As Brothers Pearse marks its 100th Anniversary year, those who’ve helped it to reach this landmark tell us what makes the club so special
By Damian Dolan
To try and measure the contribution of Brothers Pearse hurling club to the GAA in London, and to its members both past and present, by trophies and titles alone would be to paint only half of a very colourful picture.
The Pearses has been so much more than that, and its impact and reach over the past 100 years, has been vast.
Player, former chairperson and now vice chair – as well as holding virtually every other position – Gerry Rea had been part of the furniture at Brothers Pearse for half of it.
Brought to the club in late 1969 by fellow Limerick-native Frank Burrane, Gerry played for Pearses well into his forties, and was no stranger to togging out on occasions in his sixties.
Indeed, he made his last appearance when he was 68.
“It was unique to play for Brothers Pearse – there’s something special about them,” Gerry told the Irish World.
“You felt at home. There was just something about pulling on that jersey.”
He added: “For the club to reach 100 years is an unreal achievement; you’ve got so many obstacles.”
One of the team’s longest serving current players, Stephen Frawley, embodies the special bond that its members share – Pearses is in his blood now.
He joined in 2012 from Ballybricken, Co Limerick. The landlord of his local pub, Matt Rea, is the brother of Pearses legend Gerry.
Stephen has been ever-present since in the Pearses side, and captained the club when it last reached a senior championship final in 2013.
“There’s a real togetherness about Brothers Pearse. We’re all friends and we all socialise together,” said Stephen.
“Everyone who comes over just seems to fit in with who we are as a club.”
Off the field it’s a close-knit unit. Stephen heralds the contributions of the likes of Gerry Rea, Bill Reilly, JP Rea and Fiona O’Brien, who’s come on board as secretary, in keeping the club going, and, in particular, Kevin Murphy.
“Kevin’s a hurling man from Galway, but he took on the footballers a long time ago,” he said.
“It’s been very hard, but he’s kept that side of the club going with the bare minimum of numbers.
“Gerry’s done a huge amount of work down the years, Bill’s been fantastic, and Fiona’s been massive since she came in.
“They’re all really genuine; they just want lads to come over and enjoy themselves away from home, and if we can win a few hurling matches along the way, well that’s a bonus.”
In 1991, Gerry, Bill and Kevin were all involved in the formation of the Brothers Pearse Caomgie team. Gerry was the team’s first manager, while Bill sponsored their first set of jerseys.
JP Rea – the son of Gerry – was “born into” the club. Now 39, he first began playing for Pearses when he was seven and went on to manage them.
He grew up with fellas from Ireland coming and going to the family home in Kilburn. There was always a few extra around the table come dinner time.
“I didn’t know any different – there would have been hundreds who stayed in the house and I’d be sharing a room with them.
“We had nine fellas from Kilkenny stay in the summer of 1996 – we were all in the one room. When the Comerfords came over in ’96 they brought a few of their friends.”
More names than JP can recall. He’d get them all to sign an Irish tricolour which he still has, covered with signatures from down through the years.
For JP, it’s about the friendships the club has helped to forge over the years. How the team is doing on the pitch, is incidental.
Friendships that stand the test of time, and the inevitable nature of players passing through.
“The friendships you make are amazing. You stay in contact with fellas; they’ll come and see you if they’re in London and the same if you’re going over to Ireland or to Croke Park,” he said.
“When I was out in Australia I met up with a couple of boys who left the club a few years ago.”
JP was on the bench when the club won its last senior championship in 1998, just as he was a year previous when they lost out to St Gabriel’s.
They’d also lost out to Gabriel’s in 1995 with a team containing Andy Comerford and Mick O’Meara. Martin Comerford was in the Pearses team beaten by Gabriel’s in 1997.
“We beat St Gabriel’s in the 1998 semi-final and people say it was probably one of the best games ever seen in Ruislip for 10 or 15 years,” recalls JP.
The Pearses played some “tremendous hurling that day to overcome their “bogey team” the Irish World reported.
Sean Treacys were no match in the 1998 final – Pearses winning 1-15 to 2-5 to end their 26-year wait.
There have, of course, been tough years. Years when the club “were just trying to field the bare 15”.
The mid-2000s were particularly challenging says JP, although intermediate titles still came Pearses way in 2007 and 2004.
JP points to the arrival of PJ Kennedy, from Lorra in Co Tipperary, with bringing about an upturn in its fortunes.
Kennedy steered Pearses to another intermediate title in 2010 – they beat Michael Cuasacks 3-8 to 2-8 in the final – with a team containing Jimmy, John, Bobby and Brian Mulcahy. The team’s coaches were Brendan Keeshan and Thomas Quaid.
Reaching the senior county final in 2013 was a “massive” achievement says Stephen, especially as Pearses had only survived the previous year by virtue of their group win over Michael Cusacks. A result that ultimately sent Cusacks down.
“The first year I was over (2012) we were poor. But we got a few lads in towards the end of the year and they made a big difference, and we made a big push in 2013,” Stephen recalls.
“We were well beaten in the 2013 county final by St Gabriel’s, but it was a massive confidence boost to everyone to even make it to the final, because it’s hard to keep going when things aren’t going well.”
The club went “downhill” after 2013 Stephen admits, as it endured its fair share of “savage” years.
Relegated in 2015, intermediate final disappointment followed in 2016 at the hands of Fr Murphy’s.
But they returned in 2017 to beat Thomas McCurtains and retake their place at London hurling’s top table. A seat they still occupy.
But that 2017 success was topped by the club going on to be crowned All Britain champions for a second time, when they beat eight-in-a-row chasing provincial champions Fullen Gaels in the final at Pairc na hEireann.
It saw the club add to its 1973 All Britain success – after missing out in the final in 2004, 2007 and 2010.
“That’s the highlight of my eight years with the club,” says Stephen.
“After losing to Fr Murphy’s in 2016 we came back the next year with a whole new attitude, and everyone really rowed in behind each other.
“We had numbers out training that I’d never seen before and there was a real team spirit.”
The Pearses All Britain semi-final saw them overcome a John Mitchels team, which included Antrim star Liam Watson, by 2-18 to 3-12 at Ruislip.
“It was the best day’s hurling I’ve had over here. They were really fancied; they had a lot of inter-county players. To win that day was massive us,” said Stephen.
“It’s the ones you’re not supposed to win that stick out in your memory – when everyone is fighting cat and dog for each other. Not the ones you’re supposed to win.”
They defied the odds again in the final to end the reign of Manchester’s Fullen Gaels, 3-18 to 2-10.
“To push on and win the All Britain was massive – we showed a lot of grit and determination,” Stephen adds.
“We probably weren’t the best hurling team – Fullen and Mitchels were better hurlers – but the attitude of the boys drove us over the line. There was a real bond between that group of players.”
The likes of Tony Clarke, Danny Connolly, Owen Shiel, Conor Kennedy and Phil Hogan were to the fore in 2017.
Last year, the club reached the senior semi-finals, only to lose out to eventual champions Robert Emmetts.
They could at least point to having pushed Emmetts to the wire in the sides’ group meeting – Emmetts needing two late points to snatch a 2-16 a piece draw. It was the only London championship game Emmetts failed to win last year.
The desire to get the club back up there, JP credits to the likes of Frawley, Jake Greaney, Kevin Reid, Mike Noonan, Joe Bermingham and Dickie Doyle.
Forced to postponement the club’s celebratory centenary dinner in Loughrea next month due to the coronavirus, hopes now are that a rearranged date later in the year will coincide with a “successful season” on the pitch.
There is optimism that 2020 can be another year to remember for Brothers Pearse.