Sunday 21 January 2018

Kilbrides keep it in the family

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

A lifetime spent in football and former Roscommon star Sean Kilbride still gets nervous before big matches – but not for himself.

Kilbride, an ex-Army officer who has filled many roles in the GAA, reckons the toughest job of them all is watching his sons Ian and Senan play in big games.

The games don't come any bigger than tomorrow's Connacht SFC final between the Kilbrides' club St Brigid's of Roscommon and Mayo champions Ballaghaderreen.

It has the tag in some circles as a provincial final "between two Roscommon clubs" – a red rag to a bull for those Ballaghaderreen natives who proudly proclaim their allegiance to the green and red of Mayo while living in a town which, for local Government purposes, is situated in county Roscommon.

Sean's sons have made a big contribution to St Brigid's success, where they have won six Roscommon senior titles and three Connacht championships since 2005, but the tension is always there for Sean.

"It doesn't get any easier. Playing has its own pressures, managing has much greater pressure I found, and the worst of all is watching your kids playing, even at this stage," he said.

The pressure will be ramped up by the up-close-and-personal nature of this particular pairing. Former Mayo legends Kevin McStay and Liam McHale are manager and coach respectively of the Roscommon champions, while the Ballaghaderreen boss is a Roscommon man, Mark Dowd from Strokestown.

Then there's the background of Sean Kilbride and former Mayo and Galway manager John O'Mahony, now a Fine Gael TD. Kilbride and O'Mahony grew up together in Ballaghaderreen and played on the 1972 team that won the Mayo senior title for the first time in the club's history.

They went to the Connacht final that year, only to lose to Fr Griffin's of Galway. Since then they have never reached the provincial decider, and have only won out in Mayo twice since – 2008 and this year. Sean Kilbride's father and mother were natives of Roscommon and proud of their heritage although living in Ballaghaderreen. Indeed, his father was a Roscommon county councillor.

Kilbride summed up the town's dual personality when he recalled: "The first football outfit I bought was a Mayo jersey and Roscommon socks."

However, Mayo came calling with underage football and he played with them, graduating to senior level until being omitted for a couple of league campaigns. He had no quibble with the decision, and had other commitments, as the sudden death of Sean's father meant he had to assist the running of the family farm in Ballintubber, Co Roscommon, in addition to his Army duties.

At that stage, Sean began to play his football with St Croan's of Roscommon, and when Dermot Earley Snr contacted Sean about playing for the Rossies, he was ready, willing, and able.

Kilbride won two Connacht championships with Roscommon, and played club football in St Croan's until 1989.

He did a stint with the Army in the Middle East in 1992 and 1993, and then the family moved to Kiltoom where he became active in the St Brigid's club, with Ian and Senan graduating through the ranks to the senior side.

Kilbride Snr is totally committed to St Brigid's but still has a soft spot for Ballaghaderreen. He pointed out that the two clubs have a very good relationship – the Ballagh team availed of Brigid's facilities in training prior to their Mayo success. O'Mahony also has close links with the Kiltoom club, although this weekend he will be rooting for Ballaghaderreen.

"I would have played all my football with Ballaghaderreen over the years and trained and coached them and would have been involved with Frank Kelly who was manager when they won back in 2008, although I'd moved on to county management by then," he said.

"But I would also have trained St Brigid's to win a county title in 1997, and would have assisted Anthony Cunningham and Ger Dowd when Brigid's won club titles in 2006. I have involvement with both clubs, but my heart is very much in Ballaghaderreen."

Kilbride and O'Mahony acknowledge the achievement of Ballaghaderreen in reaching the Connacht final after losing a number of key players to injury, including Mayo skipper Andy Moran.

Kilbride doesn't feel Brigid's should be heavy favourites, while O'Mahony reckons Ballagh will have to pull out all the stops if they are to win. "The reality is that Mayo football is stronger than Roscommon football, considerably so at the moment," said Kilbride. "When you look at Ballaghaderreen's performance in beating Ballintubber (Mayo) in the county final, it was outstanding.

"For Ballaghaderreen to win it, you'd have to say they'd have to maximise their potential and they'd probably have to get Brigid's on an off-day when they wouldn't be firing on all cylinders," said O'Mahony.

"The heart would want Ballaghaderreen to win while the head would say on past form that it should be Brigid's. But if football was an exact science it wouldn't have to be played at all. We've plenty of hope in Ballaghaderreen."

Irish Independent

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