It all started back in the bitter cold of January up at the astro turf 5-a-side pitches, training in the rain, frost and snow. The squad shook off the Christmas turkey and began preparing for their Feile and U-14 hurling season.
This year’s team was a good mix of U-14 and U-13 lads. Some had played together in last year’s U-13 Autumn league so they weren’t strangers to each other. A lot of hard work was put in by players and coaches, training every Wednesday and Sunday for the next few months. We had an excellent challenge match against Na Fianna from Dublin which we won and then carried on to Croke Park to watch Dublin beat Limerick in the National Hurling League and then Dublin defeat Derry in perhaps one of the worst games of football ever to grace the stadium. It was a great day out and really bonded the team.
Our first Feile game was on Sun 15th March against Eire Og Corrachoill in Donore. We led throughout the vast majority of the match but our tendency to concede soft frees, coupled with the accuracy of the Eire Og free taker meant that we lost our lead and the match in the last few minutes with a final score-line of 0-13 to 0-11. While very disappointed to lose, overall it was an encouraging performance with plenty for us to work on.
The second round was a tough home assignment against a very strong Naas side. The Celbridge lads got stuck into their opposition and played very well. It was only in the last quarter of the game that Naas pulled away after a few basic mistakes allowed them in for late goals. The final score was 1-7 to 4-7. It was by far the toughest match Naas had in the competition.
Leixlip away was the next match on a terribly cold, wet and miserable Sunday morning. In a one sided game we ran out convincing winners 0-4 to 5-5.
The final round was at home to Maynooth. Having played well in the first half we seemed to do everything possible to try to lose the game in the second half. When we went down to 14 men the remaining lads dug deep and scrapped out the victory 4-3 to 2-3. We were lucky that the Maynooth goalie had an off day with many of our goals coming from defensive mistakes. This win meant we qualified for the Feile Div 1 Shied final on Sun 25th April against Leixlip.
On a freezing cold morning in the lashing rain we togged out against Leixlip in the Shield Final in Hawkfield. There was huge support for the team on the day, aided by the fact that our second Feile team was playing in the Div 3 final against Kilcock before us. This was a great game and no doubt was an inspiration for the 1st team to see this group of U-12 and U-13 players expend every ounce of energy to claim a richly deserved win. Everyone present will remember the goalkeeping heroics of Kevin Lawlor, the brilliantly taken goals by Johnny Owens, the adrenalin filling charge out of defence by Sean Wall, the high fielding of Sean Gleeson, the marshalling of the defence by Shane Howley, the scrapping for every ball by lads like Harry Lyons, Conor Treacy, Oisin Lawlor and many, many others. Conditions were so bad that numerous boys on both teams had to be taken off the field unable to feel their fingers and shaking with the cold. Regardless, our lads stuck to their task and in a low scoring but hugely exciting game, overcame Kilcock by 2-3 to 0-3. This was particularly satisfying since Kilcock had beaten us 2-3 to 6-4 in an earlier round of the competition - our only defeat. Great celebrations followed in the dressing room afterwards led by captain Fiachra.
The Div 1 Shield final was played immediately after the Div 3 final. The conditions again meant it was a low scoring affair, but as the saying goes – “goals win games” – and that was the case with Liam Doran scoring a trio of majors at crucial times. Our captain and leader James controlled the defence ably assisted by Sam, Colmán, Shane Kavanagh, Barney, and of course our ‘cool as a cucumber’ goalie Aidan. Ciaran again neutralised one of the main Leixlip forwards. Joe and Paddy worked tirelessly in midfield dropping back to support our defence and at other times bursting forward to deliver quality ball into the forwards. Our forwards consisting of the two Nialls (Ryan and O’Regan), the two Cians (Quigley and Doyle), Liam, and Sean, kept fighting for every ball and supporting each other. A number of our substitutes – William, Shane Kavanagh, Paddy, Ross, Aaron, Conor, Sean Hancock – got some game time on the day, as well of course contributing throughout the earlier phases of the campaign. In the end everyone’s efforts got the reward they deserved with us finishing winners on a score-line of 3-2 to 0-2.
There were massive celebrations in the club that evening for the two victorious teams – there were 25 large pizzas and gallons of lemonade consumed by all! Special presentation of some Henry Shefflin signed sliotars and hurleys were given out to a number of players from each Feile winning team in recognition of their efforts during the campaign – they included James Geraghty, Aidan Hancock, Sean Carroll, Shane Howley, Kevin Lawlor, Ryan Kenna. A fantastic night was enjoyed by all.
It was soon back to business for the Div 1 team as the U-14 league commenced on Fri 22nd May. Similar to Feile, we suffered a first round defeat to Eire Og in Donore , losing by 3 points, 1-9 to 1-6. We were short a few core players that night and knew it could have been closer if our full squad was available. The second round the following Friday was at home v Sallins. Sallins conceded a walkover but we still played them in a challenge game, loaning them some of our lads to make it 15-a-side.
Perhaps the bump on the road was our third round match against Naas when we didn’t do ourselves justice and simply did not play to our potential. After this match twelve of the U-14 lads decamped to the Gaeltacht for three weeks. This meant that we had just Shane Kavanagh, Liam and Niall Ryan from the U-14 group available to play against Leixlip in round 4. Therefore the majority of the team that lined out in Leixlip on 12th June was made of U-13 boys. A heart warming and gutsy display by all players and substitutes gained us an excellent win – 1-11 to 4-11. Niall O’Reagan’s goals were worthy of particular mention. Our final round match v Clane did not take place as they withdrew from the competition. This meant that Naas won the league and we qualified to meet Leixlip in the Shield semi-final with the winners due to meet Eire Og in the final.
The semi-final was played in Celbridge on Mon 29thJune. Starting with the breeze at our backs we notched up some lovely scores in the first half but with the wind strengthening in the second half Leixlip started to gain a foothold and began chipping away at our lead. We eventually broke the siege with two more goals including a solo effort from James when he ran the length of the pitch, and a well taken effort by substitute Shane Howley. In the end we won by 8 points.
There are any number of adjectives that could describe the U-14 Div 1 Hurling League Shield Final played on Fri 3rd July in Clane against Eire Og – epic, awesome, battling, brave, skilful, intense, thrilling, heart stopping – and they all would have been appropriate. Going into the match without our captain James everyone knew that only a supreme effort would be enough to bring success against an Eire Og team that had already beaten us twice this season. On a beautiful evening for hurling on a lovely pitch the following lads started for Celbridge – Aidan Hancock, Ciaran Hancock, Cian Doyle, Colman O’Donovan, Shane Kavanagh, Sam McHugh, Barney Kelly, Johnny Owens, Joe Leonard, Niall Ryan, Paddy Wall, Ross Maycock, Cian Quigley, Liam Doran, Niall O’Reagan. It was a battle from the start; the tactics were very simple – work hard, do not concede silly frees, keep tight in defence and get the sliotar quickly into the forward line. Everyone was fired up for the match and had a singular focus of taking the trophy back to Celbridge. Paddy Wall who was only just out of hospital after an illness was his usual excellent self.
We went 0-3 to nil up early on only to concede a well taken goal. At half time the score was level 0-5 to 1-2. Our defence was working very hard; Barney was doing a great man-marking job on Eire Og’s main player who was getting more frustrated by the minute with the lack of space he was getting. In the second half things were nip and tuck; every time we got the ball into our forwards we looked dangerous and we manufactured some lovely points. A turning point was the first Celbridge goal – good work out of defence culminated in Cian sending a long delivery into the opposition square where Ross was waiting to make a perfect catch, turn and blast the sliotar to the net. We tacked on another point to put us 4 points clear with about 15 mins to go. Eire Og then started to push forward and slowly began cutting into the deficit. The last few minutes were frantic with 100% effort being expended by both sides. Substitutes were brought on to replace lads that had given their all. Conor, Aaron and Sean Carroll all made valuable contributions when called upon. The last play of the game involved Eire Og winning a very dubious free which they converted to equalise and take the game to extra-time.
Eventhough one may have thought that the momentum was now with Eire Og entering ET, however it was Celbridge that scored the first 2 points. As was the pattern of the game, Eire Og fought back and went 1 point ahead in the lead up to half-time, however just before the short whistle blew, Ross popped up to blast another goal to the net and take his tally to 2-3. This put us into a 2 point lead at half time – a lead that we were not to relinquish! The second half of ET was unbelievably tense characterised by heroic defending from Celbridge. Joe landed a monster free against the wind from nearly the 65m line and Johnny had a goal-bound effort well saved. Aaron landed a point to keep our noses in front. Aidan pulled off some spectacular saves and clearances out the wings as Eire Og piled on the pressure in search of an equalising goal. Every single Celbridge player defended heroically and in the 81st minute of the game the referee blew the final whistle sparking scenes of wild celebration. Joe was captain for the day and gladly accepted the trophy, making special mention of the fact that James was absent. It was a great game with the perfect result. All the efforts by players, coaches and parents since those cold January evenings were all worth it!