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Coach hire: £1,500; Away trips: £5,000; Winning a Scottish GAA title: Priceless

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Damien McGovern, from Burren (left) and manager Jimmy Treacy, from Carrickmore, celebrate Glasgow Gaels’ 2019 Scottish Championship win. Photo: Reuters/Shohei Miyano/File Photo

Damien McGovern, from Burren (left) and manager Jimmy Treacy, from Carrickmore, celebrate Glasgow Gaels’ 2019 Scottish Championship win. Photo: Reuters/Shohei Miyano/File Photo

REUTERS

Damien McGovern, from Burren (left) and manager Jimmy Treacy, from Carrickmore, celebrate Glasgow Gaels’ 2019 Scottish Championship win. Photo: Reuters/Shohei Miyano/File Photo

As the clubs of Ireland begin to get a little more tetchy over lockdown and some voices in the media grow louder in their demands for the GAA to open up their premises, those involved in the games overseas face a very different set of circumstances.

Glasgow Gaels, the reigning Scottish champions, are one of the more progressive clubs with a thriving ladies side and a Mental Health committee. Some years ago, they joined forces with Clydebank Rugby Club, who wished to upgrade their facilities but needed a few more sporting bodies to come on board as partners.

After a few years of planning, Glasgow Gaels now are joint residents of a state-of-the-art facility, a 4G pitch with floodlighting, the only club in Scotland to call a home their own, albeit shared with a number of other stakeholders.

It all helped to drive down some of the costs that must appear eye-watering to clubs back home.

Damien McGovern, son of former Ulster Championship-winning Down captain Tommy McGovern, has been with the club since 2005, helping out senior manager Jimmy Treacy from Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, and lays out the stark reality of playing in Scotland.

"There are only five clubs in Glasgow. A team in Edinburgh - Dunedin Connollys - then a team that changes between Dundee and Aberdeen called Dalriada," he explains.

"And you have three in Glasgow; Coatbridge, Tír Chonaill Harps and ourselves.

"So if we were to go to a match, we might have to travel 160 miles to Aberdeen, for what is essentially a game within your 'county'. That's a lot of travel on a Saturday afternoon for a match."

He continues: "We had 10 away games last year. And then Jimmy, and this is his foresight and forward planning, he made up a league and pushed for it for two years, where we would play in a league with a few teams from Liverpool and Manchester.

"We called it the North of Britain league. But you were looking at leaving at 7am on the bus to Liverpool or Manchester. So you have your coach hire of £1,500."

Since 2006, Glasgow Gaels failed to pick up a Scottish title until last year. What changed was Treacy's insistence - and indeed persistence - to establish that 'North of Britain' league.

Treacy's evangelising in general has been a huge driver of the club, McGovern states. "He brought massive standards and ambition. It wasn't to win a Scottish title, it was to win a British title. We watched our rivals in Edinburgh getting to British finals and winning them.

"They have always been the kingpins and there is only one team in Edinburgh, whereas there are three clubs in Glasgow.

"But we won the Scottish Championship and got to the British final, where we were beaten by Thomas McCurtains of London."

Last summer, Gaels embarked on an ambitious trip to play Damien's home club, Burren.

They fell foul of some fixture reshuffling by the Down County Board, but were grateful to Attical for stepping in to fill the breach.

They had another trip to Dublin when they played an adult team of Ballyboden St Enda's. The fact that they won both gives them the ambition to want to play a 'senior' team on future trips and, McGovern believes, catapulted them to their championship success.

"Those trips are class. They bond the club together," he says.

"But the away trips with the overnight stays, call it £5,000. We went to Birmingham for a British semi-final and Leeds to another trip. As the crow flies, it was closer to go to play Burren to play a match.

"The costs are extortionate and the mileage extortionate. But you have to do it to find your football."

Connected

While lockdown continues, the Gaels are just like any other club trying to remain connected, while staying apart.

"One of the first things happened is one of our longest-serving players, Brian Sharkey from Dublin, said he wanted to do a podcast. Just for the club members, just for a bit of craic," recalls McGovern.

"We did around half a dozen of them and he got onto previous winning captains, what they felt about the club and a bit about their own personal history, some funny stories."

One player, Seamus Murphy of Wexford, ran a marathon and raised money for the Scottish Association for Mental Health, but behind the scenes McGovern secretly arranged for 80 club members to meet him on his route around. While the fields lie empty, they stick together.

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