WHEN you wander down the memory lane of the GAA in Britain, you learn just what a rich heritage the game has on this side of the Irish Sea over those many, many decades.
This Sunday, another chapter in that storied history is waiting to be written.
Its authors are two characters familiar over the years, carrying the weight of history down the road to McGovern Park for the final of this season’s All-Britain Football Championship.
St. Brendan’s of Manchester and Sean McDermotts of Birmingham meet at the home of London GAA (throw-in set for 2pm) aiming to make their own little bit of history.
A history that goes back through the decades: to the 1970s and 80s with An Riocht, to the 1990s and Tír Chonaill Gaels, to the modern era with Liverpool's John Mitchels – but particularly to the 1970s, a decade where McDermotts took on the legendary Kingdom winning three All-Britain titles in the process and a time where Brendan’s made their mark winning their own All-Britain in the B&I seven-a-sides in 1979.
In that year of 1979 only one kick of the ball denied the Lancashire club a replay in the final against the Kingdom in New Eltham, another near miss after the previous years’ one-point loss at Hough End. They’d meet them again in 1985, once more being denied in the final before losing two more in 1991 and 1996 - they’d have to wait a quarter of a century for their 20th Lancashire title thanks to Colm Conway’s last-ditch winner over Mitchels.
Since then, they’ve edged out four-time All-Britain champions Dunedin Connollys and seen off St. Jude’s to book their place in this weekend’s final.
On the other side of the draw thirteen goals in two games have launched Sean McDermotts into another final, the challenges of St. Vincent’s and St. Clarets falling short against the Warwickshire champions.
It’s their first final since 2017, defeat on that day by five points to defending champions Connollys their third fall at the final hurdle that decade.
There’s been some mighty games during that time: an unbelievable six-goal second-half fightback against Garryowen in 2015, a battle of wills in the Páirc na hÉireann mud a few weeks later in defeat to that formidable All-Ireland finalist Mitchels team and a repeat 12 months later with the same outcome.
Sunday represents the club’s latest bid to end a wait for provincial glory stretching back 46 years.
That pioneering team of the 1970s was the first to travel over to Ireland to compete at club championship level, and it was also the first to take the All-Britain outside of London thanks to victory over Parnells in 1972. Their commitment to nurturing local talent is at the heart of their approach – twelve of their starting panel homegrown as they made it eight-in-a-row against Roger Casements.
With 126 years of Gaelic Games and 53 county titles between them, it’s a classic encounter that greets the season finale at McGovern Park on Sunday.
For both teams, in their own way, this represents arguably their greatest chance to banish their respective runners-up runs.
A game against the Ulster champions in the New Year awaits the winner, but right now the only prize in sight in All-Britain glory – come Sunday evening, who will be celebrating on the road north?
■ Both clubs are arranging special coaches to take supporters to the game at McGovern Park. You can find out more from both clubs on their Facebook pages (search ‘St Brendan's GAA Manchester’ or ‘Sean McDermotts GAA’).
Both the Championship Final and All-Britain Shield Final between Éire Óg Oxford and London’s St. Joseph’s will be broadcast live on Sunday. 247.tv will be showing the action from McGovern Park over the internet, starting at 12pm with the Shield match. Further details will be announced during the week, to find out more search ‘247 tv GAA’ or check britain.gaa.ie.