Our Féile Journey
By Mark Candon
These few, these happy few, this band of sisters;
For she today that played for Scoil with glee,
Stood with her sisters; be they ne'er so wild,
This day they settled their ambition;
And those of Scoil that now have heard
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not there,
And hold their knowledge cheap while any speaks
That witnessed them upon that Féile field.
Camogie Féile 2019 Div. 5 …
…and … the continuing adventures of the Scoilettes …the hardest working band on the Northside!
Rd 1. Scoil 3-2 1-0 Craobh Chiaráin
Rd 2. Scoil 2-3 1-5 Naomh Peregrine
Semi-final Scoil 2-3 2-2 Round Towers (C)
Final Scoil 0-2 0-0 Commercials
Gentle reader, though it is October past since last we shared reflections on our intrepid Scoilettes achievements, I approach you, after such an absence, through the good offices of this august review, with a further tale of indomitable spirit in the face of insurmountable odds. This Féile win by our doughty Scoilettes almost behoves us to hagiographic declamation. Forsooth, we shall resist such temptations, at least temporarily, that we may ponder these young camogie pilgrims’ progress to this point. Indeed, through such reflections we shall, indubitably, have recourse to incidental match reportage, the regular provision of which, you have no doubt discerned, is not our forté.
What magic is it these girls summon when they don the Scoil jersey and lift a hurl? There is a tale here, gentle reader, that grows richer with each chapter of exploit added by our resolute Scoilettes. Thus, I entreat that you ponder that which is presented, hereafter, to your undoubted relief, in much less florid language. Apposite to the occasion of this current achievement, it is the story of this team from the beginning to the present…..
While girls have played on Scoil under age hurling teams for many years, u12 is the last age group that it is permissible for girls to do so. Hence, with no juvenile camogie available to those, admittedly few, who continued all the way to u12 hurling, their ambition capped, they either gave it up early or moved elsewhere to play.
With good numbers of potential camogie players coming through the nursery and the fortuitous arrival of their parents as mentors with hurling backgrounds, the genesis of a club camogie section was emergent through 2016/17. Stars aligning, as they will, the appointment of Thomas Gleeson as club GPO served to cement this progress.
Within this context, in 2016, a camogie team drawing on the girls u9/u11 football panel was mooted. A group of these u9 to u11 girls’ footballers had hurled, and indeed footballed, since nursery days with the boys’ teams; with this group of ten, or so, it began. While the u12 league was not entered in 2017, a number of challenge matches were played that year. Any day that we either conceded less than double scores or, indeed, managed a score, brought joy unconfined! By the end of 2017 there were thirteen girls regularly playing. While three departed others joined and by the close of the 2018 league we had a regular panel of sixteen. For Féile 2019 we had twenty-four registered, of which twenty-one turned up to play.
The 2018 league, at u13, was the Scoilettes first, snow and storms wreaking havoc with the season. Playing three of eight matches, Olaf’s in late April was our first competitive fixture; a 0-1 v 2-1 loss. In mid-May we were chastened 13-0 v 1-2 on our visit to Castleknock B. No matter, our ambition in these early games was to score in every match; scoring three times was progress! In June Raheny B came to visit and we registered our first (and only) win of the 2018 league; 1-1 v 1-0.
September 2018 saw the bottom four teams from the Div. 5 league, Scoil, Craobh, Raheny B and Stars of Erin joined by Ballinteer St John’s B to constitute the Div. 6 cup group. Stars conceded the opening fixture to Craobh, while Scoil had a BYE that round. We met Craobh in round 2 on the second weekend of September; Scoilettes 0-2, Craobh 5-1, ouch! Ballinteer had also started well putting a big score on Raheny and edging Stars 2-0 to 1-0. But we were beginning to find our feet; 0-1 to 4-1 win away to Raheny and 6-2 to 1-0 win at home to Stars saw us make third in the table, despite 4-0 v 0-0 loss away to Ballinteer. Craobh with four wins from four were in the final. Ballinteer, with three from four, earned home advantage v Scoil, with two from four, for the play-off to meet them.
The Scoilettes returned to Ballinteer to edge them with a thrilling late, late goal. So to the cup final. 0-3 to 0-1 down deep in the second half. While Scoil had missed a peno, Craobh, having hit the cross bar, always looked the more likely. Scoil struck and goaled against the run of play and spent the final ten minutes hanging on as Craobh threw everything at them. Some in the club considered it the best Scoil team performance of 2018. An epic adventure from unfancied neophytes to champions.
Come the new year, elevated to the U14 Div.5 league on the back of the U13 Div. 6 cup success, the Scoilettes’ started slowly. Fair enough illness and injury had a hand in this, but so did being cup winners. We forgot that we are about basics, hard work, heart and soul, blinded by the acclaim our cup win brought; notions is a terrible thing! Our first fixture, Na Fianna B at home in early February, put paid to said notions. Forgetting our basics and losing our focus, Na Fianna departed Clontarf Rd. 0-3 v 9-5 winners; cic maith sna camogies!
Chastened, we journeyed to Brigit’s on a schowl of a mid-march morning. The wind played havoc, we couldn’t point the frees, a staple of our game. Losing 1-1 v 0-1 it feels like one we let slip. Still, though below full strength, the fundamentals were re-established. Zero from two but the belief was back. For context, the previous week Ballinteer B, our oul pals from the cup semi, had a 5-2 to 1-1 win against Brigit’s. The week following our Brigit’s match Ballinteer left Clontarf Rd. narrowly defeated 2-4 to 3-0; we were beginning to hum again! It’s a funny thing belief. We just believed we’d beat Ballinteer having done it last season, while with Brigit’s, after Na Fianna, confidence was at a lower ebb!
The Féile break followed the Ballinteer victory. The cottage industry that is Féile preparation got under way shortly after Santy had dropped his last gift and pointed Rudolf for home. Fundraising and kit selection in full swing, with no little excitement, we duly registered and paid up to participate in an historic first camogie Féile for Scoil Uí Chonaill in its sixty-nine-year history. Excitement and expectation grew when the final Féile draft was published. We were drawn in Div. 6 with Craobh, Olafs, Stars, Raheny and Cuala. Bar Cuala, who we’d never played, we had previously played and beaten all of the rest. Given this draw, we knew that we had a chance to win our maiden Féile.
But what goes up must come down. Nine days later, much to the consternation of the above clubs, a county board meeting overturned this draft. We, with Craobh and Stars, were now in a group with three Div. 4 teams, Peregrines, Towers.C and Commercials; recast as Div. 5. Olafs, Raheny and Cuala were shunted to a ‘B’ teams’ division with Crokes, Lucan, Ballinteer, Boden and Na Fianna. There were many protests but no change.
Asked at Jackie Geraghty’s wonderful Féile launch the night before how I felt we’d go, I said the draw was good to us. Drawn in Group A of Div.5 with Craobh and Peregrines, our ambitions abridged, we now felt we’d a fighter’s chance of making a semi, as one win from two might do it. If we made a semi, well you’d never know … but we travelled now more in hope than expectation. Group B had two Div.4 teams who looked strong, Commercials and Towers, who were hosting, and a superb job they made of it; poor Stars.
Craobh were first up for us. We’d improved since October, had they? We’d mugged them at the back of the Airport, was payback due? We could be going home in a Craobh Chiaráin ambulance after lunch on Saturday. Our Scoiley bullies never got the memo! After a feely outy first half, both teams that bit cautious of each other, we came in 1-0 to 0-0 up. It was over though. The Scoilettes could feel it (in their fingers and their toes J - Scoilette in joke, sorry!). Debate over, full time 3-2 v 1-0, we’d moved on more since October.
That was at 10am. Now past 11 it was time for hydration, the pasta off Aidan’s sheet and rest. The mentors got busy observing the others in action. We’d a BYE round, not back on ‘till one. The plan/hope was, if possible, to rotate and rest key players in match two, as the Craobh win guaranteed a semi. That went out the window as it was apparent Commercials were burning through their section; we did not want them in a semi. Beat Peregrines and meet the hosts instead became plan B; rotation and rest got binned, we’d need to bring it to beat Peregrines.
Meanwhile back in what they thought was an empty Ladies Toilets some junior Scoilettes were, allegedly, bringing crazy; dancing wildly and singing ‘I’m so sexy, sexy, sexy’ or some such. Girls you should always check for feet under the cubicle doors first! Relax though, I won’t rat you to your mams if I see ye jab lifting cleanly and air hurling with élan by the time Kilmacud come to us on the May Bank Holiday weekend, so you have a month; hurl every day ladies J … and mams, no it wasn’t your daughter, and I’m not telling anyway!
Peregrines are big. Ok, every other team is big compared to us, but Peregrines made Lilliputians of us! They also fell over way, way too easy. In my (not very) prejudicial view, such was the size difference, a Peregrine would hit one of ours in the shoulder with her hip, fall over, and we’d get done for shouldering. We were done to the tune of three points. They’d also been coached to strike the ball high every time, like a parent holds a ball up while the small child tries to grab at it! I admire their coach, it was good strategy, clever coaching; you play to your strengths.
We did. We never gave up and we never gave in. In what feels like a dream we’re two points down and the ref says he’s in extra time for stoppages. Scoil free on Peregrines twenty. Peregrines with the team on their goal line. Low and hard, low and hard. Lifts, swings, misses the strike!!! She hasn’t missed one all season. Reacting quickly, she pulls pure, the ball fizzes toward goal. Ping-pong, the dust rises, out to the left of their goal. Met by the stick of a Scoilette not yet hurling three months, GOALLLL! Puc out, hook, block, pull, shemozzle, shemozzle, shemozzle, hook, block, pull; the best Scoiley bullying you’ll see all year. The ball was going nowhere. Whistle; Scoilettes by a point, roll on Towers.
Somebody up there likes us. She never misses, but had that free been struck, there was a better than average chance it would have gone over, for a Peregrines win by a point, or been blocked for Peregrines by two. Would you believe if I said same extra time, same free, but three not two down in the next match, the semi? You couldn’t make this up. Me heart, I need a break, back in a mo! …
… It’s after two, we’ve just finished the Peregrines game; semi half-two. Brief respite, oranges, water, instructions, puc around, warm up. This is it, the semi, touching distance, we’ve got our mojo working, we’ve brought crazy. We can do this. There’s focus, you can see it; resolve, you can sense it; determination, you can, almost, smell the Scoilette hunger. Two-thirty, throw in and we’re off and running, or rather chasing. We’re tired, they’re big (no surprise there!) and we’re just trying, trying to keep in touch. They move ahead, we catch up. Same again and again and, eventually, we don’t. Half time, were three down. Rallied by the coaches and back out.
In my head I’m singing Coen’s If It Be Your Will. We’re vulnerable now. But we win the restart, ní tharlaíonn sé sin a riamh! Ball lifted on stick, I wish she’d, just once in her bloody life, lift it to the hand. It stays on the stick and off she goes weaving towards Tower’s goal. This way and that, the stick at this, then that, angle, the ball as if glued – how does she do that? One thing on her mind, GOAL!!!, fist pump on the way back. It’s all square. We asked for leadership at half time; take it out a that. It seems it just might be willed. Now in my head it’s Dead Poet’s Society, I’m standing on a desk in a classroom, arms wide, Oh captain …
Minutes to go. The tension, the pressure, it’s still all square. Stopped on the line, fumbled with the stick, the ball struggles, dribbles, limps, almost, over the line as if doing something it would really rather not. DEVASTATION, no, time for calm … stuff happens. Think quickly, that kid’s world just collapsed, big her up lads and measured tones, measured tones. Next ball, next ball, there’s still time, let’s bring some crazy here, ladies. Gimli, son of Gloin, I love that dwarf. Lose the beard and be gender reassigned and he’d make a model Scoilette. He has a nice helmet, good hair, right height, carries a big stick and doesn’t know when or how to quit! Certainty of failure, small chance of success, what are we waiting for! pops into my head.
It’s surreal, I have this momentary epiphany that we will win. We’ve just been awarded a free on their 20, almost identical to the Peregrines one. Just like in the Peregrine’s match the ref says game over, we’re in added time. Low and hard, low and hard. Towers have everyone on the line. A silence has fallen. All eyes are on her. The collective breath is held … Having fumbled the conceded goal, she steps up, she strikes, sending the ball skidding off the turf inside the near hand post, GOALLLLL, GOALA, GOALA, GOALA, GOALA GOALA, GOALLLLL!!!!!. At this point the superlative bucket is completely empty; what guts!
The ball is pucked out, hook, block, pull, shemozzle, shemozzle, shemozzle, hook, block, pull, free in Scoil. Back she comes, it’s about thirty out; unbelievably nerveless, she pops it. Deep in additional time the Scoilettes lead for the first time in the match. Jesus, this is like watching Rocky with sticks! Knocked down, almost counted out; the comeback at the death! Adweanne, Adweanne! Scoilettes 2-3 Towers 2-2. Game over, Scoil back in a Féile final, second year in a row. Even the Mighty Ducks films were more plausible than these Scoilettes! We bring crazy and if that don’t do, we bring ludicrously courageously crazy.
So to Sunday, Parnell’s and a fiver in. Three quid, he thinks I’m an OAP, aren’t we all after Saturday? I have the trackie, the name matches the one on the sheet and our man, the Lukey fella, is blaggin’ his way in beside me. First he’s Niall of the sheet, but Niall arrives so he’s Dave. He chattin’ yer one up massive, givin’ it all this, oh and isn’t it shockin’ how them ones before snuck in and didn’t pay and all. You can say what you want, but the man’s got charm!
1pm and we’re gathering for our 2pm throw in! As the girls file in there’s excitement mixed with no little tension in the dressing room. Time for some craic! Yesterday’s theme song was Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around, today’s, the wonderfully crazy Cindy L’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – we kept the best for last! So we play pass the parcel with Aoife’s magic helmet. Caught with it when the music stops and you’ve to do a farty squat; don’t ask. Much laughter, tension broken we reflect on who we are and where we’ve come from. We talk about the early days, trying just to score, hooking and blocking, shcoops, the ancient art of YA-NING, how every one’s bigger than us, how half of us are u11 and u12, how no one rates us but we don’t care ‘cause we’re the Scoilettes, the hardest workin’ band on the Northside; so who the hell are you?
Out for the warm up and the natural calm that Thomas Gleeson brings. Team talk in brief = we might not hurl to good but we’re damned if we’re going to let them hurl at all! And the crowd. Scoil on tour, sideline full behind the barrier, we’ve already out supporter-ed them 2 to 1, good omen. They’re proud, they’re loud, they’re the 16th Scoilette, our crowd!
Hurls up, ball in, game on. It’s tense, defensive stuff from both sides. Both teams have brought a ferocious intensity. The odd score will win this one. But we are well in this. In fact, dare it be said, it’s strangely less tense than the semi or the Peregrines match. Free in Scoil. Ball drops in behind the 20, hand goes up, picks it out of the air, turns, strikes. Scoil a point up.
This bigger pitch gives Scoil the advantage. It is clear what Commercials are trying to do and what was so successful for them on Saturday on the tighter Moyle Park College pitches. Their 19 is immense, both in stature and play. A tall girl, she has the skills. She can hook, block, lift, catch under pressure, solo and strike long. She takes all the frees and the puc outs, but she lacks pace. Despite repeatedly trying she can’t show a clean pair of heels to the Scoilettes. She’s continually caught in her attempts to get out to her 45 and bomb ball into her half-forward line. There’s the cut of skilful, nippy u13s about their half-forwards. On the few occasions they get good service it’s obvious that they could do damage.
They have the 19 in at full back and, bar our well taken point, she’s not giving us a sniff up front. Though she’s mopping up all the ball going in, her problem is getting it out long. The pitch serves us well here, for on the tighter pitches she’d have the distance. When she does manage big clearances they’re not breaching our 45; our backs anticipate better, invariably getting to the pitch of the ball first. When that doesn’t happen there’s a swarm defence from the Scoilettes. Commercials have literally no time or space to hurl.
The Scoilettes strategy is working; everyone is working. It’s defence, defence, defence from the full forward to the full back; no time, no space. Our backs are always very, very good, today they are outstanding; blocking, hooking, batting and moving it, by stick or foot, into space. The big pitch suits our midfielders’ style of play. Again and again they lift and solo into the wide open spaces the full size pitch affords. Our forwards battle and battle against an excellent Commercials defence. They resolve that, if they can’t get the score, Commercials won’t get it away. By half-time the Scoilettes have, marginally, had the better of it.
Into the 2nd half and Commercials counter by moving the 19 to half-back. We match them by gluing our most robust half-forward to her with instructions to heed nought but 19! She does a superlative job. This Commercials stratagem does not provide them with enough of the go forward ball they so desperately need. But it works well enough early in the half that they hit the cross bar. It’s a let off, yet, such is Scoil’s momentum and resolve, you get the feeling we’d respond. As the half progresses we are increasingly daring to dream. Free in to the Scoilettes from about 25 out. It’s remarkable, when we’re ahead, how long it can take our keeper to get up the pitch to take a free, I swear she can jog slower than she walks. It’s doubly remarkable how quickly she retreats afterwards. I watch the flight of the ball, a point. I look back down the field, she’s already safely home.
Scoil 0-2 to the good. This is worse than a one-point lead. It’s time for the sideline stalwart support to make supplicatory appeals and proffer burnt offerings to the gods of chance. Those gods of chance might well abandon us in this, our greatest hour of need. It is perfectly plausible that Commercials could goal and do unto us as we did unto Peregrines and Towers. As the half proceeds, this likelihood recedes, but never quite departs. The 19 has now moved to midfield. It opens the door a little wider for us up front. I count three wides and two their keeper bats away in the last quarter. Indeed, such is the Scoilette love of the solo, that our robust half-forward, only playing three months and still marking 19, lifts in space and charges straight down on goal. Kick it, kick it we all cry. As coached, she tries to strike with stick on the move, but misses. In truth with a little composure we could have been four or five up at this stage.
The game ends with the Scoilettes inside the opposition 45. This is a weird feeling, we’ve won and were the superior team on the day. This is, in a phrase, disruptive to our sustaining narrative of plucky underdogs, winning at the death or hanging on for dear life. We’re Féile champions – process that? We have won the competition unbeaten; four from four. We have the player of the match award. Just reward for her trojan work rate right through outstanding performance after outstanding performance on Saturday, capped, in my opinion, by her all-time best performance in a Scoil jersey, in either code, in the final. It is also fitting as she is the player who got both of the goals to win the semi and final in our cup run last October.
This though is quite the group of players. There are no stars here, no virtuosos, but a band of great girls who bond wonderfully in a sisterhood of success based on determination, hard work and lots of laughs. In little more than two years we’ve grown from 10 to 20+ in number and gone from receiving double digit hammerings to being both Cup and Féile champions at the first attempt. We’ve campaigned at Div.6 before promotion to Div.5 and on the weekend’s showing are not far of Div.4 standard.
Consider also that of the 21 who played this weekend five are of the age category, one of whom is playing six months, a second three months, another three weeks. Of the remaining two one has hurled since nursery, the other began when this team formed. This Scoilette Féile winning team is comprised of five u14s, six u13s, seven u12s and three u11s. This squad’s camogie voyage continues onward from here. Upcoming, we’re away to Cuala B in the u14 Div.5 league on Saturday week, 13th April.
Tús maith, leath na hoibre. Scoil’s Féile season is up and running. Next up the boys’ hurling and football, finishing with the Girls’ football. If we can do it so can you! Never give up, never give in. #Believe. #Upscoil
As Vinnie Jones said at the end of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it’s been emotional; don’t take my word for it, ask the mammies!