By Michael McMullan
THE boys of Limavady Cúchullains were the first Ulster winners of the All-Britain Competition, as part of their involvement in Ulster GAA’s Cúchulainn initiative.
They travelled with the girls of Lisburn and came home with the cup after a successful weekend on and off the pitch.
The Cúchulainn Initiative involves schools from different community backgrounds within the same town coming together to form a ‘Cúchulainn’ team.
As well as engaging in their weekly coaching sessions, the participants attended a team-building day, a good relations workshop as well as playing a blitz against local clubs in their area.
Ulster GAA selected boys and girls teams to represent their borough after a blitz held earlier in the season.
Limavady Cúchullains are made up of five players from three schools in the town, St Mary’s, Limavady Grammar School and Limavady High School.
The Lisburn teams were comprised of girls from Forthill Integrated College and St Patrick’s Academy.
The girls’ team grew throughout the tournament before bowing out at the quarter-final stage. Meanwhile, the boys created history becoming the first side from Ulster to lift a trophy.
“The boys and girls united under the umbrella of the ‘Cúchulainn Initiative’ which enabled them to travel to London and have the opportunity to compete together in sport,” commented Ulster GAA President Ciaran McLaughlin.
Limavady were first involved in 2011 with a trip to Boston, following it up with a London venture four years later and, with last year’s return trip to the English capital put on ice due to Covid, the youngsters got their chance in 2022.
“Throughout the year we had boys and girls teams training for the tournament at Meadowbank in Magherafelt,” said Niall Doherty, a teacher in Limavady High School.
“Everybody competes in that and they (Ulster) decide which teams they are going to take to London, so they focus the training on them.”
After coaching sessions under former Derry star Tony Scullion and Proinsias O’Kane, the team began to grow as their skills developed, culminating in bringing back the title.
“It was a brilliant weekend,” Doherty added. “In terms of our boys, in February they had never seen a Gaelic football before.”
Initially, there was a feeling Gaelic Games wasn’t for them but after a talk and taster sessions they embraced it.
“Now they have good friends, Catholics from a school next door and friends from a school up the road they’d never usually have spoken to…it has broken down those barriers,” he said of the long-term benefit.
Off the pitch, the Limavady and Lisburn squads mixed with each other on their travels, enjoying a fun day at Thorpe Park, a London city tour and cheering each other on in their respective games.
“They were at Buckingham Palace when it was announced the Queen had passed away, that’s something they won’t forget either,” Doherty added.
The players from Limavady High School were pulled from soccer, rugby and basketball backgrounds, with some of the skills being transferrable to GAA. Within a matter of weeks, the team began to develop.
“Playing in the tournament and being the first Ulster team to win that competition was great, against established teams playing since they were u-10s together,” said Doherty, who was joined on the trip by teachers Brian Hughes (Limavady Grammar School) and former Derry player Emmett McGuckin of St Mary’s Limavady.
While Tony Scullion was unable to attend the weekend, his infectious character left an imprint on the young Limavady players.
They’d huddle up before shouting “1, 2, 3, Scullion…” as they dispersed into every game and had a video call with the former Derry great on the bus home showing off their glistering silverware.
Looking forward, the Limavady players have the GAA “seed planted” and face the decision of balancing it alongside their chosen sport.
“Some of the girls did go to Limavady Wolfhounds and played after the Cúchullains finished,” Doherty added.
Now it’s back to the classroom, with the focus on the sports leadership qualification that comes as part of the initiative.
“There is a trip to Croke Park for the end of the project. They’ll have a stadium tour, a meal and be presented with their award by President Larry McCarthy.”