Dulwich Harps GAC in partnership with St Paul’s Academy has recently returned from a very successful seven-day tour to Ireland with their U14 panel where they played seven games of football against teams from Counties Armagh, Down, Louth, Mayo and Roscommon and won all of them – the Magnificent Seven! There were many highlights from the tour including a victory against St Colman’s College, Newry! View photo gallery.
Throughout their time in Ireland the party was accommodated by local families; for the first part of the tour with families from the St Moninna’s GFC, in Killeavy, Co. Armagh and for the final part families from the Castlerea St Kevin’s GFC, Roscommon. The tour also provided a number of cross-curricular opportunities for the party including a visit to Croke Park in Dublin. At Croke Park, the party was given a full history of the development of the GAA over the last 130 years with a particular focus on the amateur status of the games. It was highlighted that it was a privilege to be selected to play for your parish (club) and the very best players were then selected for their county. Across Ireland there are many fine examples where communities have developed around the GAA Club. At St Moninna’s, the GAA Club has a superb sports complex and four changing rooms. The playing surface was first class and the next phase of development will be a second pitch.
On the first full day of the tour the team took part in a light training session in Killeavy. Later in the day the team moved onto St Colman’s College to play against their Year 8 team. St Colman’s College has an outstanding record of success in schools’ football by winning both the MacRory Cup (Ulster Championship) and the Hogan Cup (All Ireland) on a number of occasions. Our team started very apprehensively and after trailed by five points; the team then began to play good quality and by the half time break, they were leading by six points. In the second half both teams ensured that all panel members were given playing time and Dulwich Harps emerged with a 12-point victory. At the end of the game a presentation of a replica Sam Maguire Cup was made to the captain of the St Colman’s team in appreciation of the College hosting the fixture. During the evening, the team had the opportunity to watch an Armagh senior league fixture between our host club Killeavy and Madden. Despite trailing at half time, Killeavy emerged victorious at the end of the hour. Our first full day was concluded with a meeting with Stevie McDonnell, a member of the Armagh All Ireland winning team in 2002. After a brief introduction Stevie led a question and answer session – our panel were amazed by Stevie’s contribution to Gaelic football and the amateur status of the sport.
Our programme in South Armagh was concluded with the Killeavy Invitational Tournament; Silverbridge Harps GFC and St Patrick’s, Lordship in Co. Louth and our hosts made up the teams. We won the three games in the round robin tournament and then beat St Patrick’s in the final.
On Sunday, our panel and mentors were guests of the Ulster Council at the championship fixture between Derry and Donegal. This was a sell-out fixture and we were very privileged to be given tickets; we were also able to meet up with many friends from Limavady Wolfhounds, the host club for last year’s South London Feile team.
The panel left Killeavy and en route to Roscommon had a visit to Croke Park. The team concluded their tour with victories against Castlerea St Kevin’s in Co. Roscommon and Ballintubber GAA in Co. Mayo. In Castlerea, the teams competed for the Con McLoone Memorial Shield; this was in memory of Con McLoone who had given unstinting support to the development of underage Gaelic games at Dulwch Harps before his unexpected death last year. En route to their final fixture in Co.Mayo the panel visited the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Ballyhaunis and was given a guided tour by Cathal Gregg, a current member of the Roscommon team.
During their visit to Ballintubber, the team were able the famous Ballintubber Abbey and after their fixture against the local team they were entertained to a formal meal at Corley’s Hotel.
Whilst in Ireland, we found out a great deal about the structures for football within counties at underage level. It is clearly evident that there are excellent links between club and county teams. For example, club competitions are played in the early months of the season (March – May) and then the focus goes onto county development squads. With this model the mentors of the county teams are able to see players in club action before selecting their squads.
In many counties at U14 & U12 level, in competitive fixtures players are only permitted two plays. This ensures that all players are fully engaged, helps the weaker players to develop their skills and reduces the amount of physicality within games; referees have also commented on the significant benefits to this approach to play.
The tour was made possible by the hard work of Tom Denning, Anne McLoone, Martin Kane and their Lotto Committee for their fundraising campaign. Sharon Reel and her colleagues at St Moninna’s Club, Killeavy and Colm Larkin and his colleagues at Castlerea St Kevin’s are to be congratulated for the way that they had opened their doors and made all of our boys so welcome in their homes.
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2nd June 2014