GAA — Part of what we are

Everyone involved in the world of GAA has a story to tell. If you trace their roots back far enough, there has to have been a starting connection point between them and the GAA.

For me, involvement with gaelic games started many miles from anywhere near a maroon jersey.

My mum is from a small hamlet called “Castletown” in county Laois. It used to be worthy of the odd mention as you travelled from Cork to Dublin, however like a lot of places, since it was by-passed in the 1980s - few commuters even give it a second backward glance.

Nevertheless, it is where I got my first real taste and love for GAA and what it means to people; Warts and all.

I remember vividly as a young lad and in subsequent consecutive summers going down to the local park in the village and joining the assembled masses for a puck-around.

In the 1970s, hurling was the only evening pass-time worth mentioning in Castletown.

Six to seven in the evening was for the children and after that it was a free for all for our elders. You’d often see some skelping; with hair and skin flying even in trial matches and training. And all within a puck of a sliotar from the church and the old De La Salle - religious order of brothers - headquarters.

After we moved West of the Shannon – in the mid 70s, I would still, and to this day, keep a check on Castletown’s progress, or lack off, in the Laois county championship. Unfortunately, they were often in the papers and radio for the wrong reasons. Scuffles were common – a polite word for knocking the heads off – some boys from a few local clubs.

However, the point I am making is that GAA clubs give a sense of location and place to things and people. And that sense of place is rarely lost.

Whenever you listen to Sean Og O Ceallacain on a Sunday night with his sports round-up on Radio 1 and you hear all the clubs from various parts of the country and their results it is easy to imagine the happiness or disappointment in the local communities depending on the weekends results. The GAA is the real heartbeat of many areas.

Likewise, the new recent phenomenon of the TV hit - Celebrity Bainisteoir which may be full of clichés, still provides a glimpse of how the GAA operates in its various guises. And for its faults, the programme gives different clubs a profile and a few minutes of glamour.

It takes them out of the ordinary and gives them a boost and energy that hopefully lasts long after the cameras have left the clubhouse and dressing-room.

Irish Times columnist John Waters was one of the first celebrity managers to fall this year and he subsequently wrote a hugely positive article about his experience and what he saw and learnt as part of the programming.

“To watch veteran players on a Saturday coaching five and six-year olds is to be moved close to tears by the idea of this vast and in some ways centre-less organisation. It is to observe a guardian angel manifest, to understand that the primary purpose of the GAA is to help raise the nation’s children, to teach, mould, protect and love”.

Every Saturday and Sunday all over Ireland club people do just that, and it was interesting that Waters who has been removed from the GAA for a few years was so moved by what others can take as normality.

It is only when you have children yourself and they benefit from what is on offer from the local GAA club that you fully appreciate the implications of what for many is the hub of the community.

To prove that point; My eldest daughter who is six, now goes down to Maigh Cuillinn on Friday evenings for camogie training and there are over 25 youngsters, both boys and girls there in that age group alone.

The coaches are young busy people, with young families, but they are there and they put in the time because the club is massively important to them. Without the commitment of such people and administrators too, who put in so much work the GAA on a voluntary basis the organisation would be in dire straits.

The GAA has its critics and on occasion it can score quite a few own-goals, however it does provide an enormous support structure and adds value to numerous communities. The question that we should ask ourselves is what would we be like and what sort of communities we would have without the work that has been done for the last 125 years?

And hopefully will be done for the next 125.

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