THE remotest GAA club in Cork will be the centre of attention on Saturday, September 8th.
This is when Bere Island will host the All-Island Gaelic Football Tournament, a competition that brings together nine islands along the western seaboard.
The islanders that compete in it refer to the competition as the ‘real All-Ireland’, and it’s an important date in the calendar for all the islands that take part.
‘The competition is going since 1998 so this is the 20th anniversary this year,’ explains Bere Island’s Jim Hanley, who is also chairman of the Beara GAA Board.
‘Basically, you have all the islands from Arranmore off Donegal to the three islands on the Galway-Mayo border, so you have Inishbofin, Inishturk and Clare Island, the three Aran Islands, and Whiddy Island and ourselves here in the south-west.
‘The islands come together on one island every year, the hosting is rotated around so everybody gets their turn, so you host it once every eight years.’
Men’s and ladies’ teams battle for the honour of their islands, with Bere Island and Whiddy Island flying the West Cork flag, but this is also a chance for the islands to come together off the pitch.
‘It’s an important weekend. The football is taken quite seriously but there is more to it than that. A lot of the islands have the same social problems, the same infrastructure problems, difficulties with connectivity to the mainland, and so on,’ Hanley explains.
‘Before the football competition started the islands wouldn’t have interacted with each other too much apart from the islands that you are close to, but not so much with other islands. Once the football started the islands found they have a lot in common. We’ve been able to learn off each other and we’ve grown with each other to a certain extent. It’s important to keep it going.’
Bere Island reached the semi-final last year but had to watch on as hosts Inishbofin got the better of Whiddy Island in the final. Inishbofin were able to call on Galway football goalkeeper Ruairí Lavelle, playing as an outfielder, while Whiddy could call on Bantry Blues’ Seanie O’Leary and Caheragh’s Colm O’Driscoll, the former lives on Whiddy, the latter qualified under the grandparent rule.
‘The standard in the competition varies from year to year,’ Hanley says.
‘The last few times there has been a fantastic rivalry between Bofin and Whiddy. Last year Bofin had the Galway senior goalkeeper and Whiddy had Colm O’Driscoll and Seanie O’Leary, that’s a high standard to compete with. We’d be the best of them after that.
‘Last year we made it to the semi-finals, we’re hoping to do a bit better at home this year. We’ve played in the Beara championship, we lost in the first round but we were winning that game with a few minutes to go so we’re not too far away.’
All the games in both the men’s and ladies’ competitions will be played off on the one day, Saturday, so from group games to semi-finals and finals, it will be a hectic day on Bere Island with up to 1,000 players and supporters set to make it a weekend to remember.
‘We have a really long tradition of football on Bere Island,’ Hanley says.
‘The Beara board was formed in 1927 and football on the island goes way back before that. When the Irish Army was based here in the forties we were winning county titles, we were a senior club for one year.
‘We have had players who have played for Cork from minor to senior so we have a long and proud history. We are continuing it and keeping it going. It’s important that the club keeps going. We have invested in our facilities, we have a fine pitch and a clubhouse, and they are important for the community.’