Brisbane Harps – In a land Down Under

Brisbane Harps began their new season at the weekend with a considerable Ulster influence. Michael McMullan had a dig through the club’s roots.

THE GAA in Australia is just like back home, club season is here once again. The men and women of Brisbane Harps were champions last season and got the ball rolling again on Sunday.

As part of our new feature looking at GAA clubs away from Irish shores, the Harps are our first port of call to delve into the lives of Gaels across the globe.

Donegal native Derek Boyle, from Ardara, has been ‘Down Under’ for 15 years and has spent all that time with the Harps. As manager, he steered the men to glory last season.

Cavan man Stephen Smith looks after the ladies’ team since moving out five years ago from his club Denn.

The club was founded in 1992 by Derry men John McCloskey and John Convery, both of whom have passed away in recent years

They had the foresight to tap into the growth of Irish emigration to Brisbane in the early nineties, forming a club to cater for the demand.

There are still family links there. Convery’s daughters are regulars at games and club events.

For the Harps’ 30th Anniversary, in 2022, connections were re-established with photos and video clips circulated as part of the celebrations.

The club’s first team had players from Derry, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Antrim and Down. Galway, Tipperary and Kerry were represented with a few from Scotland and Australia thrown in.

Within four years another Derry man, Arthur Henry, steered the Harps to their first Senior Championship.

Before the turn of the millennium, a ladies’ team was up and running with its fair share of success with Australian Leith Poulsen heavily involved.

Currently, Ulster, with seven different counties represented, make up 70 per cent of the club’s membership which is touching on 80 members. Tyrone and Derry lead the way.

IN THE BEGINNING…The first Brisbane Harps team in 1992

Recruitment has begun for a second men’s team this season. A second ladies team is also in the thoughts.

Locally, Brisbane Youths, with kids of former Harps’ players involved, offer the games to all clubs in the city with training sessions and exhibition games on finals’ day.

The long-term goal of those players following in the footsteps to play for the club is important to further strengthen the club’s roots.

At the other end of the spectrum, the veterans have the Queensland Masters to keep them tipping away.

On the field, last season was a dream with the men and women both bringing home the bacon.

“The ladies had an incredible season of ups and downs,” Smith sums up.

The Harps went all the way to the final of the Pearses’ Sevens in Melbourne, losing to Garryowen. There was a “tug of war” before going down to local rivals East Celts in the Carpenter Cup and league final.

“We bounced back in amazing style to win the Mick Fahey Gold Coast Tournament and then to take home the big one, the Queensland Ladies Championship in a nail-biting final,” Smith added.

The pressure was on the men’s team who took the field for their final minutes later.

They had built up momentum early in the season and finished the year strong winning the league and championship double.

“The hard paid off,” Boyle said. “They trained very hard, the club got behind both teams and it was a really memorable year.”

It was the first ladies’ success since eight titles in a golden period during the noughties. Now, the club has the tools to build on last year’s win.

“Since joining Harps as a player back in 2009, we were classed as the whipping boys,” Boyle said of his early memories playing with the club.

“In 2010 we produced an almighty performance against all odds to beat a strong John Mitchell’s team in both Division One and Two finals.”

The influx in Irish furnished all six Queensland clubs with enough players to field two teams.

CHAMPIONS…The first Brisbane ladies winning team in 2001

It was the start of four men’s titles in a row. After two league titles in succession a talented group won the double in 2016.

And the silverware kept coming with last year the latest successful season.

“Despite the success, many memories have been made along the way,” Boyle said.

“Last year, I arranged a Harps reunion in my hometown of Ardara. All the lads from 2010 to 2014 came up to the town and we played our club in an over 35 friendly match. It was a weekend to remember.”

Like many overseas clubs, there is the fluid nature of players coming and going. There is always a rebuild with the hope that a dozen players stick around to form a core.

“On the ladies’ team we have a few Australian girls,” Smith points out. “We would love to have more but the fact that our season runs the same time as the local women’s AFL season makes it hard for them to play both.”

It’s the same with the men’s team, with Australians using their athleticism from their AFL, soccer or rugby background as a base to try their hands at GAA.

“We also have few who came in this,” Boyle adds. “Their handling and vision is very impressive as they would be used to the oval football.”

Experiencing GAA on the other side brings enjoyment with the on field rivalries very much alive before being diluted in the clubhouse in Gaelic Park. It helps with the settling in process of life away from home and an excellent cure for homesickness.

Barbeques, beach days and boat parties all sell a lifestyle of enjoyment. Add in the 12 pubs of Christmas for the festive period bonding. There is an upcoming golf class to raise funds to ensure the club’s sustainability.

“We always go out of our way to help new people that come here, with work contacts,” Boyle adds.

“With accommodation, we know how hard it can be coming to a new country and new way of life.

“The sooner they get involved in GAA, friends and contacts are made and things become a lot easier.”

The Harps’ message is simple. There is football and enjoyment for everyone. The dressing room door is always ajar.

Since the early days of John McCloskey and John Convery, the club is still thriving. Quite the legacy.

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