Today is September 17th 2017, All Ireland Football Final day and all roads lead to Croke Park…
…but they begin at a local club.
I’ve tried so many times to explain the GAA to many people from all across the globe. I try to explain the game, the sport, the counties and most of all; my club. When you take it all the way back to club level and you start to explain, it can sound like a religion or dare I say it almost cult like but its much more than that.
We’re all part of the GAA religion and worship at the alter of our local club. I understand how bizarre that sounds, but if you live in an area and you’re new to it or want to connect with it or your community, go to your local GAA club. If you weren’t a member since day one, you will always be considered a blow in, BUT you will be a blow in that’s part of a huge community who will be delighted to have to as part of their GAA family.
For me, I spent my whole life just going to the club. My club is St.Judes GAA. It’s been a part of my life forever. I don’t ever remember it not being there or being a part of it.
As a kid, on a cold winter night or fresh weekend morning I’d trundle along behind my dad, for whatever team he was involved in carrying lucozade water bottles. I was, not quite the physiotherapist but more, as my dad called me, a “physical terrorist“. I was responsible for running to the lads with the water during a game and I embraced every bit of my title.
When my dad fell ill in January 2005, the phone rang off the hook with club members, friends, asking how he was, could they visit and how could they help.
When he passed away a few weeks later our very large extended GAA family threw their arms around us, they made cakes, sandwiches, they supported us. On the day of his funeral they wore their navy and sky blue tops, jumpers or blazers as they lined up outside the church on that cold February morning guarding him on his journey like they’ve done so for so many others before us and since.
In the twelve years since he’s passed away, when I walk into the clubhouse he’s still very much alive in people’s mind. In passing people will say; “Jeez, Gar would have loved that”, “how’s your Mam?”, “Your Dad’s golf day is next week, looking forward to it”.
On the first and third weekends in September clubs from all around the world would come to St.Judes GAA to compete in our All Ireland Junior 7’s tournament. As kids, we sold programmes, ran with scores, collected glasses, anything to be part of the weekend. There would be people literally everywhere, club colours from across the country and in later years, clubs from across the globe flying in to be part of our day.
The sight of busses shipping in and out, the clatter of hurls, bounce of balls, the glimpse of an all Ireland winner or county player are all littered in my childhood memories of All Ireland 7’s day. The crackly traditional Irish music over the speakers that would break with news of scores or a reminder about your food token. The older members carried walkie-talkies that didn’t really work, so kids ran with scores to Mr. B to keep the handwritten board updated. We’d be told “drop that into Pierce Power in the porta-cabin on your way back“, you would overhear conversations of who got a ticket or the scramble, the lack of club ticket allocation, or more importantly, which team had the hunger for the win on Sunday in Croke park.
As the years past it has become a sleeker affair but the buzz still remains. It’s All Ireland Weekend and everyone is “Up For The Match”.
The thing about this GAA family is even when you’re not playing; my playing career was fleeting to become more sideline and social engagement based, you still go and cheer on your fellow club members at all levels. You might find yourself cradling a warm coffee on a Saturday morning as a 100 odd four year olds begin their sports career under the guidance of parents in the club academy. When September would roll around you’d find yourself making the pilgrimage to Parnell Park as the senior teams began their attempt at bagging the coveted title of Dublin club champions.
In 2009, little did I know that yearly football “champo” would lead to meeting my now husband. He was minding his business playing ball and I was busy watching in the stand discussing what they should be doing. That’s the GAA you see, we’re all experts.
Yesterday, eight years later, I packed my two kids up into the car to go watch Daddy play ball in the club in this years 7’s tournament. On the way up Oisín pointed to the sky and told me he could see Grandad Gerard. My eyes welled up a bit but I smiled and thought, “of course he is, it’s seven’s weekend, he wouldn’t be watching anything else”. So later in the day as we wandered through the clubhouse bar, I pointed to a large picture on the wall “look Oisín, do you see that picture? There’s your granddad Gerard” he only has to turn his head and he’ll catch a glimpse of his uncles and Dad too on that same wall.
The GAA seems to have something a bit special, no matter where in the world you are, there’s a man or woman with a hurl and sliotar having a puck about, someone hand passing a ball or pulling on their club colours with pride, even if they’re togging out at the other side of the world. That’s the thing about being part of your local club, the sense of belonging is overwhelming and that, in my opinion, is why its so special.
UP THE DUBS.