Enjoying the social side of the GAA
SOMETIMES the GAA gets so busy that we forget there is an enjoyable social side to it too. On Saturday night last we were delighted to be involved in such an occasion when the West Cork Buckley Financial awards were presented at a gala banquet in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.
This scheme is in its fifth year and has been growing and expanding each year. Almost every club in the division was represented on Saturday night and what a marvellous GAA night it turned out to be again.
The Hall of Fame Award went to Argideen hurler, Mark Foley, and it was great to see such a young ex-player being honoured. As Ned Cleary, the winner of the Distinguished Services Award, said, 'When I saw Mark getting the Hall of Fame, I felt about 100 years old myself.'
Mark, of course, is still very actively involved in promoting underage hurling in Bantry but was quick to point out that the real motivators behind Bantry's hurling revival are the O'Learys of Whiddy. Which begs the question, how many more unseen and unheard heroes are working in every club to promote our national game, without ever seeking any limelight or any reward? That's why awards like Buckley Financial are so important, that these people get some recognition for the great work they are doing.
Such a case was the winner of the Club of the Year Award. Who would have predicted that the Goleen club, the most remote and probably the smallest club in the division, would win that award, and deservedly so. The bigger clubs like O'Donovan Rossa and Bandon might have won prestigious county titles during the past season but this award took in all aspects of club activities, on and off the pitch, and in many respects the Goleen Club left all others in the shade with their work as a full community organisation.
How many clubs could boast a special 'Care for Players' programme which incorporates driving instruction for their young players? That was but one of the many fine schemes put in place by a club which has to continually struggle for numbers and for whom an away match is half a day's work. One could only admire the courage of the people who not only decided to start up their own underage club, called Mizen Rovers, but also introduced hurling in this football-only area.
On the pitch, winning the SW junior B football championship might look like small fish compared to county titles but when one considers that they hadn't won this title for 52 years and that in 2010 they won their first championship game in six years, then that win was worth its weight in gold.
One only has to think of the trip from Goleen to Dunmanway just to attend Board meetings to realise the wonderful dedication of club officials and one can wonder sometimes if the GAA that exists in our cities, and big towns, is the same GAA that exists in these small remote clubs? We must also wonder if the powers that be in Dublin, both in Croke Park and Dáil Éireann, have any idea what it takes to keep rural Ireland alive in these difficult times?
The awarding of the Club of the Year to Goleen was widely acclaimed by all present at the function, and rightly so. They deserve it, and more.
Ned Cleary was a very popular winner of the Distinguished Services Award and this octogenarian is a living example of what the Castlehaven club is all about. That club was built on the shoulders of men like Ned Cleary, some now gone to their eternal reward, and it is an example for GAA clubs all over the country on what can be done if the people and the spirit is right.
Ned was surrounded by family and friends and what a GAA dynasty he and his wife have founded. Between the Clearys and the Cahalanes, male and female, there is a small army of GAA stars and no wonder Ned is always smiling when you meet him. The youngest of the stars, Damien, was being carefully watched by his grandmother, who warned us not to ask him about his injured knee. Thankfully, it's not too serious but it does give him a chance to rest from the hectic schedule he has chosen for himself. At the moment the Cork hurlers rather than the footballers seem to have first call but it's hard to believe that Niall Cahalane's son won't play senior football for Cork at some stage soon.
There were some worthy claimants to the Team of the Year award and in the end it went to two teams, but one in reality, when the intermediate hurlers and the junior footballers of Bandon were honoured. It was a great year for the Lilywhites, who came very close to adding the county junior football title to their list.
We spoke to Donagh Lucey afterwards and he admits they haven't decided yet whether they will have a cut off their new premier intermediate hurling grade or concentrate on winning the county junior football. It's a good problem to be facing for the new year but maybe the club is overdue the football title and with the young talent they have coming through, they should be campaigning in intermediate football.
Bandon were well represented in the past captains category as well and it was great to meet a few past captains whom we hadn't seen since their great days as far back as the early seventies.
Robert Wilmot might be a lot whiter on top now but still looks fit enough to play for Bandon and we still remember that explosive moment when he lasted about one minute against Ballinascarthy in the SW final. What great and dramatic incidents the West Cork junior championships have thrown up all through the years. We remember a super Bantry junior team in the early seventies when Barron and Hunt were in their prime and a long-haired midfield dynamo with a headband scared the daylights out of all opponents with his dynamic style. We hadn't met PJ Minihane since, and were delighted to meet him on Saturday night. The sophisticated gentleman on Saturday night was a thousand miles from the PJ we remembered in action on the pitches but that's what playing on the pitch does to you sometimes. There was always something in the blue jersey that inspired players to amazing heights and PJ was definitely one of the players who thrilled the crowds back in those days.
Christy Collins, who led Castlehaven to their first county title back in 1976, is looking as fresh as ever and is now chairman of the club. The Collins dynasty continues to contribute to the Haven cause and it is this passing on of the torch from generation to generation that makes the GAA the great organisation it is.
Newcestown's proud place in West Cork GAA was shown by the fact that they had more county winning captains than any other clubs, football and hurling, and here is another club where generations of families still contribute, although it's a bit strange not to see a Kehily involved these days.
Honouring the captains, 1970 to 2000, who led their clubs to junior county titles was a great idea and showed how many have continued to be involved in their clubs. We met a lot of great GAA people on Saturday night who don't get a chance to be involved these days and award ceremonies like Buckley Financial are essential to show that these people are never really forgotten. It was also good to see the younger generation present and there is no fear that when we pass on the baton that it won't be carried safely by these young GAA people. Still, it's nice to be able to drift back in time now and again.
Guest of honour at the function was GAA journalist, Diarmuid O'Flynn, and we were surprised to hear it was his first time ever speaking at such a function. Despite the nerves, he did well but maybe the younger, more militant writer has mellowed a little in recent times, especially as he no longer has access to a personal column in the Examiner, which is a pity.
He has a unique style but needs a better outlet than just match reports but I'm sure the county board are glad that he has been muzzled in a way. It was interesting to hear of his path through various jobs before he finally landed his journalist position and here is a man who is knee-deep in the GAA and all it entails from every aspect.
He described the new controversy of paying managers as a load of rubbish and can't understand why anybody in an amateur organisation should be paid for their efforts. We look forward to hearing more from him on this issue and maybe some more fire and thunder as in days of old. Then again, maybe we all mellow with age and have to pick our battles more carefully.
Once again we congratulate Tim Buckley for his innovative award schemes and hope he gets the support he deserves from all GAA people in the division. With the playing season already started, it's nearly time for the first award of the new season. It was a great night and a fine way to put the 2011 season to bed.
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