Friday 15 December 2017

Brosna proves All-Irelands aren't won where people give in

Brosna players celebrate winning the All-Ireland Junior Club Championship Final
Brosna players celebrate winning the All-Ireland Junior Club Championship Final
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The old village slopes down from The Square as if it's falling off the steep hill. It has been reported by folklorists that bikes ridden by lightweights have often taken flight.

Over it all is the high mountain. The mighty Blackwater starts the long journey to the sea as a bubbling-over pot, here in the wild highlands of the North Kerry Mount Eagle. Mighty rivers have small beginnings. Great teams can come from small places.

There was a time when the derelict buildings almost outnumbered the habitable dwellings in the village square. Paint flaked away like some sort of artist's metaphor for death and decay. Cawing crows were the only sign of life on quiet nights when the lonesome wind whistled the lament for a village.

Brosna was dead, they said. The young people were leaving and the old were dying out. The doomsters and defeatists were wrong. Brosna lives. Sure aren't they the All-Ireland Junior Football champions?

The kids called it the Tangerine Dream, and the proof of it all is that dreams really do come true when you truly believe.

Just to give you some sort of an idea of the type of people we are dealing with here, it might be no harm to tell you the story of Con Carey, the man who was buried twice.

Con was a hard-working bachelor who was buried without the customary honours such as a shave and a wash and the fitting out of a good suit. And so it was that the 12 apostles of Brosna dug up Con and gave him a good send-off. Con was washed and shaved and togged out beautifully for his last journey.

Prayers were said, toasts were made and Con was reburied. Mairead Heffernan and Liam O'Brien produced a poignant hour-long epitaph of sheer listening joy on Con for the treasure store that is known as the Documentary on One.

I met a few of the 12 apostles over the years and I can honestly say Our Lord would have picked them on his team any day. So you see then there was context here. And principle and a desire to do the right thing.

All-Irelands aren't won in places where the people give in. Brosna was painted up and local committees gathered together to reclaim their village.

My grandmother was born in Brosna and she died in childbirth. My grandfather used to bring my mother over to Brosna in his horse and trap from Knocknagoshel for weekends and she was treated like a sister by the Lanes of Meenavoughane, which sound like the name of a slide, but these are real people.

Brosna is in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which takes in parts of the three counties of Kerry, Limerick and Cork. Sliabh Luachra is famous for lively polkas and slides faster than fast jigs. The organic cadences and rhythms of the music mirror the lively, airy nature of her people.

There was fight there too and a calmness. Brosna were three points down with two minutes to go against The Rock of Tyrone in the semi-final but came out of that hard place. There were three well-worked scores, coolly taken, in the last three plays to send the game to a replay which they won.

By the way, Brosna say they never encountered anything like the generosity in defeat of The Rock players and the graciousness of their supporters.

So Brosna went up to Croke Park. Old men and old ladies were there in the hallowed stadium for the first time. There were more scares against the gallant exiles, John Mitchels of Liverpool. The ball was cleared off the Brosna line with seconds left. They can never take this away from ye Brosna, no matter what.

Congratulations too to our neighbours and friends from Ardfert, who won their third All-Ireland. A truly incredible achievement. And hard luck on Austin Stacks, the team that came from a terrible defeat in 2013 to win local and Munster titles.

There were bonfires at the border of Fealesbridge and at Patsy's Cross on the old butter road to Cork. The Brosna team walked over the River Feale as they took the cup in to Kerry. It's all recorded in a five-and-a-half-hour video shot by the genius Paidi Herlihy. I suppose you can't get enough of a good thing, and all receipts go to Brosna GAA.

They marched down the hill from the GAA field to the village with pikes blazing. The Cullen Pipe Band from Cork led the way. Mountcollins of Limerick gave their lit-up pitch for free. All of Sliabh Luachra danced to the Brosna Slide. There were 3,000 people in the village on the rainy night they brought the cup back home. I know, I know. Wouldn't you just love if it was your club?

Our old friend Jimmy Keane was the manager. He never gave up on Brosna. One man with passion is worth more than 100 accountants. We need doers, not don'ters.

The battle now is to keep this mostly young team together. Brosna has always suffered from emigration, and maybe the momentum and confidence from Croke Park can somehow feed an economic miracle.

It's been a good while now since the eagles flew the mountain, but down below on the hill, the new Brosna soared. The glory of the day brings hope and sustenance to a living village that refused to give up.

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