By Damian Dolan
St Judes have already made history even before they take to the pitch at Pairc na hEireann on Sunday (12pm) for their All-Britain semi-final with Glasgow Gaels.
The Bournemouth side’s 4-10 to 1-12 quarter-final win over Hertfordshire champions Eire Og was its first-ever victory in the competition, having taken its first tentative steps as a club as recent as 2013.
Switched to Eire Og’s home game, as the scheduled pitch in Bristol was waterlogged, the game was all level with ten minutes to go, only for St Judes to pull clear with a couple of goals.
Last year, St Judes gave a good account of themselves at Ruislip in the provincial semi-finals before going down by 3-13 to 0-13 to a Neasden Gaels boasting Down star Connaire Harrison.
Two of those Neasden goals came in the closing minutes in a whirlwind 60 seconds which killed off the Bournemouth team’s hopes. Up until then, Judes had more than held their own.
That experience gave the club and its players – the core of which still remain – a “taste” of the provincial championship and left them “wanting more”.
“We’re excited and hoping this year we can go a step further. Everyone is physically and mentally ready – there’s a good buzz about the club,” chairman Kieran Doyle told the Irish World.
“I guess it [the All-Britain] was always at the back of everybody’s mind, but we we’ve only ever taken one game at a time.”
Doyle added: “It [Neasden] was a big occasion for a lot of guys – for a lot of them last year was the first time they’d won a county title. It was a new experience and it’s stood to them this year.”
The club claimed its first-ever Gloucestershire title last year, and made sure of a return to the All-Britain by making it back-to-back titles when they beat St Nicks in this year’s final by 3-11 to 1-10.
Another triumph for St Judes’ “management by democracy”.
While the team has an appointed manager in Donard Johnson, the workload is shared between the likes of captain Daniel MacBeth, vice-captain Brendan Agnew and player Michael Dines, who broke his leg two months ago, but who has since stepped up on the management side of things. Doyle himself helps out as trainer and acts as selector.
It’s a set-up which seems to work, and it’s taken them to the precipice of achieving something few clubs in Gloucestershire have managed before them.
The last Gloucestershire side to reach a provincial final was Cardiff’s St Colmcilles in 2012. Southampton’s Southern Gaels, who have roots in St Judes, did likewise in 1997.
While Doyle admits that reaching the All-Britain final would “mean a lot”, no one is looking beyond Glasgow Gaels, and what will be the first-ever meeting between the sides.
“They beat Dunedin Connolly’s and kept them to just seven scores so we know they’re going to be good,” he said.
“We’re just focusing on the game in hand because we know it’s going to be a big, big test.
“It’s a big occasion for both clubs, but I think we’re both relishing it.”
Glasgow Gaels, king slayers of four-in-a-row chasing Dunedin Connolly’s, had the luxury of sitting back and watching the rest battle it out in the quarter-finals. Whether that extra week off will serve to them or not remains to be seen.
For Glasgow, it their first senior county title for 13 years when they beat Connolly’s in this year’s Scottish decider by 0-14 to 2-5.
They’re now faced with a 600-mile round trip to Birmingham to contest Sunday’s semi-final.
The Edinburgh side had been going for a seventh consecutive senior county title – Glasgow the beaten finalists in the previous four finals.
“It was definitely a huge obstacle overcome,” Glasgow Gaels manager Jimmy Treacy told the Irish World.
Joint manager with Damien McGovern, Treacy also did three years flying solo prior to that.
It was a victory which prompted messages of congratulations from past players, and showed the team that its success reached far beyond just them. It “multiplied the joy” says Treacy.
It was the first time they’d lifted the Charles Quinn memorial trophy since 2006, and only the third time in all.
“The players really appreciate the win and what they’ve accomplished. It just adds such pride to the club, because it’s been such a long time,” added Treacy, who joined the club in 2010.
In 2006, they went on to reach the All-Britain semi-finals before being knocked out by eventual champions Fulham Irish. Paul Gallagher, the club’s president and chairman, was player-manager.
In 2002, the club also fell at the provincial semi-final stage. London’s St Brendan’s beat Sean McDermotts in the final.
This is “bonus territory” for Glasgow says Treacy, who dismisses any suggestion that they’re favourites, just because they’ve accounted for the holders, Dunedin.
“We don’t gain any momentum from what Dunedin Connolly’s achieved and their success in the past,” he said.
“You can’t draw momentum from someone else’s success. It doesn’t work like that.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve done, but it’s only our third time in the competition and over a decade since we were last in it, so even if we wanted to be favourites it’s madness to think we would be.”
He added: “It’s hard to get here – it’s taken 13 years – so we’re putting the emphasis on enjoying the experience.”
What’s for sure, is come Sunday afternoon either Glasgow Gaels or St Judes will be gracing the provincial final for the first time.