't need to go vegetable shopping. It's not 'Certified Organic' but I don't use chemicals or anything on it.

"Lettuce, spring onions, we'll grow lots of beetroot - loads of people, surprisingly, have requested beetroot. I didn't know people round here ate beetroot, or knew what it was. Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and so on.

"Being outside, growing vegetables, you'll learn something new every day."

With Bradley's enthusiasm, plenty of people will learn more about rounders. Give it a swing.

 

* Contact Anna Bradley at: ulster.rounders@gaa.ie and/ or follow @UlsterRounders on Twitter.

 

Rounders fixtures this weekend:

Saturday, May 14:

U14 Mixed Championship:

Erne Eagles v The Heath; Emo Rounders v Sean Connolly's.

Sunday, May 15:

Senior Men's Championship: Adamstown (Wexford) v Carrick Emmett's (Monaghan); Cuchulainn Rounders (Carlow) v Erne Eagles (Cavan); The Heath (Wexford) v Breaffy (Mayo).

Senior Ladies Championship, round robin: Bagenalstown (Carlow) v Glynn Barrtown (Wexford); Cuchulainn Rounders v Erne Eagles; (1pm) Athenry (Galway) v Limekiln (Dublin).

Senior Mixed Championship, round robin: Cuchulainn Rounders v Erne Eagles.

Intermediate Men's Championship Group A: (4pm) Fenagh (Carlow) v Sean Connolly's (Longford).

Intermediate Ladies Championship Group B: Skryne (Meath) v St Finian's (Swords, Dublin)

Intermediate Mixed Championship Group B: (2.30pm) Fenagh v Sean Connolly's.

Junior Mixed Championship Group A: (12pm) Dublin Metropolitans v Emo Rounders (Laois); (1pm) Fenagh v St Kieran's (Limerick).

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