Sport

THE LAST WORD: ‘We put the effort because we 
want the club to keep going’

October 16th, 2021 6:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Garnish Junior B's win the Noel Kelly Cup beating Castletownbere on a score line Garnish 1.8 Castletownbere 0.4 Picture: Anne Marie Cronin Photography

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Garnish GAA Club has come back from the brink and is now moving in the right direction

GARNISH are gunning for a slice of club history in this Sunday’s Beara junior B football final.

This is a competition the club has never won, but they’ve set their sights on a triumph that seemed unlikely in late 2019 when the club seriously considered shutting up shop.

Those were tense times for this rural GAA outpost that bookends the western end of the Beara peninsula, as current club development officer Finbarr Harrington explains.

‘Three years ago we contemplated folding. We called a club meeting, got everyone together, outlined the situation and we then made the decision to re-grade to junior B – and that has now paid off,’ he says, but Garnish haven’t forgotten either how close to the precipice they stood.

‘That year we played three or four games in total and we were struggling to field. It looked all okay from the outside looking in because we had won five of the previous seven Beara football titles, but the reality is we were unbelievably tight for numbers and it got to the stage where we considered folding.’

Not only is Garnish on the edge of the map, but its GAA club also stood on the edge in late 2019. Like many rural clubs, it’s been hit by rural depopulation. Numbers were critically low. It’s a story so many clubs can relate to, especially in Beara, perched on the western edge of West Cork. Immediate action was needed, and the decision to re-grade to junior B has breathed new life into the club’s adult men’s team that has found its feet again, thanks to a concerted effort locally.

‘Everyone is pulling in the one direction because everyone wants to keep the club alive,’ Harrington says.

In the recent Beara junior B football semi-final win against Glengarriff, Garnish had 30 players togged out. Both young and old have answered the call, as the furthest GAA club from Croke Park has got back on its feet and are now moving forward. As well as playing Urhan in this weekend’s Beara junior B football final, they are also through to the semi-finals of the county junior B football championship. Good times, again, for Garnish football that are rooted in the hard work and commitment and pride in the parish.

Clubman Ollie Rue O’Sullivan, a former Cork footballer, is the manager and makes the regular trip from Ballincollig to Cahermore for training.

When numbers are tight, he’ll tog out himself to help.

Cormac MacMahon has an even longer commute to training and games – he travels from Kildare to Garnish to coach the team. His mother hails from Allihies and he decided to roll up his sleeves and help Garnish GAA. Last month, on a wet Wednesday night in Macroom, Garnish beat Kilbrin in a county junior B quarter-final that went all the way to a penalty shoot-out. Teams filed out of Macroom around 10.30pm, and when Garnish players were landing home, MacMahon was still driving to Kildare. It was almost 2am before he put his key inside his front door. The following Sunday morning he was back down in Cahermore for training.

‘The commitment is phenomenal from everyone, from Ollie Rue and Cormac to the players themselves,’ ’ Finbarr Harrington says.

‘We are over 100 miles from Cork city, we train mid-week in Ballingeary or somewhere close, but it’s still an hour or an hour and 15 minutes for some of our fellas from the western end of the parish. That’s an incredible effort from everyone – but we put the effort because we all want the club to keep going and there is a conscious effort from everyone to keep this going, too.’

Off the field earlier this year Garnish GAA hit the headlines with their inventive tractor fundraiser when a vintage 1967 Massey Ferguson 135 was put up for grabs. That grew into a parish effort more so than a club fundraiser. On the field, the momentum from that fundraiser has continued. Playing numbers are healthier now.

The experienced core is there. When Garnish beat Castletownbere in the Beara championship in August the match doubled up as the league final for the Noel Kelly Cup. It had been 22 years since Garnish had won that competition, but two players – Fintan JL O’Sullivan and Brian Walsh – played in both successes; that’s incredible service to their club. Brian Terry O’Sullivan, Sean Terry O’Sullivan, Paul O’Neill, Rory O’Driscoll, Eanna Murphy, they bring that experience and football know-how which can bring along the younger brigade including Matthew O’Leary, Tommy O’Sullivan, Jack O’Sullivan, Dylan Henshaw. There are more too, as Garnish GAA’s website explained after their semi-final win against Glengarriff. (Side note: well done to the club on its regular match reports on garnishgaa.ie).

‘Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this win was the panel contribution. Indeed, the form of the talented Danny Harrington and the return from injury of Gary O’Sullivan suggests they were unlucky not to get game time. More importantly, a range of youngsters – Conor Andy, Darragh Flor, Stephen Lane, Traelach O’Connor, Tuan Millem – suggests that any obituary for Ireland’s furthest GAA club from Croke Park is way too premature. The tradition of great Garnish teams has its hallmarks in the DNA of this current Garnish squad,’ the report read.

The team wants silverware now, with the Beara junior B title in its sights, but the victory is that Garnish GAA Club is still alive and kicking. Planning permission has been granted for floodlights at the club grounds which is another step forward. Club gear is now on sale, too (check out garnishgaa.ie/shop) and the ideal present for any Garnish man, woman, child or distant relative this Christmas. An early present would be the Beara junior B crown on Sunday.

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