When 14-year-old Jim McCartney fisted over the winning point for St. Matthew’s GAC on Sunday at Owenbeg the roars of excitement could be heard from the main Derry road.
The Drumsurn U-14 side - finishing with a scoreline of 1-4 to St. Rynagh’s of Offaly 0-6 - are now All-Ireland Division Six Feile na nÓg champions and, to say their community is proud of them is an understatement.
Managers Joe McHugh and Kevin Brady worked hard with the lads, along with coach Joe Irwin, to get them to the final. Joe Irwin is recovering from a back injury but after their win the team couldn’t wait to get back and show him the trophy.
There were many who thought they’d never make it there, says Joe McHugh, but proudly donning their red and white jerseys they did it and Joe couldn’t be any happier, or prouder of the team.
“It was unreal for a wee club like ours to achieve this,” he told the ‘Journal’. “It’s a real boost; only 15 players aged 11-14! It’s fantastic.”
Joe says the lads were beside themselves with excitement about the final, and the one thing that saw them through was their “never say die” attitude. Even when the chips were down, he said, they kept going and “eventually they came through”.
“They’re all so pleasant and each of them worked hard. They’re so well mannered and they always listen to what you tell them. They worked as a team,” he said.
For Joe and his son Tiernan (who scored 1-2), the overwhelming joy from the team’s success was poignant. Tragically Joe’s father, John, from Milford in Donegal, had died earlier in the week and was laid to rest on the Friday.
“It was tragic,” said Joe, “but he was looking down on us and would have been very proud. It was emotional alright.”
What was also fantastic about the win was the support from the neighbouring teams in the county, which meant a lot to the side.
“They were all supporting us so that was great,” said Joe.
But the biggest lift of all, it seems, was for Drumsurn itself. There weren’t too many souls left in the village, given the strength of the pitch invasion.
“When they won you should have seen the crowds on the pitch,” said Joe. “I don’t think there was anyone left at home!”
Among those cheering at Owenbeg was Sinn Fein councillor Brenda Chivers.
“We’re all just so proud of them and it’s given Drumsurn a real boost. Seeing them walk through the village when they came home was fantastic.
“Their skill is unbelievable, and maybe the Derry senior side should take note and maybe learn a thing or two!”