Pearse's GAC, Belfast aiming for rare crack at junior glory
Graham Tarmac Antrim Junior Football Championship final: Pearse’s GAC Belfast v Cardinal O’Donnell’s GAC, Belfast (tonight, Dunsilly, 7.30pm)
THEY mightn’t have a home of their own and they depend on council facilities to train on – but the ceaseless volunteering spirit of Pearse’s GAC Belfast has helped guide them to this season’s Antrim JFC decider against cross-town rivals Cardinal O’Donnell’s at Dunsilly tonight (7.30pm).
The north Belfast men, managed by Gerry Ross, are aiming to win their first meaningful piece of silverware since the club claimed the intermediate championship back in 1974.
O’Donnell’s, meanwhile, have tasted junior championship glory a number of times over the last decade or more.
In many respects, the Pearse’s club north of the city is a tale of revivals and declines, but club members are seeing the fruits of their labour having invested time and energy in their underage structures.
And for the first time in nearly 40 years, green and gold bunting and flags are dotted around north Belfast.
“The club’s fortunes wavered at different times over the years and there was a sharp decline in the 90s,” said club stalwart Tomas O’Neill.
“I suppose with any inner-city club, the Troubles hit them hard.
“Not having a pitch, not having a home, not having a physical base, our structures have therefore always been intangible – you’re chasing venues, you’re chasing halls. But once you get a bit of success you need to crystallise it and build on it.”
Crucially, the 51-year-old club has established strong links with some of the local primary schools and there is now “visibility” of the club’s Kerry colours – in memory of founding member and Kingdom native Brother Leonard who taught in the Christian Brothers school in the New Lodge area.
The club shares the ‘Cricky’ training facility on the Cliftonville Road with Ardoyne Kickhams as well as availing of slots at the Waterworks Multi-Sports facility.
“It’s about the visibility of the games,” said O’Neill, who is part of tonight's senior panel.
“To pick up a soccer ball and kick it about is easier. You don’t see kids fist passing the ball about the streets or fielding the ball.
“But I was driving in Newington a couple of weeks ago and there were a few kids foot passing the ball and doing a bit of high fielding and that’s something that you don’t see a lot of, but that’s because of Pearse’s and the partnerships the club has with the likes of Holy Family, Pim Street and the Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagain on the Cliftonville Road. The visibility of club colours, the bunting and the flags ahead of this final helps too.”
The club still has a gap at minor level, but Pearse’s are starting to surge again from U14 down in both the boys and girls sections.
Tonight will be the fourth meeting between the two Belfast clubs this season. Pearse’s claimed the bragging rights in their two league meetings before O’Donnell’s beat them in the championship round robin stages.
“We’re buzzing,” O’Neill said.
“We have confidence in ourselves, not in a disparaging way towards O’Donnell’s. We’re a good footballing side, we’ve a lot of quality from nets right up to the top of the pitch. You’ve loads of brothers playing on this team – the Largeys, the Bannons, the Grews, the Devines... When you’ve brothers involved it’s easier to keep a group of players together. When you lose a family, you don’t lose one player, you lose five or six.”
A junior title win would be a fitting tribute to O’Neill’s brother – Michael – the epitome of the Pearse's club, who passed away two years ago.