Bernie Convery enjoying her latest camogie project with East Belfast
BERNIE Convery has been there at the start of two successful camogie projects already. She spoke to her former coach Séamas McAleenan about her involvement in a third new project.
Down Junior camogie final: Kilclief Beann Dearg v East Belfast (Sunday, 1pm, Drumaness)
LASER surgery was the reason Bernie Convery came back to camogie earlier this year.
And lockdown boredom was the reason she went to play football with East Belfast GAA last summer.
"Like a lot of people I wasn't doing much during the first lockdown early last year. I was maybe going for a jog now and then with Megan Magill, a friend from school days.
"One day she mentioned that her brother Matthew was thinking of joining this new East Belfast GAA club. We thought about it for a while and decided to maybe go down and try our hand at football. I live just off the Ravenhill Road and it was handy enough.
"We joined about the middle of the season and East Belfast had two teams by then – one for girls that had played before and then a Development squad. I trained with the Development squad, got a few games and maybe one or two with the "A" team."
Bernie Convery's background wasn't football – it was camogie.
"I played camogie up until three years ago, but my eyesight was causing me a few problems particularly around dusk on a dull evening. In fact I sometimes had problems seeing the football as well last year."
However the Technical Advisor with Invest NI underwent laser surgery earlier this year and as a result felt confident enough to move across codes to her first love.
"Yes, the surgery has been very successful and I can't believe I didn't get it done long ago.
"I was up pucking about in Cherryvale one evening at the start of the year and our camogie coach happened to be there as well with a few of the girls. He later contacted me and asked if I was interested in playing and that was me back to camogie."
Camogie started for Bernie back at school in St MacNissi's, Garron Tower. In fact camogie in Garron Tower started with Bernie's year group.
I put together her First Year team to play a game or two. My daughter Eimhear was in that First Year group. We had a new club in Glenravel and a school team seemed to me the logical move to expose the girls to more camogie over the winter.
Bernie joined the school team immediately as did Maeve Connolly who won an All-Ireland Intermediate medal with Antrim in Croke Park last month. This Sunday Maeve leads the Loughgiel team in search of her 10th Antrim senior championship medal and her fourth as captain.
"Maeve was already an established player when she came into first year. She was a stand-out player among us and she was a leader. She was always very supportive and calm during a game.
"We had our first game in Cushendall one afternoon in the summer term and we got hammered out the gate, but that was the start. By the time we left Garron Tower we had a handful of Ulster medals and had been in two All-Ireland schools' finals.
"Once the school got started, camogie grew in it. Within a year or two we had a senior team playing in a C final – I suppose that's a bit like East Belfast at junior level in Down. It was a big thing to get to the first final.
"Then we won a final and another and we had younger players coming in like Colleen Patterson, who also featured in Antrim's Croke Park success."
Success came quickly in school, but at club level the rise was a little slower. There was no camogie club in Cushendun, so Bernie joined the fledgling Brídíní Óga club in Glenravel.
"We struggled a bit for numbers when we were coming through. You were lucky if you had 15 players for a match and there was always a few less for training. We kept getting knocked out in the first round of the Junior championship. In fact we never won a Junior championship match until 2015.
"There was the Junior Shield for those that got knocked out in the first round and it was a big thing when we won that for the first time. By the time we had won the Shield a fourth time, there wasn't the same celebration.
"But there were brilliant young players coming through – Laoise (McKenna), Kirsty (Laverty), Torie Edgar. We won the championship when they were all around 16 and then went on and won the Ulster title (the Bridie McMenamin Shield)."
The former Glenravel defender however has to be reminded whom they beat in the 2016 Ulster final. None other than Kilclief Beann Dearg, the team they face in the Down Junior final this Sunday (1pm in Drumaness)!
"Oh my God, I didn't realise that. That is interesting."
East Belfast are unbeaten in league and championship this year – but they have yet to play Kilclief. When the new city club had their first outing ever at the start of last summer, it was against Kilclief and they were well beaten.
"Apparently they won Division Three last year and moved up a league. So, they were playing different teams than we have been facing through this season.
"All the girls that played from the start last year are looking forward to playing them and seeing how far the team has progressed."
One of those girls is team captain Áine Moynan, a Laois native.
"I think it is fair to say that we are a different team now. At the start of last year, we had quite a few who didn't know that the goal-posts were in the shape of a H.
"Those players have come on a lot since then, but it is the addition of players like Bernie that have really strengthened us this year.
"You could see from the start that she had played at a decent level. She has a great head on her and is a good leader. I was injured for a while and she was in at full-back and we've had her at midfield. Now she is the regular centre-half back.
"A win for us on Sunday would be a huge boost obviously. But it will also mean that we move up a grade and can then have a second team to cater for the numbers we have at the moment."
But both Bernie and Áine know that the long-term future of East Belfast camogie will come from developing the under-age structures in the club.
"As I said already, we didn't experience success at my last club until younger players came through the ranks and joined us," says Bernie.
"At school level too, it was younger players coming through that pushed us on to success.
"Maybe we as the senior team can start winning trophies here, moving up the grades and the young girls can aspire to play alongside us."
A first final awaits East Belfast on Sunday. Bernie Convery has experienced disappointment in the first finals she played with school and club. Success came later at both levels and at different paces.
Win or lose on Sunday, the future still looks bright for the third new camogie project Bernie has been part of.