THE Whiddy Island defence at the recent All-Islands Football Championship was made up of an uncle and his three nephews.
This is 11-a-side football. Four backs, four forwards and two midfielders. Timmy O’Sullivan was the uncle. Connie and Jimmy O’Leary and David O’Mahony were the three nephews.
The team manager was Connie and Jimmy’s father, Danny. Timmy is also Danny’s brother-in-law. Danny’s nephew Sean O’Leary (Bantry Blues) also lined out for Whiddy. Lots of close connections there, and anyone who lined out for Whiddy at the All-Islands held on the Aran Islands has a link to the island.
Like in 2018, Whiddy won the men’s competition outright. That’s back-to-back titles for the Beara team – but this competition, on the go since 1998, is as much about the social aspects as the football itself.
‘This is very important for island people,’ Danny O’Leary explains.
‘It’s the chance to meet up every year and discuss what’s happening on the islands. We are a breed of our own, I suppose, and there are islanders that I would never have met, and friends I wouldn’t have made, if it wasn’t for this competition.
‘People on the islands have similar problems and we have a lot in common. People on the mainland wouldn’t understand what problems we have so it’s nice to meet up with the other islands. This is a very important social outlet for everyone involved.’
From Arranmore off Donegal, Inishbofin, Inishturk and Clare Island, the three Aran Islands, Whiddy Island and Bere Island, to all involved this is the ‘real All-Ireland’, and it’s treated seriously.
On the field Whiddy came through their group unscathed. They beat Inishbofin by 0-8 to 0-0 and they then defeated Inishturk by 2-4 to 1-3. That set-up a semi-final against Inish Mór, who had defeated Bere Island in the other group.
Bere Island hosted the All-Islands last year – where Whiddy won both the men’s and women’s titles – but they didn’t get past the group stage this time.
Bere Island goalkeeper and current Beara GAA Board Chairman Jim Hanley said: ‘For all the islands this is an important competition because they don’t have clubs as such and this is the opportunity to come together as a community and to represent where they come from.
‘For ourselves we are doing our best to keep our club going and this is important for us to keep that sense of identity and keep the blue jersey of Bere Island on the football field every year.’
Bere Island will host the All-Islands again in 2020 and Whiddy will return as the champions after they beat Inish Mór in the semi-final and then overcame a strong Clare Island by 3-3 to 0-3 in the final.
‘All the games are played on the one day. Group games in the morning are ten minutes a half, semi-finals are 15 minutes a half and the final is 20 minutes a half,’ Danny O’Leary explains.
‘It’s a long day and you’d be worn out by the time it gets to the final – but we’re delighted to win it again.
‘Go back years and Whiddy had its own football team and there would have been rowing and regattas too but times have changed and it’s a different story now.’
Danny’s son Jimmy played his first game since recovering from his second cruciate injury and came through unscathed. ‘Thank God,’ says Danny, ‘he deserves the rub of the green.’
In the past Caheragh’s Colm O’Driscoll has lined out for Whiddy in this competition, and anyone who has a link with the island is called on to make up the team. Players from Bantry Blues, Muintir Bhaire, even Ballingeary were involved.
‘We have to bring in the grandfather rule,’ Danny quips.
‘In fairness, they all enjoy it. The football is a good standard and the social side is enjoyable too.’
The victorious Whiddy Island team included: Connie O’Leary, Jimmy O’Leary, Sean O’Leary, Kieran Hourihane, Timmy O’Sullivan, David O’Mahony, Shane Shannon, Jack O’Neill, Ronan O’Mahony, Gearoid Hurley, Darragh Whooley, Eoin Daly, Gavin Cronin, Shane McCarthy.
Involved on the Bere Island team were: Brendan Murphy Snr, Brendan Murphy Jnr, Peter Harrington, David Green, Aaron Hanley, David Elphick, Jim Hanley, Dominic Hallahane, Ultan Murphy, Olan Murphy, Billy Murphy, Robbie Hillard, Oisin Murphy, Adam Hurley, Adam Hurley and Sean Conway.