JASON Collins is confident he can make a positive impact as the new chairman of St Mary’s GAA Club.
Twenty-nine years old, he is now the youngest chairperson in the Carbery division but he is not overawed by the role and its responsibilities.
Instead, he is embracing the challenge.
A force on the pitch for the club’s junior hurlers and footballers (and he will continue to line out for both in 2021), Collins sees this is an opportunity to make a difference off the pitch, too.
‘It’s time to step up and bring a community spirit back into the club,’ Collins told the Star Sport Podcast.
‘It’s not easy to run any club at the moment, I’ve seen that these past few weeks and at the AGM with the reports of where we are right now and how the last year has affected us.
‘It will take a big effort from everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a club officer or not, this is going to be the community, it’s going to be everyone getting involved, rowing in the same direction and making sure that there is a club there for the next generation.’
Collins previously served as St Mary’s vice-chairman for two years (2017 and 2018), and he was approached about becoming chairman back then, but the timing wasn’t right then. Now, it is, partly helped by the necessary embrace of technology because of the pandemic.
Instead of travelling home to West Cork for club meetings, now they’re held on Microsoft Teams or on Zoom, so board members can join from the comfort of their homes. At St Mary’s virtual AGM last Thursday – when Collins was elected club chairman – 35 people logged in via Microsoft Teams. Two days later, again online, the new board held its first meeting.
‘I used to be based in Dublin a lot with work so I felt I didn’t have the time to give to the role but now that I am based back in Cork a lot more, I feel I have the time to give,’ explains Collins, who works as a Project Manager at SE Systems.
‘I met with Stephen (Whyte) and Jerry (Shorten), who would be the secretary and the treasurer, before Christmas, and they asked me would I be interested in getting on board as chairman. I thought about it over Christmas and when the restrictions returned in January I decided it was now or never, let’s hop in at the deep end and see how we get on.’
Collins, who captained St Mary’s junior hurlers to last season’s Carbery JAHC final, isn’t the only active player to get involved in the administrative side of the club. Brian Corcoran is the club’s assistant secretary, Rory O’Connor is an assistant treasurer, Gearóid Harrington is the new PRO and Brian Everard has come on board as St Mary’s coaching officer. The players have stepped up to help refresh and re-energise St Mary’s off the pitch.
It’s no secret that sports clubs find it hard to elect officers and fill roles, so it’s encouraging to see what’s unfolding at St Mary’s, as young faces and fresh voices have put their hands up to help out. Perhaps this might set the seeds in the minds of other players in clubs across the region.
‘You do need young blood and new heads in, to share ideas. It’s not fair on the same people to try and run the show every year. A club is about the community and we need everyone to help out going forward,’ Collins says.
He might be new to the role but he’s walking in with his eyes wide open. He knows this is a long-term process, and not a short-term job. He knows too what his number one priority as chairman is: fundraising.
‘If you don’t have income and your continuing to have losses every year, your club won’t sustain it,’ he says, drawing on the experience from his day job where he deals a lot with finance.
‘Bringing in funds over the next year or so will be the biggest thing. Last year, because of Covid, we suffered. When we didn’t have the club lotto we had no sales and that’s no income – but you still have your expenses. You still had your affiliation for the teams, you still had to cut the grass, you still had the maintenance, they are all costs but there’s no income coming in against them.
‘This year we need to have a look at fundraising, try to get the parents involved, the community involved and if everyone can come together, spread the word and get a bit of community spirit back hopefully we can make a bit of progress.’
St Mary’s are currently running a Last Man Standing competition that saw 358 people sign up. That was the club’s biggest ever uptake.
‘It’s one step in the right direction, but there are many to go,’ Collins says, and he’s confident that the community in Enniskeane and Ballineen will pull together to safeguard the club’s future. Last year St Mary’s GAA Club and Enniskeane Camogie Club joined forces for a fundraiser for Pieta House – and the results were incredible. Over 450 people got involved to raise almost €17,000 for charity, far exceeding their €5,000 target. Collins hopes to harness that community spirit in his new role, and he doesn’t have to look too far for inspiration because St Mary’s had one of the great GAA chairmen, John Corcoran, who passed away in January 2016.
‘He was brilliant for the club. His presence was felt all over the county and all over the country. He could go up to Dublin and people would know him and call out for his advice,’ Collins says.
‘He was very good to me when I was growing up and he was always a person that you could rely on to give you a helping hand. He is a big loss around the place, a massive loss for us in our network with the Cork County Board and the West Cork Board. He always had his say, whether it was good or bad.’
Now, the torch that John Corcoran held all those years ago has been passed on to the next generation – and it’s the turn of Collins and Co to take up the challenge and bring a new, fresh approach that will keep the club moving forward.
St Mary’s GAA Club officers for 2021 are: chairman, Jason Collins; vice chairman, David Whyte; secretary, Stephen Whyte; assistant secretary, Brian Corcoran; treasurer, Jerry Shorten; assistant treasurers, Tom Doyle, Rory O’Connor and John O’Sullivan; PRO, Gearóid Harrington; Irish Language and Cultural Officer: Margaret O’Donovan; coaching officer: Brian Everard; club registrar: Adrian Flahavan.