Wednesday 26 June 2019

A calling to serve

Kanturk man Francis Kenneally says his life of volunteerism comes from a strong family tradition - now he’s bidding to become the new GAA county PRO

Declan Hurley

Francis Kenneally of Kanturk, who is contesting the position of Cork County Board public relations officer, is keen to carry on the family tradition of answering the call of duty.

With Donal Leahy having completed his three years as PRO - the Tadhg Mac Cárthaigh clubman is running for vice-chairperson - Kenneally is one of three people contesting the role, along with Joseph Blake of Adrigole and Cian O'Brien of Glen Rovers/St Nicholas. His parents, Andrew and Geraldine, who established The Central Stores, a drapery, in Kanturk in the 1954, held high office in GAA and the ICA respectively.

Francis now runs the shop with his wife, Marie, and they opened a sports store in the town 13 years ago. He has maintained the sense of volunteerism and involvement and is now looking to take the next steps.

"My interest in GAA was cultivated by my late father, Andrew, who was deeply involved in GAA in Kanturk, Duhallow and Cork up to the time of his death in 1982," said Francis.

"He was a Cork minor football selector in 1959 and 1960 and he was the first secretary of Kanturk juvenile GAA section from its inception in 1974. I took over as secretary of our juvenile section when my late father fell ill in 1981.  

"He had been selected by the Cork Juvenile GAA Board for the award of administrator of the year' in 1980. 

"My mother, who is 93, served as Cork federation president of ICA from 1980-83, my sister Mary was chairperson of Kanturk GAA and my brother John has served as secretary of Kanturk GAA in the early 1980s and as referees' administrator for Rebel Óg North in recent years.  

"My wife, Marie, has been involved in the local basketball club in the past and is currently an officer of Kanturk Flower & Garden Club." Since that first step into the world of GAA administration in 1981, the link has been unbroken with his involvement in the underage club.

"I've been an officer of Kanturk juvenile club since 1981," he said, "either as secretary or treasurer until three years ago.  I then stepped back as assistant treasurer of our juvenile section and am PRO this past year.

"I played underage and adult for my club and was a member of the St Colman's Fermoy Harty Cup team which lost the final to North Mon in 1980 after a replay.  

"I did win Munster Colleges U15 White Cup and Cork Colleges O'Callaghan Cup medals while I was in the school."

As well as the trojan work for Kanturk's underage club, he was generally fulfilling a role on the committee of the adult club at the same time. "I was secretary from 1988-90, treasurer 1991 and 92, chairman in 1993 and then assistant secretary from 1994 to 1999," he says.

"When I was asked to take over as secretary in 2000, the comment made was, 'Aren't you doing it all along so why not be there in name?' "I've been lucky to be part of Kanturk GAA successes since I became club secretary. During my tenure, Kanturk have won two Duhallow JHC (2002 and 2003) and junior football in 2009 and 2011.  

"We won the county junior football in 2011, then the intermediate hurling in 2013, the intermediate football and premier intermediate hurling in 2017 and the hurlers went on to win the Munster and All-Ireland titles. Credit for those successes goes to the players, trainers and team managements involved. I was just lucky to share in those successes. 

"I've also been privileged to share in the highs and lows of Cork teams when Kanturk have had such great representation on the teams, through Anthony Nash, Lorcán McLoughlin, Aidan Walsh, Darren Browne, John McLoughlin, all at senior level, and others at minor level." As is so often the way in the GAA, those who excel in officer roles at club level are 'promoted' to divisional involvement and Kenneally is no exception.

"I was Kanturk delegate to the Duhallow juvenile board from 1981 to the early 2000s and an officer of that board during that time, serving as Chairman and treasurer.

"I attended Duhallow GAA Board meetings from 1982 until 2003, and fill in when required since. I attended Cork County Juvenile Board meetings in the 1990s and minor board up to the advent of Rebel Óg." And from there to the county board.

"I've been attending Cork GAA Board meetingsm representing my club since 2004," Kenneally says, "and after 14 years, I feel now is the time to offer myself to serve on the board.

"I also am one of the GAA stewards at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, as I feel when one is a board member, one should offer assistance when the board are hosting club and intercounty games."

He hasn't limited his activism to Gaelic games, either. As he says himself, if nobody got involved, there wouldn't be any organisations.

"I've served as secretary of Kanturk Community Council for seven years and have held the positions of secretary and treasurer of Kanturk Chamber of Commerce over the years and received a 'service to the community' award from Kanturk Community Council a number of years ago.

"On a visit to a doctor once, the practitioner suggested I would be better off not being involved in any club or association as I could enter the local pub and not be 'classed' by my link with any club. If we all did this who would help run all the voluntary organisations our communities depend on? 

"The ethos of service shown to me by my parents and siblings has driven me to serve, that is why I offer myself for the position of PRO of Cork GAA," Francis put it very simply.