Thursday 26 April 2018

It all starts with the club, the last bastion of democracy

Evan Murray goes through some poles while competing in an obstacle course race for Under 6’s during La na gClub activities at the Austin Stacks GAA Club in Tralee in 2010
Evan Murray goes through some poles while competing in an obstacle course race for Under 6’s during La na gClub activities at the Austin Stacks GAA Club in Tralee in 2010
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

My favourite evening out is watching the kids' matches up at the field. The summer play is so intense, the snapping gnats on safari from the Parson's Wood aren't even noticed.

The youngsters play in the moment, as if nothing else matters. And you'd always be on the lookout for the boy or girl with the touches, the pace, the finder of space and the heart for the fray.

Today is our feast day. La na gClub, the day of the club, is here again. There are no inter- county games and the GAA club celebrates itself.

The club is the last bastion of democracy and a parliament of equals. You always know there's trouble on the way when the lad with the flushed face at the back of the hall stands up and starts off with "through the chair".

There might have been two or three or more for courage but the end result is the drink addles his brain and his thoughts are a ball of wool in a kitten's paws.

He is unable to retrain himself any longer. For him AOB is a wait too long. And what's bothering him?

It could be the texture of the toilet paper or the under- pumping of a size 5.

The activist calls the executive 'the top table' and when he gets going the talk is as heated as a disgruntled mortgage holder at a bank AGM.


Usually there's an underlying cause and usually the perceived wrong has been festering away for years. It could be the angry man was dropped for the 1963 final by the father of the current chairperson.

My favourite club meeting moment was when the old- fashioned club stalwart kicked up over the players being treated like supermodels when we put a mirror in the dressing-room.

La na gClub is a compendium of games and there are disputes.

I was told of a terrible crime against the ethos of the GAA, which was similar in its terribleness to a man kicking his golf ball out of the rough when no one is looking. (Don't go writing in now that terribleness isn't a word. I surely know that at this hour of my life. I only put it in to annoy lads who get annoyed.)

The criminal who cheated Isaac Newton glued his egg to the spoon. He later claimed no rule was broken at the egg and spoon race but such is the nature of small club escalation it wouldn't surprise me if the case ended up in Zurich.

Patrick Kavanagh ,the former Inniskeen goalkeeper, wrote:

"I made the Iliad from such

A local row.

Gods make their own importance."

Still, though, where would be without the club? There's a tie to the home place, a place to belong to, the playing and the back-up. When times are bad, the club rallies round and we go from the days of that first kick of a plastic ball on the sidelines to the placing of the jersey on the coffin.

Today for La na gClub there will be outbreaks of face painting and the making of sandwiches and apple pies, sack races and penalties, poc fadas and long kicks.

The UBL AIL finals take place in the Aviva on this very afternoon. The idea of playing big club games in HQ gives the club players the chance to say to the grandchildren 'I played in Croke Park or in Lansdowne Road'. And congratulations to Listowel Rugby Club on winning the Irish Independent best Munster minis award.

The work done by the clubs in any sport is the saviour of so many kids. Ireland, alas, is awash with drugs, even in the small villages. The Gardai can only do so much. The clubs are our best hope of beating the epidemic.

An Ghaeltacht GAA club is so near to America there are some who speak our native tongue with a New York blas. Their most famous player is a statue now. The sculptor is Seamus Connolly, the softly spoken Clare genius who lives out on the toenail of Loop Head. Seamus and his dad Jim brought my father back to life in Listowel.

Páidí Ó Sé's statue will be shown off on Saturday next by Mick O'Dwyer, outside the family pub in Ventry. And so we verify the first miracle of Ard a bhothair. This crossroads of only one family is home to eight men who wore the green and gold. And it all started with the club.

The Ó Sé women are beautiful, welcoming, smart and well able to find the funny side of life. This is true and for you.

This little girl came up to me with a question not long after the statue of John B was unveiled.

"Is your Daddy a statue?"

"He is," I replied.

"Does he ever come out?" she asked.

Páidí wasn't a man for staying still for too long so it wouldn't surprise me if he jumped off his base and took a hike up to the saddle of Sliabh an Iolair for a look at the Blaskets.

Páidí was always thinking of ways of improving the turnover.

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