The U16 'Invincibles' of St Enda's, Glengormley writing their own history
FOLLOWING their dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon to clinch the Ulster IHC title, the senior hurlers of St Enda’s, Glengormley may have hogged the media spotlight in recent weeks – but the north Belfast club’s U16s carved out their own piece of history this season.
Dubbed ‘The Invincibles’ around the Hightown Road, the young Naomh Éanna hurlers swept the boards with an unprecedented five championship titles.
Aodhan McGrath’s side claimed the Antrim U16 'B' county title and League as well as the North Antrim and South West Antrim championships and the North Antrim Shield to round off a quite remarkable 2019.
Their historic achievements were so impressive the club produced a 24-page commemorative booklet to acknowledge an unforgettable year.
Naomh Éanna’s senior footballers reached the All-Ireland Intermediate final in February and with Terence McNaughton delivering league promotion, county and provincial success with the senior hurlers, the conveyor belt of talent remains as rich as it has ever been at the Antrim club.
“Winning five titles is the first time it’s ever been done as far as we know,” said U16 coach Chris Quinn, whose son Oisin plays in midfield.
“It’s certainly the first time our club has achieved it.
“We’ve been with these kids since they were 10-years-old. We’ve invested a lot of time in developing them into young people and, with my own background in youth work, we look after their mental well-being, their physical well-being and making sure they’re happy and content, constantly reminding them that they play sport for fun.
“Fundamentally, they are there for enjoyment. For us, success is about participation. We’ve got 26 guys at U16 and in a lot of scenarios that’s the stage where a lot of players start dropping away because of exams, other influences, new jobs, relationships, family pressures – but they are there religiously, at every training session. And the parents are so supportive.
“Just seeing them develop into impressive young men and great hurlers is our reward.”
Winning the county championship was arguably the U16s’ greatest feat of an unforgettable season, especially given the semi-final and final were played during the July holidays, with a host of players in different parts of the country on family holidays.
Known as the 4,000-mile final – this was the amount of travel that it took to get various players back for the decider against St Paul’s in Glenariffe.
“The U16 all-county championship was played over July 12 holidays and we’d players all over the place on holidays,” explained Quinn.
“We’d five or six players in the Gaeltacht in Donegal and people travelled up and down two or three times to bring them back for matches. Somebody counted that there was something like over 4,000 miles covered in a week with the semi-final and final games being a week apart.
“Our captain [Oscar Smith] was on a family holiday in west Cork. His father ended up driving him home the day before the final. We’d another player on holiday in Westport.
“So a car drove from Westport up to the Donegal Gaeltacht to pick up more players and then back down to Glenariffe to play the final. It’s just been a crazy year.”
The younger players at the Hightown Road club already look up to the U16 hurlers, as Quinn added: “Our U10s run about the pitch pretending to be Luke O’Connor and Ronan Eagar.”
Manager Aodhan McGrath paid tribute to the players’ parents for making 2019 such a memorable year.
“From the players’ meeting in December 2018 to set out their goals, to our ‘Trip to Tipp’ has built a lot of character and leaders within the squad.
“Parents had a massive part to play in the team’s success this year: cutting holidays short and driving a serious amount of miles to get the lads to finals. Their all-round dedication shows how much they are willing to sacrifice for the team.”