Seven senior camogie championship titles in seven years, from 2011 to 2017, and from a club that was only formed back in 1994 is some achievement.
And while Johnstownbridge, initially just concentrated on winning a county title it soon dawned on them there was more in them as they set their sights on provincial and All-Ireland level, something they did and did it so successfully.
One of the camogie players who was involved in all of that success, and much more, was Siobhán Hurley and we caught up with this talented camogie and footballer last week, amid a very busy time as she was right in the middle of preparing to return to her teaching post as a primary school teacher at Timahoe NS.
“A very difficult time” admitted Siobhán “but it will be great for the kids to get back into class; we have a little over 100 kids but we have plenty of room and should have no problems in that regard.”
Siobhán, who comes from a very sports orientated family back ground, both her sisters and brothers all played for club and county so as she says herself, there was never going to be anything else but sport, and she certainly took to it just like all her other siblings.
“Michael Minogue, a teacher at national school, was the man Siobhán initially mentions for instigating the revival of camogie in the school while the work of Geraldine Mooney and Caroline McNally was also vital as the game grew instantly.
Cumann na mBunscol played a vital role in that also, insists Siobhán and while initially the kids were involved in the GoGames, the competitive side of Cumann na mBunscol gave the young players their first taste of real action.
Jim Hanafin, Eugene O'Riordan Maurice Musgrave were heavily involved at Cumann na mBunscol at that time, and indeed still are, while Siobhán says they were extremely fortunate in the parish to have the likes of the already mentioned Michael Minogue along with Pat Farrell and Frank O'Meara, who put in no end of time and effort promoting camogie.
“The work done at Cumann na mBunscoil level is, and continues to be vital” insists Siobhán, adding “and a lot of that work goes unnoticed but it is vital.”
Johnstownbridge NS had lots of success in those early competitions, both in football and camogie “ourselves and Broadford ended up in many a final.”
The first big success arrived as early as 1999 when Johnstownbridge were successful in Féile, and having won the county title (defeating arch rivals, Celbridge in the final by a point with a late 45) then progressed to the All-Ireland finals which were held in Wexford.
“I was really too young, just ten, at that time to appreciate it but we had a great time at the finals, something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Siobhán was a mere 13 years of age when lining out in the junior final for the club, a game against Moorefield, she played in goals for the first half but having conceded seven goals, as she explains laughing herself “was moved out field for the second half.
“We made it to the final again the following year, a game against Broadford, a real big occasion in the parish.
“Broadford had a lot of big names and while they were probably coming to the end of their careers, even playing on the same pitch against the likes of Miriam Malone, Nuala Kerrigan, Liz Doran and Bernie Farrelly and in fairness while we won, those Broadford girls, while wanting to win themselves of ocurse, really were happy to see us coming through.”
Moving up to the intermediate grade the following season, Siobhán, now 15, they not just won that but, remained at that level, won it again the following year also, before moving up to the senior ranks.
“We were so young we were allowed to play the two years at intermediate but the step up to senior was a real eye-opener as we got a fair few hidings, in fact says Siobhán, “were annihilated more than once and it took us all of four or five years before making our mark at the higher grade.
“Remember when we won our second intermediate I was just 16, my eldest sister Eimear, was around 20 and she was one of the oldest on the team at that time.”
2010 saw The Bridge make it to their first senior final, but even at that time “we were looked upon more as a football force rather than a camogie force but under manager Pete Howard we met Celbridge in that final, a game we lost but really should have won, our inexperience showed but we did learn a lot from that.”
No one though could have imagined what was coming down the tracks for these Johnstownbridge girls.
They not only won their first senior title the following year (2011) but went on to win seven titles in a row; an incredible achievement by any yardstick.
And as Siobhán says “what made those wins even more satisfying was the fact that it was mainly most of the same girls throughout that time.”
After the initial county senior success, The Bridge, soon realised there was a bit more in the team and from that point on took the club championship a lot more serious than they did initially.
That led to Leinster Club titles coming in 2015 and 2016, along with All-Ireland success and then having moved up to the intermediate grade, more Leinster success in 2018 followed by a brilliant win taking the All-Ireland Club Intermediate title, defeating renowned Galway champions Athenry that included no less a player than Therese Maher, a multiple All-Star player; a win Siobhán says was the pinnacle of her entire career.
One man behind all those wins was Dick Flanagan who managed the girls “all along the way,” in fact the girls had Dick as their mentor from the time the club was formed.
A man who shuns the limelight, big time, Dick had the foresight to bring in various coaches and trainers over that period, people such as Jack O'Connell, Mick Keon, Jim McMullen, Dom McSweeney; Tom Carew, Eoghan Dervan, Declan ‘Chubby’ Curran and Declan O'Toole and while Dick, explains Siobhán, was the manager bringing in the various different trainers/ coachers it was something that benefited the team year in and year out.”
Siobhán explains that “really in Johnstownbridge we had an inter-county set-up (and still have); a better set-up than many county teams; at one stage we must have had up to ten in our backroom team as Dick (Flanagan) would bring in anyone he felt could add to the set-up which most times they did in fairness” but says Siobhán “it was all down to Dick, he has been brilliant all along the way and even to this day still prefers to be behind the scenes, working diligently and effectively; planning and looking to get the edge on the opposition.
“One think Dick always told us, from an early stage, was that where another player was from, regardless of the county, it was still a game 15 v 15, he told us that continuously and really that sunk in to us when we eventually came up against teams from the so-called bigger counties.”
Siobhán was called up for Kildare duty, initially when she was just 15 under manager Jim McMullen but had to pull out as she was captaining Balyna foot-
ballers at the time, but returned once the football finished that season.
On the county front The Lilies were struggling but as Siobhán emphasised, the county team’s displays did not really represent the level of camogie that was in the county, it was getting players to commit was the problem.
“After we won the Nancy Murray Cup and then Division 3, that was the time I felt the big interest came back into camogie in Kildare and in particular in the county; girls started coming back; we had a realistic chance of winning the Junior All-Ireland and we were probably much more visible, in newspapers and stuff as we were being successful in our own level.
“Two years later Tom O'Mahoney came in and after his first year, it was very noticeable more were returning to the team, it was like nothing I had never seen before; we had practically two teams of girls training and playing; so after we won the Nancy Murray; then Tom came back and in 2013 Jim McMullen, that was huge.”
You have seen both sides; struggling then a surge; both sides of the coin?
It was brilliant to see the progress that was made around that time but now it seems to have nearly gone back the other way again says Siobhán.
“A lot of girls played for a lot of years and while none were ‘old’ by any stretch but they have been playing with Kildare for a lot of years at this stage; you know you could start playing with Kildare at 15 and by 25 you feel like as old as the hills.
“Girls have given a lot of service; a lot in our around the same age; people dropped off and there were not enough there to see the younger girls through.”
Worried about the future?
“Don't really know, hard to say, but I do know there is a brilliant minor team there at the minute but I do feel it needs to be attractive to play Kildare camogie; there has just been a lot of chopping and changing over the last few years and it probably needs two or three years of somebody really good to go in and rebuild; bring a bit of stability; there is a good crop of girls that are playing for Kildare and I know they have been struggling for numbers a bit, which is unfortunate, but they need two or three years of pre-season brining girls through, just to get back up that level again.”
Siobhán has picked up many an award over her carer but prefers to concentrate on the team’s achievements.
“I was very fortunate to have played in a lot of good teams with players that were better than me; they did an awful lot of work and while I was the free-taker it was the other girls that earned the frees and I just tapped them over” she says.
Siobhán's football career with Balyna was certainly along similar lines to her camogie success, at both club and county level.
Balyna won everything from Junior C all the way up to capturing two senior championship titles and while they were demoted to intermediate last year, Siobhán hopes she can help them to regain their senior status this or next year.
As for her hopes for the future on the camogie pitch, the star forward says she “hopes there are a few championships left in us yet.
“I am involved with a development committee at underage; I'd like to put together a plan at the club for underage to ensure we have a conveyor belt of players coming through.
“We are lucky, we have brilliant coaches; I like to think I can give them a hand out, I feel like that, while I'm not coming to the end of my career just yet, but the club has been really, really good to me so I feel it is time to give back something and it is good to be able to help out.”
With that type of forward thinking, planning and commitment, there is no doubt we will be hearing from Siobhán Hurley for a few years to come.
We wish her, and all at Johnstownbridge camogie club, and at Balyna, the very best, not just in this crazy year of 2020, but in the many years ahead!
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