“It has given a lift to the parish”
TEAM captain Aoife Keyes has admitted that being crowned All-Ireland Junior Club Football champions still has not quite sunk in yet for St Jude’s ladies footballers.
Trailing Tipperary’s Mullinahone 1-3 to 0-0 in the early stages of their national decider at Baltinglass GAA in Co. Wicklow last Saturday, the Templeogue side were forced to dig deep in order to swing the pendulum in their favour.
Thanks to goals from Caoimhe McGrath, Keyes herself and Aisling Gannon, however, they subsequently turned the table on their opponents and emerged deserved 3-9 to 1-8 victors.
“I think we all still can’t really believe it. It has been amazing” Keyes told The Echo. “I think it has really given a lift to the whole parish. It has been great,”
“We were six points down at one stage and it wasn’t the best start for us, but we’ve been down by a good few points before. There was no panic. When it got to half-time we knew we had the wind with us then in the second half. I think we were a little bit more relaxed.
“I think Mullinahone have actually scored goals in the first few minutes in a good few matches before. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% shocked. Sometimes you just need to settle in a bit. I think we’re definitely a second-half team. It’s probably something we need to work on going into next season. We definitely come into ourselves after a few minutes.”
Although a decision was reached by the GAA to immediately scrap water breaks on January 26, the LGFA opted to maintain them for competitions that had already commenced before eventually consigning them to the history books.
It certainly worked to the advantage of Jude’s in Baltinglass, given they were two points behind (1-3 to 1-1) at the first-half water break and then pushed on to lead 3-4 to 1-4 at the interval. Keyes’ goal arrived shortly after the play had restarted and from that point onwards they remained in front.
“I’ll probably miss the water break to be honest, because it kind of settles you as well sometimes. To be fair, after the water break we got the second goal pretty early on after that. We kind of needed that almost to settle ourselves again,” Keyes acknowledged.
Saturday’s success completed a truly remarkable season for this St Jude’s team, who had already secured county and provincial honours in advance of getting their hands on the All-Ireland Junior title.
Starting out on September 15 with a group stage game against Raheny in the Dublin Junior ‘A’ Championship, the Wellington Lane outfit embarked on an 11-match winning streak that led them to an unforgettable treble.
“We’ve gotten a bit too used to winning! I don’t know what will happen when we come to the league in Dublin. I think it’s only about a month and a half away. It’s just the work-rate that is being put in the whole time. It has just been unbelievable,” Keyes said.
“To the background staff as well, they’ve really just made our jobs a bit easier by doing all the hard work for us. Looking at teams and stuff like that. Delighted to have gotten it over the line for everyone who put in all the hard work.”
Despite how monumental their achievements have been – it is the first time the club has won either a Leinster or an All-Ireland title – Keyes and her team-mates are not prepared to rest on their laurels.
Less than a year after winning a national junior crown in 2016, Naomh Maur of Rush ascended to the top of the Dublin Intermediate Championship ladder with a final victory against Clontarf (who went on to become All-Ireland Intermediate winners the following season). Keyes can see no reason why St Jude’s cannot replicate this feat later on in 2022.
“I was actually just saying this to the girls last night, I think we’ve a really good chance if we play the way that we’ve been playing. There’s no stopping us at this stage. We may as well just go and give it another go” she insisted.
In addition to the elation of lifting silverware as captain of St Jude’s, there was another reason why Saturday’s decider was so special for Keyes.
Moments after the final whistle had blown, she was embraced by her grandfather Ernest Kenny – one of the founding members of the Templeogue club back in 1978.
“It was a really special day for him” said Keyes. “It was his 91st birthday as well during the week. He was telling me if we didn’t win, it would ruin his birthday! I was just happy we got to do it for him.
“He’s a Meath man. He used to play for Skryne and we played Skryne in the first round in Leinster. The man lives and breathes GAA.
“I think he was crying before we even got there. Even at the start of the match. It was so special for him. He’s on Cloud Nine now” Keyes smiled.