For Naomh Éanna of Glengormley in the north of Belfast, Saturday’s All-Ireland intermediate final represents a chance to create history.
Their story has been shared far and wide, not least by Pundit Arena who documented the club’s tragic history in the lead up to their Ulster final win over Cavan’s Mullahoran back in November.
Since then it has grown and grown reaching fever pitch as they swatted aside Galway champions, An Spideal, in the All-Ireland semi-final three weeks ago.
Whilst their run to an All-Ireland final has made them a nation’s sweethearts as such given their swashbuckling style of play coupled with a tragic backstory, the real fairytale is how the club persevered throughout its tragic history and continued to come back stronger and stronger to the point where ‘the most attacked club in Ireland’ became the biggest club in Antrim, a strong dual club where there is no divide and they all fly under the one banner.
According to club chairman, Stevie Jennings, the size the club’s growth is no accident though, it was planned. It’s come through the dedication and hard work of volunteers to ensure that all facets of the club are thriving, and thriving together.
“People ask how come we get the numbers that we do? We are quite honest in how we approach things, we go round the local schools, we show people what we have to offer. Jennings told Pundit Arena.
To be honest, it maybe started in 2010 when between the hurling and the football things weren’t going as good and they may not have been getting on too well and we decided that there’s no point, we have to work together and see what we can do and develop everything equally.
“We keep looking at what’s wrong and try put a structure in place, that is based on looking at the problems and solving them and we are all of the attitude that if there is something that we can’t do, we are going to keep trying anyway, we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and we’ll keep making mistakes but we’ll keep putting them right as well. But our numbers just keep growing.
“I think anybody that comes around is just amazed, even when we were running events to raise money for the footballer’s campaign, the camogs, the hurlers, everybody is there, we all support each other and we have managed to bring that there in the one club, so that’s worked very well for us.”
That perseverance to keep moving forward in tough times is something that his filtered down through generations because of the unimaginable history the club has endured.
“There’s a determination throughout the club and yes that comes from the history of the club”
“I have great admiration for the likes of Kevin Curran who kept the club going, maybe running four or five teams at the same time and having to run around and pick boys up because parents didn’t want to take them up to the club.
“John Lawell, Kevin Curran, Billy Gleeson I could list a lot more, those sorts of guys, they all kept it going at a time when most people may have walked away, we owe it to them to keep going as best we can.”
Nobody epitomises the togetherness of this club more so than the Jennings family, with son Killian, probably known more for his exploits on the hurling field before this campaign.
A sticky and reliable corner back for the footballers, Jennings is a forward with the hurlers and his commitment to both codes is a clear reflection of the club’s attitude.
“This is my third year now playing senior football, but I am predominately a hurler, I mainly play hurling.” He said.
“It’s hard, but this year especially, the managers were willing to give us some leeway, if there was a football match at the weekend, you’d be going two training sessions football, one hurling and vice-versa. They were happy enough for you to take a rest if you had matches coming up like, both managers in the club, it was perfect.
“We haven’t struggled at all this season to play either, in terms of hurling we didn’t miss any matches, training, it all worked out the footballer’s success never negatively impacted on the hurling club.
“Most of the time I’d play in the forwards with hurling, so when it comes to the football I kind of like to think that I know how forwards think having played there most of my life, so I’m just trying to out-think them and get to the ball first.”
Peter Healy is another Naomh Éanna star whose commitment to the cause is unwavering. A final year actuary student and member of UCD’s star-studded Sigerson Cup panel. Healy has had to make sacrifices throughout the year, but he knows it was all worth it for the chance to run out at Croke Park on Saturday.
“Yeah, I’ve been commuting up and down every weekend which isn’t something I was expecting to be doing in my final year but going up every week to train is good when you have something like this to look forward to.” Healy said.
“After the Ulster final the boys had about three or four days celebrating whereas I got one night then had to go study because I had tests coming up.
“Fortunately, it’s only the start of the semester now so win, lose or draw we’ll get to enjoy it.”
Healy is a crucial cog in Naomh Éanna’s forward division. It’s a unit that has come in for a lot of praise in particular given the high-pressing, dynamic style of football they bring to the table.
Whilst it may look like a lot of work, Healy knows they are playing football the right way, and in a way that is both enjoyable to watch and play.
“Our forwards know in this day and age you can’t be lazy. We press from the front and we’ve got a lot of joy from it, like dispossessing the keeper in the semi-final.
“We get a lot of scores from dispossessing the backs and we work hard to win the ball high up the pitch, we don’t win it, turn around and run towards our own net, it’s good to watch and it’s much better to be playing as well.”
A huge test lies in wait tomorrow in the form of Kerry & Munster champions Kilcummin. In truth though, whether they are victorious or not, Naomh Éanna are already winners.
When all is said and done, they can look back on this year with fond memories and content in the knowledge that those men who can’t be in Croke Park tomorrow; Gerard Lawlor, Gerry Devlin, Sean Fox, Colin Lundy and Liam Canning, their memories will have been greatly honoured.