Friendships forged on magic trip
North Wicklow Gaels
The North Wicklow Gaels formed at the start of March 2019, and was made up of players from two clubs: my own hurling team U13 Éire Óg Greystones, and our neighbouring club, U13 Kilcoole GAA.
Our coaching team also came from both clubs which was great as we learned different drills and got to know new teammates who we previously would have competed against in past hurling matches!
Training sessions were held twice a week on either the Éire Óg or Kilcoole pitches, and were high-intensity - we normally focussed on a particular new skill or tactic followed by training matches. We also had some very competitive games with other nearby club teams, to help prepare us for Féile.
We qualified for Division 7 Hurling Féile na nGael 2019 which was being held in Cork and Kerry this year - our hosts were Grenagh GAA, who couldn't have made us feel more welcome - our host families were also amazing.
However, to make our Féile dream a reality, we had to fundraise for the trip and our parents really helped by organising different events like a fun Table Quiz night in The Hot Spot in Greystones and also did clothes collections to help towards the cost of travelling to Cork.
We were very lucky to get some great sponsorship from SIS Pitches, m3 Medical and Frame Communications for our stylish new gear, which even had our initials on it!
When we got the gear, we really felt like a proper unit and it made us even more excited for the competition!
We were also very lucky to get brilliant support from lots of other companies around Wicklow who helped with sponsorship. We even setup a 'North Wicklow Gaels' page on Facebook to keep everyone up-to-date!
Day 1 - Friday, June 7
At noon, we departed on the bus from Kilcoole church heading for Cork - our destination was Donoughmore GAA club, where we would play them in our first Division 7 game.
On the way, we stopped for a bite to eat in Cashel. When we finally arrived, we immediately got our gear on and joined the parade of all the teams participating, led out by two bagpipers!
After the national anthem, we got warmed up for our first match against Donoughmore.
It was very evenly balanced game, and we trailed by a single point at half-time.
We upped the ante in the second half and outscored our opponents to go on to win 2-5 to 1-3.
However, we couldn't celebrate for very long as we were immediately playing a very strong Durlas Óg 2 team (from Tipperary) who were really fired up for the game from the start and they kept the scoreboard ticking over, leading by 1-04 at half-time.
After some words of encouragement from our coaches in our team huddle, we pulled the game back and came out triumphant in the end, winning 1-7 to 1-6. That was our last game that day, so we regrouped, changed and boarded the bus to Grenagh GAA.
Grenagh village was decorated with welcome signs for North Wicklow Gaels and Westport Camogie which was great to see, so far from home.
We were warmly welcomed by our hosts for the weekend with a guard of honour. Inside the hall in their clubhouse were sandwiches and buns along with drinks for everyone.
This was when we first met our host families and the Grenagh players.
After getting to know our host family, my teammate Darragh and I headed back to their house. We settled into our new surroundings and had our dinner which set us up perfectly for the big day.
Day 2 - Saturday, June 8
First thing in the morning, we prepared for the big match against the lads from the host club - Grenagh GAA.
Before the game, we did a parade around the pitch in the rain, finished our warm-up, then got straight into the match. We started strong, leading 2-2 to 0-4 at the interval.
However, towards the end of the match, we gave away some unlucky frees that they capitalised on, drawing the game just before the final whistle at 2-3 to 0-9.
This draw in our third game meant we were Group C runners-up based on points difference, which meant that we played the winners of Group D, Hospital Herbertstown GAA, a very strong team from Limerick at the Ballyhooly GAA ground. We put up a good fight but they got some great scores and unfortunately, our Féile journey ended at full-time.
All throughout the competition, we had amazing supporters who cheered us on every step of the way, and I know it was much appreciated by all the players.
That evening, back in the Grenagh GAA clubhouse, everybody was brought inside and mementos were given to the travelling teams and we gave some gifts to the lovely people that hosted us. The night was great and everyone from all clubs had a great time.
It was great to see our hosts Grenagh GAA continue on in the competition and get into the Division 7 final the following day, but unluckily, they were runners up to Ruairi Óg GAA from Antrim, who went on to win the Division 7 Cup.
Day 3 - Sunday, June 9
Next morning, we said goodbye to our host families and the Grenagh players who we had become friends with and headed back to Wicklow.
On the bus home, some of the lads were reflecting on how well the weekend went and that we had achieved our goal of doing the best we could and had become closer as friends and players.
On behalf of all the players, just to say a special thanks to our fantastic coaches: Owen, Mark and Phelim, for preparing us so well for the Féile and for their commitment to the team. Thanks to our team sponsors, host club at Grenagh GAA, our own clubs Éire Óg Greystones and Kilcoole GAA and in particular to our parents and guardians for a wonderful experience.