There are bigger and arguably more important games on this weekend but there’s only one game that stands out in my mind. This Sunday Johnstownsbridge Camógs take on Athleague of Roscommon in the All Ireland Junior Camogie final in Kinnegad at 2.15pm.
When they overcame a very strong Clanmaurice in the re-arranged All Ireland semi-final in the University of Limerick last Saturday Johnstownbridge created history. Across Senior, Intermediate and Junior, Men’s & Ladies Football, Hurling and Camogie, they became just the sixth Kildare club ever to reach an All Ireland decider.
Two-Mile-House (Men’s IFC), Grangenolvan, Eadestown & Athgarvan (Ladies JFC), and Confey (Ladies IFC) have all reached the big day, but JTB are the first hurling team from the county to journey this far.
It is testament to the sheer effort and resolve in the club over the years though that they have finally reached this juncture in their history. Winners of the last five Kildare County Senior Camogie Championships, they have survived scares a plenty over that last half decade, and their longevity can be put down to one simple fact – they were determined to reach, and win, an All Ireland title with this group of players.
From not really knowing what a Leinster campaign held in store after their first county title, to juggling dual commitments after similarly successful county football seasons, to the heartbreak of a late, late loss to the mighty Myshall in the worst conditions imaginable, Leinster presented massive heartache for JTB over the years. Their fascinating rivalry with Meath’s Kilmessan saw the Royal champions come out on top in the Leinster semi-final in 2014 and subsequently go on and take the All Ireland crown.
It was the second time in a row that JTB had been beaten by the eventual champions but they rallied and in 2015 they managed to overcome an arduous three games in a week to edge past Kilmessan (who themselves were playing a third game in seven days) in a thriller and finally taste victory in Leinster.
This came at the end of another gruelling county campaign – part of the reason JTB have been so close to challenging for ultimate honours is due to the strength of their opposition in Kildare in fact. Cappagh, St Laurences, and of course their closest rivals Celbridge have pushed them on a level every year and it’s in no small part due to those battles that JTB are where they are.
Eight days after winning the county they beat the Louth champions. Three days later they beat the Westmeath standard bearers. Three days later they knocked out Kilmessan. Seven days later they beat Tara of London in the All Ireland quarter-final. Last Saturday they saw off Munster kingpins Clanmaurice. Some of the victories have been won at a canter, others dug out – they trailed early to Kilmessan, they wobbled against against Clanmaurice, they were neck and neck with Celbridge and Raharney for long stretches.
Now they face an Athleague side you have seen off multiple All Ireland winners in their own county in Four Roads, a side who will have their own stories to tell and will be filled with as much confidence as JTB and it will be warranted on both sides – they have seen off all comers and have reached the pinnacle. Sentences that begin with the phrase “It’s only…” should be firmly shut down if they raise their head in relation to either of these sides.
It’s been a remarkable year and whatever the outcome on Sunday, it’s a year worth celebrating as another barrier has been broken down by a Kildare camogie team. It is worth celebrating by everyone in the county, this is a team to savour, to follow and to praise. They have pushed boundaries and played the game as it should be played. They’ve bounced back from tough defeats and lived to fight another day and any other cliché you can think of but they’ve done everything you’d wish your own club or county would do. And they’ve done it with grace and skill and the backing of a loyal support that spans every age-group.
It might not be the glamour game of the weekend, it might not even get mentioned in the media on Sunday evening or Monday morning, but this Sunday afternoon in Kinnegad, you will not see more committed players or a greater will to win anywhere in the country than those in the blue, green and white of Johnstownbridge.
Get behind them and give them the respect and support they deserve.