Our men’s footballers and hurlers claimed a historic double at the New Zealand Championships in Christchurch in March, with the footballers winning the competition for the first time in living memory.
The championships, played at Hagley Park, were the highlight of the 2020/21 New Zealand GAA calendar. With the cancellation of the 2020 competition in Auckland due to COVID-19, and the GAA at a hiatus back home for the same reason, this tournament was savoured by players and spectators alike.
We had six teams lining out at the championships: a camogie team; junior and senior women’s football teams; a hurling team; and junior and senior men’s football teams. 65 players, along with with coaches and loyal supporters, made the trip from the capital south to the Garden City.
It was certainly a tournament to remember as our hurlers and men’s senior footballers claimed a historic double. The hurlers defeated perennial rivals Canterbury in their final while the footballers won their title by overcoming a strong Celtic/Marist (Auckland) amalgamation. That’s four titles in a row for the hurlers and a first New Zealand Championship title for the senior footballers — an incredible achievement.
What’s even more impressive is that we had players from 49 clubs in Ireland as well as other clubs from exotic locations such as Toulouse, Vancouver and Sydney lining out in the green and yellow. 24 counties were represented across our six teams. In the week leading up to the tournament, we engaged with many of our players’ formers clubs on social media and there was a most enthusiastic response from the clubs in hearing about their past players continuing Gaelic games in the antipodes.
We also note that between the 2020 Wellington Sevens tournament and the NZ Championships we have won silverware across the four codes this season. It’s not something that happens too often and it’s without doubt a testament to the hard work and commitment from our players, coaches, club administrators, as well as the culture of our club. There’ll be plenty to celebrate at our upcoming Awards night and there’ll be no shortage of cups to swig from.
You can view photos from the competition on Christchurch McKenna’s Facebook page, photographer David Igoe’s Facebook page and our Facebook page. You can also read a recap of each of our teams’ New Zealand Championships below.
With the current squad not playing a lot of football together, and with the disappointment of the 2020 Wellington Sevens tournament, the men’s senior footballers came into the championships as somewhat of an unknown quantity.
First up were the hosts Canterbury who were boasting the best of Waimak Gaels and Christchurch McKenna’s. The two club teams played some fine football in the previous weekend’s Canterbury championship final (won by McKenna’s) and were sure to be eyeing up some national silverware. The first half was very much backs to the wall, but our defence, led by captain Conor Tierney and Patrick Dempsey, worked hard to limit the home side to 1-2.
The second half saw us come to life and we enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. After squandering a few chances early on, we eventually settled down and delivered the ball to sharpshooters Seán Dervin and Trevor Mangan who duly kept the scoreboard ticking over. Canterbury kept battling, but we just did enough to eke out a one-point win, 0-6 – 1-2.
Our next opponents were a Celtic/Marist Rangers amalgamation who were certainly red-hot favourites for the competition. Confidence was high in our camp from the earlier win and the first half was tightly contested. Antoine Óg Ó Mainín and Dean McMahon carried a heap of ball forward against an incessant wind, but three goals from the Auckland side gave us plenty to think about at half-time.
The second half started with us conceding an early goal, but the remaining ten minutes were all Wellington/Hutt Valley. Michael Keegan and Míceál Devlin were winning ample ball in midfield and dispatched it early into our inside forwards. A few points from John Bobs Daly as well as two goals in quick succession clawed back the Aucklanders’ lead. However, despite a late foray we succumbed to a one-point loss.
Our final group game of the day was against another Auckland side in Harps who had beaten Canterbury earlier in the day. Compact in defence and clinical up front, it was a solid all-round performance from us and we ran out comfortable winners. Two wins and a one-point loss placed us in second position and in a semi-final berth against third-placed Harps.
Saturday’s performances dispelled any doubts around the team’s ability and the lads were raring to go for the semi-final. But the game was over before it started – literally – as the Harps struggled with injuries, most of them sore heads. We were awarded the game and a spot in the final, but a nine-a-side game was played where recorded another impressive win.
Reaching the final, we had already surpassed our 2019 championship where we exited at the semi-final stage. But the lads weren’t here just to take part. Playing against the never-ending wind in the opening half, we played composed and patient football in trying conditions. Shane Bourke covered the length and breadth of the field, sweeping up dirty ball around the middle and driving forward in attack.
Míceál Devlin, who we learned afterwards tore his groin, (on the Saturday!) did trojan work all over and kept the reins on Cavan ace Conor Moynagh. Our defence was solid and forced the opposition into some errant shooting. Meanwhile, up front, John Bobs notched up his points tally, and our hard work was rewarded with a coolly taken goal from Peter Wall – a finish his fellow countyman Mattie Forde would’ve enjoyed. Shortly after, Auckland raised the green flag for themselves and we trailed by two at the short whistle.
We were aided by the wind in the second half, but a lethargic start, and the Aucklanders upping the intensity considerably, put us under the cosh. While we did manage to take the lead with some breakaway scores, Auckland kept pushing forward, and their persistence was awarded with an excellent team goal. With us now a point down (2-3 to 1-5) with five minutes to go, what followed was the best sequence of football played all weekend. Ó Mainín and linked up well with John Bobs to shoot the equalising point, and from the subsequent kickout we were awarded a free which John Bobs converted to put us in the lead.
At this point, Celtic/Marist struggled to break past midfield while the supply line into our forwards was plenty as Dean McMahon found his shooting boots and kicked two huge scores to push us further into the lead. It was a blitz from Wellington/Hutt Valley, kicking five unanswered points to go four ahead. Stoic play from Tony Ling, Paddy Dempsey, Conor Tierney and Shane Bourke in the final moments saw the game out, and we claimed our first New Zealand football championship by 1-10 – 2-3.
There were jubilant scenes back at the clubhouse as Cavan man Conor Tierney lifted the cup for the first time in the club's history. Shane Bourke deservedly took home the player of the final award for an immense display at wing forward. And of course a massive thanks to player-manager Enda Costello and coach Damien Farrelly on guiding the lads to a memorable win.
The junior squad took to the field on Saturday morning against a strong Queenstown side.
We were hit hard by some early scores before finding our groove and getting back into the game, but we had left ourselves too much to do and opened the competition with a narrow defeat.
Led by captain Bryan Downes in defence, the team showed great fight to draw the second game of the day against eventual winners, the Wolfhounds. This left the team with a place in the play-off on Sunday morning, and after an early night, the team was raring to go at 9am on Sunday morning.
Sunday saw the team build on the momentum from the Wolfhounds game, and an early start against an experienced Canterbury team paved the way for a fantastic team performance in the three matches played that day. With Trevor Mangan shooting points from all angles, and Alastair Ford and George Daly winning plenty of ball at midfield, all the team needed was things to stay tight at the back. Chris McKibbin and Cathal O’Mahony were the men for the task, keeping the opposition forwards quiet in wins over Canterbury and Celtic/Marist.
Next up was a rematch against Queenstown, with a place in the final awaiting the winner. Darragh Corboy, Eoin Norton and Michael O’Connell provided energy and strength around the middle of the field, and a tight battle ensued. Two quickfire goals to Queenstown at the start of the second half meant the game had to be chased again. From six points down, the gap was narrowed with another exhibition of point-scoring from Mangan, but despite late goal chances to Wellington/Hutt Valley, Queenstown held out for a two-point victory.
Special mentions for the evergreen Davey Rynne in goal, Phil Byrne and Felim O’Leary for their contributions alongside their hurling commitments, and coaches Enda Costello and Damien Farrelly on the sideline.
The hurlers’ championship got off to a sluggish start in their opener on Saturday morning against old rivals Canterbury.
With the hosts’ win over Marist Rangers earlier in the morning, it was clear they had found their rhythm as they dominated possession and were first to every ball. Despite our lads not really getting out of first gear, it was only a solitary point which separated the teams at the end, the game finishing 0-6 – 1-4 to Canterbury.
With Canterbury’s two wins putting them into Sunday’s championship final, a semi-final on Sunday morning between Wellington/Hutt Valley and Marist Rangers had already been decided. However, there was still the last scheduled group game in which to attend.
Keen to make amends for the morning’s disappointment, the lads wasted no time in putting the Aucklanders away. Early goals from Peter Wall, John Bobs Daly, and Michael O’Connell set the tone for a convincing victory. While still not playing to the level of which they were capable, the win gave the team a much-needed confidence boost before Sunday’s semi-final.
On Sunday morning Marist Rangers were struggling to fill a team, so it was decided we would progress to the final. The game, however, was played as we loaned the Rangers some of our players. It was definitely a worthwhile run out for everyone as the opposition, with some fine hurlers in the middle, made us work for the win. It finished 2-8 – 2-6 in our favour – a much closer contest than Saturday evening’s group game.
There’s Boca Juniors-River Plate, Yankees-Red Sox, Cork-Kilkenny – but one of the most thrilling rivalries this century has surely been Wellington/Hutt Valley and Canterbury hurlers. This was the seventh straight New Zealand final where teams from the two cities faced off. A pipe band leading the teams out à la the first Sunday in September was fitting and it set the tone for what would be a tense and thrilling game.
Playing with a strong gale in the first half, the Cantabrians were making the most of their advantage with some well-taken points. But our lads refused to let them pull away. Patrick Dempsey at centre back held firm; Darragh Corboy and Michael Callan in midfield worked hard; while up front Shane Bourke’s and Peter Wall’s movement was hard for the opposition to handle. Meanwhile, frees from John Bobs Daly kept us in contention and we went in at half-time trailing 0-8 – 0-7.
Canterbury probably shaded the first half, but failed to put our lads to the sword. Like the first half, the second was tit for tat. We made an impact early in the second half, but it was short-lived as Canterbury’s classy forward Damien Dunne struck a fine solo goal halfway through. The goal looked to be a fillip for them to push on.
Our defence stood staunch though, and a monster Graham Enright point from well inside his own half shortly after turned the tide in our favour again. The closing minutes were mostly us, but we spurned a number of chances to take the lead. With the teams at stalemate approaching the final whistle, John Bobs latched onto a couple of loose balls and duly slotted them over for a Wellington/Hutt Valley victory.
It was a game that really could’ve gone either way, but credit to our lads who didn’t lie down and relinquish their title. The win makes it four titles in a row, but we’re sure that Canterbury will be there again next year looking to stymie our drive for five.
Offaly man Darragh Corboy lifted the cup at the presentation that evening for the third time in a row as team captain. Congratulations to wing forward John Bobs Daly whose display in the final earned him a player of final award. And a special shoutout to Patrick Dempsey in his role as player-manager during the year. The Bruff native guided the team to win all before them this season.
With four games, and some players playing camogie and junior football, it was all go for the senior women’s football team on day one.
The hosts Canterbury were up first and despite our women having the majority of possession, a couple of goals by the opposition snatched them a draw.
Next up was Queenstown where we eventually found our stride and a first win of the day was recorded. Auckland’s Celtic were up for game three and this was a tough, end-to-end game by two excellent teams. There was some great point scoring on display and even better defending on show. The game ended in a second draw of the day.
Auckland’s St. Pats were our opposition for game number four and our last of the day (some players, including Heather Williamson, lining out for their game eighth or ninth of the day between codes). With the confidence gained from the previous games, and all nerves out of the system, we played excellent football and ran out easy winners, ending the day unbeaten. After day one there were a lot of tired legs and that included a couple of members of the management.
Day two commenced with a semi-final bout against Canterbury. Like Saturday’s group game, it was another tight match. With our defence on top, our midfield and forwards powered us on to a three-point win to earn a place in the final.
As expected, Celtic were the opponents in the final and in the face of a strong and excellent footballing Celtic team, our women did well to break down their regular attacks. Our midfield drove the team forward with their powerful runs and our forwards battled for every ball, but we just didn’t have enough to win on the day.
Nevertheless, it was a great tournament for the team and a fantastic effort by everyone involved. Kudos to the management team of Gerard McDonagh, Paul O'Hare and Tony Ling on guiding the team to the final.
With players from Ireland, England, Scotland and New Zealand in their ranks, the women's juniors bore more of a resemblance to a Lions tour squad than a Gaelic football team.
Bolstered by the return of Cork woman Sarah Barry, who had just come out of managed isolation (legally, we’re told), the team were in good spirits ahead of their first game.
We had two tough matches on day one against Auckland teams Marist and Harps. While we fought admirably, we eventually lost by narrow margins in both games.
With improving performances and the women growing in confidence throughout the first two games, a brilliant victory against Canterbury was a great way to finish the day. It was certainly just rewards for all the effort they put into training over the previous two months.
Marist awaited in the semi-final and we showed great fight again with a much-improved performance from the previous day’s encounter. Unfortunately, it was another narrow loss to the eventual winners of the competition. There were some excellent performances over the weekend and we’re sure everyone will take that confidence into the next tournament.
The commitment and skill both the senior and junior Wellington/Hutt Valley teams showed during training, and over the two days of the tournament, was admirable and they can be proud of how they performed.
It was a great couple of days that was enjoyed by all the players. And thanks again to the management team of Gerard McDonagh, Paul O'Hare and Tony Ling.
There was much excitement in the camogie camp travelling from the capital.
With 12 dual players there was no question that it was going to be a very busy and demanding weekend, but spirits were high as the athletic and talented Sarah Barry also joined the camogie squad.
The action kicked off at 9.30am with our first game against Marist of Auckland who were strong down the middle of the páirc. Our women showed great determination and held them within touching distance right to the very end. The midfield duo of Marie Nolan and Joanne Kiely were linking play and supporting the defence like true warriors throughout.
The other games of the day saw us come up against the host club, Canterbury. The hosts in red and black were well balanced and equally experienced but the Welly camógs were there to put up a fight. Laura McQuillan, Claire Hanley and Sarah Barry showing their true colours, refusing to back down.
There were many fine scores taken over the course of the weekend with Rachel Kirby and Éiméar Rodden getting stuck in up front. Leona O’Donovan and Emma Blyth didn’t give their opponents an inch in the back, clearing everything that came their way. The final game went right to the wire with only two points separating Wellington/Hutt Valley and the eventual winners. A big shout out to our first-time camógs in the green and yellow: Leona O'Donovan, Caroline Ward, Aisling Doherty and Elaine Fitzgerald. We hope it’s not your last.
Our sincere gratitude to the two Queenstown players, Aoife McGoldrick and Marese O’Connell who, very generously, played with us over the weekend.
Well done to everyone for their dedication and commitment to the cause. And a huge thanks to Eilís Ní Chaiside and Heather Williamson for taking the camogie team under their wings this season.