We all think and know that our own clubs are unique and of course they are, in certain ways.
However, one of the greatest aspects of the GAA is the sense of a common experience no matter where you go.
This was best exemplified by the time I wrote a skit of a club AGM and had more than a few enquiries from people wondering if I had based the thing on their own club.
Everybody understands what everybody else is going through and the special way the clubs are rooted in their own communities adds to the feeling of a shared bond.
It is for that reason that we will all recognise characters we know – or even ourselves – in Croí an Chlub. It begins on TG4 on Thursday night and is focused on four different clubs spread around Ireland.
Produced by Connemara-based Aniar TV for TG4, the seven-part documentary series shows us four very different clubs – Mícheál Breathnach in Galway, Donegal’s Naomh Mhuire, Round Towers from Clondalkin in Dublin and Naomh Abán from the Cork side of the Kerry border. While the circumstances surrounding each one sets it apart, the journeys are ultimately the same – try to beat the crowd down the road and leave the club in a better place for the people coming afterwards.
It’s that sense of place that brings Micheál Breathnachs hurling manager Cárthach Ban Breathnach – son of broadcaster Seán Bán – along the M6 from Dublin back to Indreabhán in the Galway Gaeltacht.
As he says: “It gives you an excuse. If I wasn’t coming home, I wouldn’t see [my friends],” and that’s something that any GAA commuter can identify with. Commenting on the parish border as he passes through An Spidéal, he wryly notes: “Without that division, why would we even play sport, it’s essential.”
Born into it
A few years back, AIB’s advertising campaign for the All-Ireland club championships had the tagline that you didn’t choose your club, you were born into it. Ciara Ní Loingsigh, a ladies’ footballer and committee member with Naomh Abán of Baile Bhúirne in Cork, sums that up.
“My grandfather and his brother played in the 1960s and then my father and three uncles played for years, too,” she says, by way of introduction.
“Now, myself and my brother Dara play, as does my younger sister Aoibhinn, she plays U10. My father is also very involved with the club and he encouraged myself and my sister Niamh to join the committee.
“So now I’m on the finance committee and the communications sub-committee. I’m also assistant secretary of the club.”
Similarly, while Seán Ó Ríordáin’s focus is on finishing the 2020 U21 championship with Naomh Abán and hopefully making a push for a place on the club’s intermediate team, a stint undertaking teaching practice at the local secondary school, Coláiste Abán Naofa, means he is helping to nourish the next generation’s interest in football (incidentally, “caid” is the slang used in the south-west of the country, rather than “peil”).
Niall Reilly, the manager of the Round Towers U13 team, is dealing with children of a slightly older age and his line as he gears up for the return to training after six months of inactivity: “I’m prepared for a bit of messing and a bit of backchat from a few of the boys but, look, we’ll enjoy ourselves,” – is one that says an awful lot.
While the bulk of the team have been together since the players were four, it shouldn’t be taken lightly what a big chunk six months is in the life of a 12- or 13-year-old. However, the showing at training is a healthy one, with the bulk of the 35-player panel present.
Reilly estimates Round Towers to have around 1,000 members, while pointing to the recent development of a gymnasium and astro-turf pitch as being of huge benefit. The club’s property covers a nicely-sized piece of urban real estate and we shouldn’t under-estimate the strength of dedication that ensures such land is available for GAA recreation. Subsequent episodes will focus on the Towers camogie team, while ladies’ football is covered with Donegal’s Naomh Mhuire.
Based in Mullaghderg, they boast Róisín Nic Ruairí as a county player, the 19-year-old having been born in Glasgow and then moving to Ireland when she was five. The commitments involved in serving one’s club and county are something we almost take for granted, looking from the outside, but it’s no harm to be reminded of just what it involves, especially for one so young.
It’s not a cliché to say that there will be something for everything and, by the end of the seven weeks, the start of the club season will feel a lot closer.
Croí an Chlub starts at 8pm on Thursday on TG4 and runs for the next six weeks.
The next two weekends will be instructive as to the shape of the rest of the rugby season as the group stages of the Heineken Champions Cup are played to a conclusion.
Last week, we focused on Munster’s travails and, while they bounced back from the loss to Connacht with a battling win at home to an Ulster side that couldn’t kick on from a good start, a trip to France to face Castres on Friday night will represent a massive challenge.
Though Munster enjoyed two wins from two before Christmas, a loss this week would put pressure on ahead of the home clash with Wasps. And, though a scratch Munster side recorded a superb win in Coventry, Wasps’ tails (or wings?) are up after beating Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers last weekend.
Amazingly, Leinster’s home game with Montpellier on Sunday will be their first outing since the clash with Bath in the same competition five weeks previously and so there will be some concerns over rustiness – especially given their COVID-19 issues – but French teams’ poor travelling record could provide some solace.
Also on Sunday, Ulster are away to Northampton Saints, looking to put the Munster result behind them and hopefully it will act as a motivation rather than a momentum-puncture, give that they beat Northampton and Clermont Auvergne in their opening two games.
Connacht are the only Irish side without a 100% record to date, having had a bonus-point loss away to Leicester on 19 December 2021, but Andy Friend’s men will relish the chance for revenge as the English side visit the Sportsground on Saturday. Coming off the Wasps loss, they might be vulnerable, but then beware the wounded Tigers.