Colum Breen: 'There were men crying around me, grown men. Tears running down their faces'

Colum Breen: 'There were men crying around me, grown men. Tears running down their faces'
The children of Dromin-Athlacca and Banogue GAA showing their support for Limerick’s All-Ireland final bid. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

By Michael Moynihan

It mightn’t have been a headline where you were, but that’s not the point.

It was a headline where it counted most.

David Reidy came on late in Limerick’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork and hit a point. It was a contribution but the result was decided, and his teammate’s goals hogged the limelight.

Still, Reidy was the first man from the Dromin-Athlacca club to work the scoreboard in a senior game in Croke Park. For Colum Breen, club chairman, it was an emotional moment.

“I was sitting with a few lads from the club in Croke Park for the Cork game, and the spectacle of the game alone, it was so good, it was immense, but when our own man came on and scored a point . . . there were men crying around me, grown men. Tears running down their faces.

“Was it hard to take in? It was. It’s what community and the GAA is all about. You’d love to turn to a fella next to you if you didn’t know him and say, ‘he’s one of our own there’. There were flashes of cameras when he hit the point - I’d say a few of our lads missed the score they were so busy with the cameras.

“You could see the sense of relief, too. He hasn’t been getting on too much all the year so to see him come on and hit the point . . . and a crucial point at that. I nearly have a lump in my throat talking about it again now. Genuinely.

“I’m sure he’s had a couple of tough days along the way but he’s a determined young fella, and he’s still there. He’s teaching in Kildare, but we don’t really understand the commitment.

“Since last November up and down the road three or four nights a week, there’s huge respect there for him for doing that.”

Just over the border from Cork, Dromin-Athlacca is not a metropolis. Breen sketches a map of the constituency and it doesn’t take very long.

“Dromin is on the east side and Athlacca is on the west side, and we were always amalgamated. There are two churches, one in Dromin, one in Athlacca.”

Two churches, two different gods?

“That’s right, we’ve two gods looking after us.

“It’s a typical rural parish. One pub in Dromin, Simon and Pauline McAuliffe’s, and the parish hall, nothing else. No school. No post office.

“In Athlacca there’s a great primary school and a fabulous after-school set up for the local kids, there are two pubs, Ryan’s and Riordan’s. No shop.” There’s no post office either. Breen says that was closed five or six years ago - “as is typical in rural Ireland” - which means the hum of anticipation about a day out like the All-Ireland final all the more welcome.

“There are green and white flags streaming all over the parish, everyone is putting them up just to wish Davey well and his inter-county colleagues.

“The buzz is just fantastic. There are probably around 600 houses between Dromin and Athlacca, put together, and I’d say 580 of them have Limerick flags hanging out of them. It is great to see it.

“The buzz around tickets and trying to get tickets is great, it’s just what the doctor ordered for a community like ours. People are stressing about tickets rather than anything else.

“The other day we had 150 people down at the clubhouse, the first time in years we had a crowd like that down there - they were in the yard, spilling into the dressing-rooms, everywhere. You couldn’t hear yourself talk with the scramble around the place.

“And when you called out someone’s name for a ticket you could see the sense of relief, it was written on their faces.

“Old people, young people - it was fabulous, the buzz around the place.

“And in fairness to Davy Reidy, he popped in as well and that drove it all on again a bit.”

The local connection means everything, of course. Breen can’t praise Reidy enough for his availability.

“Whatever you ask him to do, he’ll do - signing jerseys, turning up to events. He’s great like that. He got a Limerick jersey signed for a garden fete here and they sold over 2,000 tickets to people trying to get their hands on the jersey.”

The fete is an institution in Dromin-Athlacca. It’s been going on for the last 14 years to raise money for the church and the parish hall and so on, but this year the name was changed.

“Yeah,” says Breen. “It’s ‘we’re going puckin’ mad this year’.”

The man who put the club on the map a couple of weekends ago has been no stranger to the field all summer, he adds.

“We have U6s up to U16s, at underage the club is Dromin-Athlacca-Banogue, which is just down the road, and the numbers have gone up and up since the Limerick bandwagon, if you like, started rolling a couple of months ago.

“Davy knows when the training is on so he’d pop down the odd time to encourage the kids.

“He brought Tom Morrissey and Seanie Finn down with him there one day and they got swarmed. I’d say they’ll never again come back.

“The only social outlet really in Dromin-Athlacca for the kids is the GAA. We don’t have anything else, just the GAA, and every kid in the place is dragged into it in some form whether they like it or not. You couldn’t put a value on having a man on the senior panel like Davy.”

All the teams are benefiting. Paul Neenan of Dromin-Athlacca won an All-Ireland intermediate hurling medal with Limerick in 1997 and his ladies football teams are also beneficiaries of the rising tide.

“Paul is training the girls,” says Breen. “He has three young ladies himself - and they all flock to him as well, we have great numbers there, too.

“And the other night we had a derby, a junior B hurling game against Bruree. We’d been struggling to field all year. Maybe sixteen or so players. But for the Bruree game we togged out 22 players and gave them buckets of it.

“Now, Bruree beat us by a goal but they didn’t get it easy, certainly.”

Enough of the build-up. What about the weekend itself?

“There’s a few people organising buses. Ahead of the semi-final Morgan Walsh, the club secretary, organised a bus for himself and his four kids and for his sister-in-law and their six kids, and someone else who had a few kids as well.

“He said ‘never again’ after that, they were on the road all day and all night, the kids lepping everywhere. It was no surprise after we beat Cork, and Davy came on and scored a point.”

And Breen himself?

“I’m not chancing anything, so I’m going to bring my good luck charms, Aaron and Chloe, my youngest two.

“The two older kids will make their own way but myself, my wife Helen, Aaron and Chloe will go up Sunday morning, as we did for the Cork game, park in the same place, eat the breakfast in the same place and chance sitting at the same table, even.

“We’ll see about coming down after.”

True enough. Dromin and Athlacca will still be there if they don’t get back until Wednesday

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