By Michael McMullan
IT was a magical weekend for the young camogs of Swatragh who took the Féile All-Ireland title home to a community who back them every step of the way.
The Davitt’s are one of Derry’s superpowers, winning an unprecedented 19 senior titles in success along with a three-in-row in Ulster in during their golden era that began in the mid-seventies.
The club have high hopes for their current Féile (u-15) group. Only five of the team are ineligible next year and the bigger picture is breaking through at senior level in a landscape dominated by parish rivals Sleacht Néill.
“There was great support from the community the whole way through,” said Joanne Conway, who is part of a management trio with her husband Mickey and Tanya Lagan.
“With the fundraising, we didn’t have to go out looking for anything…the community came to us.
“When we won the Derry Féile, the phonecalls started that evening with people offering us sponsorship,”
It helped kit the team from top to bottom, with new hurls and balls thrown in. They wanted for nothing.
“We nearly had to stop because they were getting spoiled,” Joanne joked at how well their young team was catered for.
“The community really got behind us, they are a really special bunch and I think that’s why they got behind them.”
After winning the Derry Féile, they headed south on Saturday where they beat Cushendall (2-6 to 1-1), Laois club Naomh Eamonn (1-12 to 2-1) and Naomh Brid of Dublin (3-6 to 2-0) to clinch their semi-final spot.
After a semi-final win over Tullamore (1-7 to 0-2) it set up a rematch with Cushendall with Swatragh finishing the weekend in style with a 1-9 to 2-1 victory to take the title.
“I don’t think a team has come through Swatragh with the quality of players like it before, not just as individuals, but as a complete unit,” said Joanne, who backs the players to continue achieving in the rest of their careers.
Under the watch of former Derry player Mickey, the squad prepared meticulously over the last four seasons, honing their skills two or three times a week.
“He takes most of it all himself,” Joanne admits. “It is all his ideas. It changes from week to week and the wains just love it.”
Their journey since u-10 saw them qualify for a host of finals in different competitions, coming up short against Cushendall in them all.
“It helped them and they wanted it more,” Joanne said of the team’s focus. “The first thing they won as the u-14 Championship last year.
Their biggest test of their All-Ireland run came on the home front this year when they trailed Bellaghy by seven point in the Derry Féile final.
“We ended up winning by four points, so that was a big turnaround,” said Joanne of a competition that consisted of 15-minutes games.
“They are a very mature team and keep clipping over the points. It’s not always about goals, they just take their points and made the comeback.”
Traditionally, the All-Ireland Féile competition involved staying with host families, but with Covid restrictions putting that on hold Swatragh’s fundraising allowed the team to stay in a Dublin hotel.
“It was great for the girls to stay in the same hotel as their families and it made for a special weekend.”
Looking forward, the underage success is a means to an end.
“What you win at underage, it’s about holding them together for senior and Mickey has told the girls that and he told the parents…and it’s so far so good,” Joanne concluded.