GAA's unsung heroes have their day in sun
President rolls out the red carpet for birthday celebration
THEY'RE the people who have selflessly given up their time and energy to keep the GAA ticking over in every corner of Ireland for 125 years.
Yesterday they took a rare day off.
They're not the stars, but the women who make the sandwiches, the men who cut the grass, the water carriers, the people who wash and dry the kits and those who coach the children every weekend.
On the immaculate lawns of Aras an Uachtarain, the very lifeblood of the GAA gathered yesterday for a bash -- to mark the 125th anniversary of the GAA -- thrown in their honour by President Mary McAleese.
As they waited for the President, they got a taste of the garden party good life, including tea in china cups, chicken and pine nut sandwiches, seared chilli beef skewers and raspberry and mint tartlets.
The GAA was, said the President, not just our great national sport but a great national asset kept alive in every parish, village, town and city street by the unselfish volunteerism of so many people.
"There is nothing that comes close to matching the GAA . . . it has brought us days of massive pride and occasional broken hearts. Such a debt as we owe to the GAA could never be repaid, but today we gather to say a heartfelt thank you," she told the 400 guests.
The GAA had given the country a "mega store of mega memories" which had become part of the fabric of our daily lives.
The unsung heroes had entered the old house as proud representatives of all 32 counties in a day which honoured their commitment to one of the biggest amateur sports organisations in the world.
Some familiar faces could still be spotted: the commentator and yesterday's master of ceremonies Micheal O Muircheartaigh; Armagh legend and 'GAA 125' chairman Jarlath Burns; and legendary sports writer Paddy Downey.
GAA presidents past and present exchanged memories and pleasantries as they posed for pictures, including current holder Christy Cooney and former chiefs Sean Kelly, Jack Boothman and Nicky Brennan.
Also present were GAA director general Paraic Duffy and predecessor Liam Mulvihill.
The Artane Band, now featuring as many girls as boys, were on hand preparing for an unlikely appearance this weekend at the Oxegen festival with some new tunes.
As they serenaded the guests with "New York, New York", the President spent 90 minutes greeting the arrivals, who included four nominated guests from every county: one player, one county officer and two volunteers.