A vacation to Rosscarbery in west Cork is where it all began for the Rinaldis, writes Peter McNamara.
Eight years ago an Italian family from Mantova, in the northern half of the country, landed on Leeside for a holiday and later left with a grá for Gaelic games that grows stronger every season.
Riccardo, his wife Cristina and son Robertino, while holidaying in the southern capital in 2009, found themselves watching Cork in championship action and were instantly fascinated by the game of football.
Curious to learn more, Riccardo and his family scoured the internet for further information on the GAA upon their arrival home. And very much liked what they saw.
The Rinaldis subsequently contacted GAA headquarters in Croke Park wondering about the availability of tickets for that summer’s All-Ireland football final. Much to the Rinaldis’ delight, they were kindly guided towards the Munster Council for further assistance.
Eventually, they built up a rapport with present Cork county board chairman Ger Lane and later, current vice-chairperson Tracey Kennedy, and ever since the Rinaldis have been fanatical supporters of the Rebel teams.
Riccardo takes up the story: “Our love of Gaelic games is tightly knit together with our love of everything Irish.
“The first time I went over was in 1988. I loved it. I got Cristina to go over in 1994. She loved it. Then we got Robertino over there in 2007 when he was six.
“When we got back home from that trip having visited Rosscarbery I thought it might be worthwhile contacting the GAA to see if it would be possible to get tickets for the championship final, unaware, at the time, of how difficult it would be.
“We wrote to the GAA for tickets, to the Munster Council later and were then directed to the Cork County Board who have been amazing to my family ever since, which we are so grateful for as we are so passionate about the games.
“So we wrote to Ger (Lane) to see if we could get tickets for the All-Ireland final. Ger said that if Cork got there that he would do his best to try and get us three tickets, but that it would not be easy.
“After Cork qualified, Ger got back to us to ask if we still wanted tickets for the match. He explained how quickly the tickets were going and how difficult they were to get so he needed a swift answer, yes or no.
“We obviously said that we would come and it was so fantastic to be there but we unfortunately lost to Kerry that year. Still, if you could have bottled our excitement on that day, it would be worth a lot of money, I reckon. It was so incredible, a wonderful experience for us.”
Though the Rinaldis were deeply disappointed with the outcome of the football showpiece of ’09, they returned to Croker 12 months later to witness Cork defeat Down, a truly magical occasion.
“Any time since that day in 2009 Cork play in September we travel over to see it and support the team.
“In more recent years we come over for the earlier championship matches as well but being there in 2010 to see the footballers beat Down was really special, especially after seeing Kerry beat us the year before.
“We got to our first All-Ireland hurling final in 2013, but were thankfully at the drawn game and not the replay,” Riccardo explained.
Obviously, being Italian, the Rinaldis are passionate about their soccer, with Fiorentina their club of choice.
Robertino retains his interest in the Tuscany-based Serie A side on a deep level however Riccardo’s passion for Cork has since surpassed his appreciation of Fiorentina, which, even in itself, is remarkable.
“Robertino is still a serious soccer fan of Fiorentina, but my main passion now in sport is Cork and the GAA,” the chemical engineer said. “I like it more than soccer now.
“Of course, we follow Fiorentina through the good and bad days but Cork has taken over as my primary passion.”
Riccardo and his family are becoming more immersed in Irish culture all the time and they have a deep sense of gratitude towards Lane and Kennedy in particular for their support.
“We travel over to Ireland at least once every year now but more regularly than that most years. We enjoy learning more about Ireland and its way of life.
“Usually, we go over for the Munster finals that Cork are in and were in Killarney last month as well where we caught up with Ger.
“Ger and Tracey (Kennedy) have been very good to us over the years and we truly appreciate their help and generosity.
“We’ve been to Cork, obviously, and Limerick as well as Croke Park and Killarney so we like to travel around the country,” he stated.
The Rinaldis will be watching Sunday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final via GAAGO and will be hoping Kieran Kingston’s Rebels advance to meet Galway next month.
Riccardo outlined how impressed he has been with the improvement in the senior hurlers’ defence this summer and hopes Cork prevail.
If Kingston’s men do progress, the Rinaldis will be en route to Drumcondra on September 3.
“I think, this year, that Kieran and the management team have the defence in pretty good shape.
“That is the one distinct improvement we notice this season, that the defence is really good.
“Damien Cahalane, Mark Ellis and Mark Coleman are playing outstandingly well and hopefully will again this Sunday.
“The defence has held up really well against Tipp, Waterford and Clare and will need to again because Waterford have good forwards.
“I’ll be booking those flights immediately if we win. Fingers crossed,” he added.