St Joseph’s Coalisland and St Mary’s Limavady collect silverware in memory of Brian ÓgJune 14, 2019
Thursday 13th June witnessed the ninth anniversary of the Brian Óg 9-a-side Competition held at Steelstown Brian Óg’s GAC in Derry City. A hidden gem within the Schools GAA calendar.
Held in memory of Brian Óg McKeever, a former pupil of both St Brigid’s and St Columb’s Colleges in Derry city, the competition continues to grow from strength to strength and this year nine schools took part across two grades of competition.
After a wonderful day of football, St Joseph’s Coalisland emerged victorious in the A section, with captain Ronan Coney receiving the trophy from Brian Óg’s parents, Brian and Marie. Shane Hughes, also of St Joseph’s, was named Player of the Tournament. In a highly competitive B section, St Mary’s Limavady eventually came out on top, led by captain James McAleese who also received a Player of the Tournament award.
Schools who participated in the 2019 Brian Óg 9’s;
Gaelcholáiste Dhoire Dungiven
Lumen Christi Derry
Oakgrove Integrated Derry
St Brigid’s Derry
St Columb’s Derry
St Conor’s Clady/Kilrea
St Joseph’s Coalisland
St Mary’s Limavady
St Patrick’s & St Brigid’s Claudy
The warmth of friendship between the coaches of each school, the shaking of hands, the smiles and greetings with Brian and Marie McKeever, leave you with a real sense of belonging. As 120 young gaels huddle around their coaches, the presence of so many volunteers moving in to umpire on three pitches ensures that over the next two hours we are going to witness a true festival of football, friendship and volunteerism, that represents the life and times of Brian Óg McKeever.
BRIAN Óg McKeever was born on 20th March 1991, in Derry city. Youngest son of Brian and Marie, brother to Niall and Colm.
On 8th November 2008 Brian Óg lost his courageous battle with Leukaemia.
Such was the impact of Brian Óg’s life both on and off the field, his beloved club retired his No5 jersey and renamed the club ‘Steelstown Brian Óg’s’.
When Brian was 14 he made his debut for the Steelstown Minors and it was immediately clear that this was a special boy. For the first time in their history, they reached the Minor Championship Final that year, where they lost to Dungiven. The country boys just had too much cuteness for the city novices, but it was apparent that in their 14 year-old corner back, the city club had a star in the making.
When he was 15, he captained the Derry U16 Development Squad from centre-half back and led by example. To his delight, later that same year he was chosen for the Ulster GAA Elite Squad training camp. The best part was that his hero, Tony Scullion, was the coach.
In 2007, he was devastated when the county management, in consultation with his club, decided that, at 15, he was too young to play for the Minor team, and he watched on as they reached an All-Ireland Final.
Meanwhile, he trained religiously. His father, Brian, explained how he never missed a session. Even in the low times when there were turnouts of five or six, he drove the boys around him on and success followed. All he wanted to do was to play for Steelstown, the Derry Minors and then the Derry Seniors. After that, he only wanted to win an All-Ireland.
At the end of Year 12, Brian Óg moved the short distance from St Brigid’s College to St Columb’s College having helped his then PE teacher, Michael McLaughlin, and co-ordinator of the annual Brian Óg’s, establish a culture of GAA within the school. The lure of testing himself in Ulster Colleges MacLarnon Cup was the reason he moved to St Columb’s College. Brian Óg made an immediate impact; his anticipation, speed, bravery and the use of the ball were just some of the attributes that marked him out as a player of immense potential.
Brian Óg took ill with glandular fever, missing out on all the group games of that MacLarnon Cup campaign. However, after four months out, he made a heroic return to help St Columb’s to victory in the semi-final win over St Louis’ Kilkeel, a match that went to extra time. Despite the disappointment of a two point loss to St Mary’s CBS Belfast on St Patrick’s Day, Eamonn Burns noted that Brian Óg was one of the few players who could have been proud of his performance on the day.
Brian Óg was officially diagnosed with leukaemia just 10 days later. Joe Brolly explains in his article for the Derry Journal, “When I visited him in the Children’s Cancer Ward at Belfast City Hospital I was floored. It was a beautiful Spring evening and I recall going up to the Antrim training afterwards just for fresh air and to soak up the fun from the lads. I didn’t know before what the phrase ‘needing a drink’ meant”.
In August, when all seemed lost, his brother Niall turned out to be a perfect bone marrow donor. The operation seemed to be a resounding success and suddenly everything had been turned around. In Brian’s words, he was “buzzing.” To everyone’s delight, he went to the All-Ireland Football Final.
Two days later, after a routine biopsy, doctors told him his system was shutting down and he had a few days to live.
Typical of the boy, he refused to be down heartened and simply got stuck in. On the occasions when he was strong enough to leave hospital for a few days, he togged out and watched the Steelstown training, even kicking the odd ball.
He sat his Irish Oral in the hospital, gaining an ‘A’. He set his heart on going to the Thornhill College Formal with his girlfriend Clare. The few days he had left stretched out to six weeks. During this time, he refused all assistance.
Exhausted, he went up the stairs on his backside, one slow painful step at a time. He dressed himself. He socialised. He fought for life. No tame surrender for this boy. Brian Óg made it to his formal and when he got there, dragged himself onto the dance floor and danced as though there was no tomorrow. His mother, Maire, told me that the next day he literally couldn’t move.
JOE Brolly organised a special visit during Brian Óg’s battle. He contacted a past pupil of St Columb’s College, Brian Dooher, who had just captained Tyrone to an All Ireland title. “Brian, would bring the Sam Maguire to the house”. “No problem.”
Cuthbert Donnelly and Brian Dooher met Brolly a few days later and went to the house with the two cups where photographs were taken and stories told. Brian Óg sat between them grinning like a Cheshire cat.
As the Brian Óg’s winners and runners up receive their accolades from the days football, it is clear that the memory of Brian Óg McKeever rings loudest throughout this very special tournament.
(St Columb’s Derry)