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'They were upfront and so loyal, it was brilliant to see they got their All-Ireland reward'

The All-Ireland club winning Kilbride brothers have both moved abroad in recent weeks.

Senan and Ian Kilbride in action for St Brigid's.
Senan and Ian Kilbride in action for St Brigid's.
Image: INPHO

WHEN THE ST Brigid’S team took to the field in Kiltoom last night, there was a striking absentee from their forward line.

Senan Kilbride had been the focal point of their attack for years in these types of championship tussles, an offensive figurehead over the course of a steady rise.

They enjoyed more good days than bad and he was central to that. Dominant in their county environs, a reputation was constructed as a provincial powerhouse and in time St Brigid’s became a familiar face on the national stage.

On the August Bank Holiday weekend he grabbed a point and provided his useful experience to their forward play as they dug out a win over Strokestown.

The group games in Roscommon wrapped up last night, St Brigid’s cantering to victory by 11 points over Elphin. They can look forward to the knockout stages yet Senan (35) has moved on, jetting off last weekend to Abu Dhabi to take up a teaching post.

A week previously the club were sending best wishes to his older brother Ian (37), bound for the Middle East with the Defence Forces.

A pair of pillars on the day back in 2013 when All-Ireland acclaim was achieved by St Brigid’s. Their departures sever more links with that milestone for Roscommon football.

Covid-19 brough some uncertainty to their exact arrangements but this was always a season pinpointed as one of change.

“Ian was meant to go earlier I think than he actually did,” says Benny O’Brien, manager now and part of the St Brigi’ds coaching system with Kevin McStay and Liam McHale back in 2013.

“He wasn’t involved at all this year, we expected he was going to be gone before we played the first round. He’s planning to get married as well, so a lot going on.

“For Senan he’s moving to a new stage in his life. While football was central to it for the last 15, 20 years, it won’t be now in the next couple of years. We didn’t know when he was going to get out but we knew all along we were going to have him only for the first two or three matches.”

They leave with a glittering roll call of honours. Both did their time in Roscommon county colours, Senan retiring in December 2016 before Ian would leap off the bench on a sodden Salthill afternoon the following July during the Connacht title upset of Galway.

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ian-kilbride-celebrates-with-supporters-after-the-game Ian Kilbride celebrates with supporters after a clash between Roscommon and Cavan in 2015. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

The club game saw them grow in stature. They played in an age where St Brigid’s star shone brighter. Their father Sean’s GAA origins were in Ballaghaderreen which spurred him on to play for Mayo but life brought a sporting twist as his friendship with Dermot Earley, when they were both stationed in the Curragh, sparked the shift that saw him switch to the St Croan’s club and subsequently line out for Roscommon.

He settled in Kiltoom and pitched in with the local club, helping to develop an underage structure that provided the springboard for their senior success. O’Brien reckons the Kilbride brothers won eight Roscommon U21 titles between them. In time they became key protagonists for the senior side, bringing different qualities to the party.

“When you were down in the trenches playing the top teams and you were under pressure, the guy you wanted in your corner was Ian Kilbride,” says O’Brien.

“He was no nonsense, teak tough player, played most of his ball in midfield and half-back line. Very hard player to play against, very dedicated and physically very strong. You’d see him driving them time after time, doing the hard work for the likes of Frankie and Senan and these lads on the inside line.

“Senan then had a very high level of skill, had a lovely dummy solo, not seen since Jigger O’Connor used to play for Roscommon. Senan had this dummy solo where he could just step inside, the other thing he had was lovely hands, great vision. There’s several clips of the switch pass himself and Frankie Dolan used to do and invariably you’d get a score out of it. He was the finisher but Ian was the bedrock of that midfield.”

johnny-heaney-and-senan-kilbride Senan Kilbride in action for Roscommon against Galway's Johnny Heaney in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Back in 2005 St Brigid’s ended an eight-year spell without their name on the Roscommon senior honours list. That was the start of it. Nine more have followed since, including five nailed down in succession. They bagged a quartet of Connacht honours. There was results of contrasting emotions against Crossmaglen, a momentous success against Nemo Rangers in 2011 and a paniful loss to their neighbours over the county and provincail boundaries, Garrycastle in 2012.

The volume of marquee club games they were involved in confirmed St Brigid’s heavyweight status. Then their greatest day arrived in March 2013, Ian’s graft at midfield and Senan’s class in attack were ingredients that helped wipe out Ballymun’s early eight-point advantage and chisel out an ultimate one-point win.

Senan fired 1-3, the goal when they trailed 2-3 to 0-1 can be identified as a momentum-shifter.

“Senan and Karl Mannion had an incredible understanding,” says O’Brien.

“If you look at that move, Karol Mannion had two guys outside on his right-hand side and he never thought about passing it, the one guy he wanted to get it into was Senan. Sean George was marking him I think and he’d marked the Gooch well in the semi-final but Senan was incredible that day.

“It was an incredible period for them, to achieve all they did achieve was great. Brigid’s would be a very rural club but it benefits from being outside a large town in Athlone. You find a lot of people from the west of Ireland who come to work in Athlone settle west of the Shannon. I think it was something like 11 of the guys involved in the All-Ireland final that played that day were from families that had moved into the area, their parents. The Kilbrides would be one of those families.”

There’s a collection of All-Ireland winners still knocking around the Brigid’s dressing-room like Peter Domican and Ronan Stack. Most have moved on, the Kilbrides joining illustrious names like Mannion and Dolan.

O’Brien witnessed the unwavering commitment the brothers displayed to the club despite county duties, Army tours and studies in Dublin. He feels their local legacy is secured.

“If you were managing them, there was never an issue. They were up front and so loyal, it was brilliant to see that they did get their All-Ireland reward. The service they have given is incredible. Would have huge mileage up but would come back year after year.

st-brigids-team-celebrate-with-the-trophy St Brigid's players celebrate their All-Ireland club final victory Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Ian would have done a couple tours of duty with the Army, he would have missed six month blocks here and there. But they were the sort of guys you could rely on them that they’d do their own training. I found with them and particularly in Senan’s case, playing inter-county there’s a lot of pressure, he used to love coming back and playing with Brigid’s. He felt at home.

“These guys just lived for Brigid’s and I think as time goes on, you see how great an All-Ireland achievement it was. To be part of it and work with great players like that was tremendous.”

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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