By Kieran McCarthy
A FRAMED St James’ GAA jersey remembering the late Fearghal Beamish hangs on the pale yellow wall just inside the main door at the club’s Sports Hall in Ardfield.
It’s a number two jersey, with a commemorative plaque underneath, in memory of their former corner back who died in a work-place accident in July 2015.
Last Sunday night, as the victorious St James’ footballers poured into the hall after winning the Carbery junior A football title for the first time in the club’s history, they all paused for a moment in front of the framed jersey.
Fearghal would have been involved in the St James’ team in the club’s first-ever Carbery JAFC final against Ballinascarthy last weekend. Even in the middle of the huge celebrations in the parish the players stopped to remember their former team-mate.
This is a band of brothers in every sense. There are four McCarthy brothers, the O’Sullivans, Evans, more McCarthys, O’Donovans, six first cousins – this is a tight-knit bunch who have suffered together through the worst of days and they won’t forget each other in the great days either.
They took a team photo, with the Mick McCarthy Cup, in front of the framed jersey. Some players stood, others crouched, but they were together as a team, and with Fearghal. It was a poignant moment.
That was a real touch of class by this group who had also stopped the tractor that pulled the party trailer they were on as it passed the graveyard on the way to the sports hall. They held a minute’s silence there to remember those who had played with and helped run St
James’ GAA in the past. This win was for everyone, past and present.
Sunday was one of those special days that anyone involved with the club will never forget. This is one of the great local GAA stories, real Roy of the Rovers’ stuff.
Twelve of the starting team are either 30 years old or older. Fourteen players over 30 finished the game. This is an ageing side that should have had its best days behind it and you would have understood if they had felt that a day like this would never come – but they’ve railed against the norm to achieve the greatest feat in the history of a club that is 127 years old.
St James’ title triumph is no fluke. They earned this. They didn’t concede a single goal in five championship games. They beat a Tadhg MacCarthaigh team in the quarter-final that was one of the favourites for the title.
They beat a Ballinascarthy team in the final that had taken out the fancied Kilmacabea. Throw in the semi-final against Argideen Rangers. This is an impressive collection of results and performances that can ignite a spark in the club, and give its resurgence a real lift.
St James’ have really struggled for numbers. It’s the plight of rural GAA clubs. They couldn’t field U16, minor and U21 teams this season. That’s a big worry, especially when you consider the age profile of the junior team with so many thundering past the 30 mark. The future of the present junior team is a constant worry, but their glorious success last Sunday can inject new lift into St James’.
Underage at U12 and U14 levels, the numbers are encouraging (they have two U12 hurling teams this year, A and B) – and they’ve had recent success at Rebel Óg West level too. The U12A hurlers beat St Colum’s to win their championship shield, the U14 hurlers defeated Laochra Óg to win their championship, the U14 footballers added the Division 5 championship title last Saturday and the U12B hurling team was contesting a shield final against Sam Maguires on Wednesday night.
Those underage players are the future of the club and they were in Timoleague on Sunday to join in with the celebrations.
Tadhg Feen is on the junior panel and he is also coach of the U14s who won their decider on Saturday. As the final whistle confirmed St James’ 0-11 to 0-9 win against Ballinascarthy, the U14s swarmed around Tadhg. He is their coach, but also a role model and mentor.
For those U14s to see what this Carbery JAFC success means to the club and to be part of it all will live with them forever. They’ll want the same when they are older, to join the legends of 2019, the men that were crowned the kings of Carbery football, that beat the best the west had and that brought the Mick McCarthy Cup into the Ardfield/Rathbarry parish for the first time.
Speaking to The Southern Star on Sunday, St James’ secretary Liam Evans, a man whose contribution was rightly celebrated at the Sports Hall later that night, said, ‘Look around you, look at all the kids here enjoying this. This week we won three titles from U14 down and as you know, a rising tide lifts all boats. Imagine what this win will do for those young players, now they can see a real future in playing with St James.’
The future that Evans wants for the club will take a lot of hard work, but that is already underway. Hopefully, those strong numbers at U12 and U14 will translate to U16 for next season, and then on to minor, and the whole way up.
The men from The Mountain have scaled the summit and waved the St James’ green and gold flag from a new height that had never been reached before.
‘We now have our name on the cup, it’s history in the making, bigger and better from here on,’ adds Liam Evans.
Onwards and upwards.