From behind the goal
obody arrives in Croke Park or Lansdowne Road by accident. You have the exceptional ones who have started out at juvenile or schoolboy level and made it out of thousands but it’s the commitment of all the people at those levels that puts players on the field. What the GAA is meant to do is to unite parishes and keep people together. This is relevant in a sadly disappearing rural Ireland as we once knew it. There are only two institutions left in this country, The GAA and The Credit Unions.
Having grown up in the centre of Clonmel, I have lived for the last twenty years in rural Ireland. I see exactly what the GAA means to the community. Past and present players are all heroes. Go around the national school and the children what they want to be when they grow up and most of the answers will be hurlers. I grew up wanting to play soccer for Clonmel Bohs, Man Utd and then Ireland. None of those dreams came through, yet!!The GAA senior hurling Club championships started last weekend and so too did the TSDL Soccer leagues. This is where we see some of that young exceptional talent. This is where players learn their trade in the hope of representing either their county at a higher level or having done that, they are winding up their careers with a view to giving one last ounce of blood for the parish. Players of eachcode train as hard as each other and make huge sacrifices in their personals lives for the honour of wearing the jersey. The dreams of all young plyers in all codes of sport can be dashed in an instant.
When Babs Keating managed Tipperary to All Ireland Glory in 1989 after a seventeen-year gap. Because of that it had brought new pressures on players. On the way back the team stopped in Montague Hotel in Port Laoise for a meal. During the meal Babs told the players some of the most important words they would hear in their careers. From experience, he saw the future for them, and he saw the future pitfalls. He warned them that there were players who previously won All Irelands and suddenly their own families, wives, friends weren’t good enough for them. It led me to believe that there are some players out there who would have been better off and better people if they had lost in Croke Park instead of winning. We have all heard the many stories and seen so many players who ruined their lives. It starts in a public house with excessive drinking, like most situations in life, drink has been really the start. How different Seamus Darby’s life would have been, if he had kicked that ball wide in the last minute of the 1982 All Ireland football final.
There is a lesson wider society can learn from sport. The late Theo English once told me that for him to have his name on a Croke Park Programme, coming from a small place like Marlfield, meant that everybody would have had an involvement. Theo was aware of the need to give due respect and due thanks to those people. There is the pride in the little village and they shared Theo’s glory. Today’sculture of selfishness and consumerism takes somewhat from that selflessness.My U-12 Soccer coach was the late Frankie Hill. Wonderful man in lots of ways and was taken far too young. He gave a speech to us at the start of the season that has lived with me ever since. He told us about the huge commitment that was required to become a proper soccer player and that everyone of us had to understand that there could be no pretenders. Individualism is out the door, and that there should be no singling out individuals as heroes. It’s not an individual sport, it is a team effort, and any reward should be offered to the whole team. It’s a contradiction to create individuals.
Give the ball to the player in the better position. It is as applicable to day as it was back then.I attended the Cashel Town v Clonmel Town league opener in Cashel last Sunday. This was the battle of the two most charismatic and committed mangers in the league, Brian Bocca Glasheen and Barry Birdy Ryan. Two great players in their day and both sides brought a great work ethic to the match. It was an entertaining game with Clonmel coming out on top 2-0. A few players caught my eye. Cashel Goalkeeper and former Tipp minor footballer Gearoid Slattery and the very underrated left back Ian Hahessy. Excellent defender, who rarely finds himself being skinned and never mistimes a tackle.
Gavin Browne also had a fine game for Cashel at centre half. For Clonmel Town wingers Rhys O Regan and Jake French Davis proved a handful all day. Clonmel’s Captain Keith Browne was at his combative best but the one player than stood out was Jack O’Donnell. Jack who has returned from Waterford Utd a stronger and better footballer and his driving runs and forward passing was a threat all day. Peake Villa won 4-0 away at Vee Rovers, Pippy Carroll scoring all four goals. Pippy is one of the best strikers in Junior football and he continues to prove it. Also, the great defender Alan Leahy was playing in his 23rd season for the club. A fantastic player who has shown great loyalty to his hometown club. These players don’t need the international recognition for all of us to realise that they are still great players in their own right.
They perform at the highest-level week in week out at the level they play at. Like club hurlers and footballers in all codes, be it male or female they continue to produce brilliant standout moments that are etched in our memory banks for ever. Moments in which they reveal elements of their chosen sport that we sometime fear are lost forever. The sheer execution of what is artistically beautiful gives a special pleasure to all of us who are nurtured on sport from childhood. I happened to be in Hillview last Saturday for their annual Pitch n Putt Scratch cup. 127 players Ladies and Gents took part in what was a wonderful competition.
Some of the play was once again of the highest standard. Local club player Kyle Kennedy emerged as the winner. He was the leader in the clubhouse from early morning with a score of –13 for 36 holes and this total to difficult to catch. This was Kyle’s second scratch cup of the season having already won in Ardnacrussa. Kyle has a bright future in the game of Pitch and Putt.The one common dominator across all successful sportsmen and women is their families, the peoplewho helped, encouraged and made the sacrifices necessary for their loved ones to succeed. One should never forget that our families and coaches are the engine of our ambition. However, they can only get out of you what you are capable of giving.
All the above-mentioned give everything ofthemselves and whilst only the blessed few are lucky to perform in the big stadiums or on National TV. I am also not a foolish romantic when I say that sport is not all about the winning, it’s about the glory. However, in the midst of all this romance, there must be sweat, grit and hours of dedicated training. When somebody applies themselves with heart and honesty along with their authentictalent, they will win plenty along the way. All that is asked of us, the supporter is to actually go out and do just that, support them. Try and get out to a local game this weekend.
You can tape Match of the day and the Sunday Game. Never forget that the goals and the pitch are the same size in Cahir Park and Ned Hall Park as they are in Lansdowne Road and Croke Park.See you soon Behind the Goal