Club GAA has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.
The violence in games has been disgusting. The disciplinary reaction, encapsulated by a hollow eight-week ban proposed for a Dingle mentor arising out of a punch-up
in the Kerry SFC semi-final, just as dispiriting.
Yet, there is still some glory and a lot of good to be found in club GAA, writes Jack Anderson
Still tired and emotional after Limerick’s epic All-Ireland hurling win in August, I unwisely took to Twitter.
Thanking the hurling gods for Limerick’s first win in my lifetime and berating them for waiting until I was on the other side of the world; I reminded the hurling gods that I had one more favour to ask – help my club Doon win their first Limerick senior club championship.
Almost immediately, Franny Quinn from Cappawhite, our neighbours across the badlands in Tipperary, replied: one miracle is enough for ye.
And yet, and only for the third time in our 130 years of existence, Doon are in a Limerick senior club final, still awaiting our first title.
The game takes place against Na Piarsaigh under lights at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night.
Na Piarsaigh are the overwhelming favourites to win. On the websites and forums that discuss club GAA, the experts already have Na Piarsaigh as one of the favourites for the All-Ireland club title.
Since their breakthrough in 2011, Na Piarsaigh have won four county titles and have always followed it up with a Munster club title.
They became the first Limerick club to win an All-Ireland club in 2016 and only lost in a replay to Cuala in this year’s final.
They are backboned by five of the official squad from Limerick’s All-Ireland win and this year celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.
In April 1968, as Na Piarsaigh organised in the north of Limerick city, the Limerick junior hurling final of 1967 – club fixtures, same as they ever were – was played between Ballybrown and Doon.
Doon led by two points when Ballybrown, with the last puck of the game, got a ‘70’. Sean Bennis’s lob ended in the back of the net.
Doon, though defeated, went senior that year and have remained there ever since.
Our (mis)fortunes have continued to align with Ballybrown who beat us, under Tom Ryan and Dave Mahedy, to win their first county final in 1989, in what was our first appearance in a final.
Recent decades have seen plenty of underage success, tempered by numerous losses to Na Piarsaigh.
We have lost the last four county U21 finals in a row, on three occasions to Na Piarsaigh. Too often the bridesmaid.
Looking back at the good underage teams we have produced, you might say that Doon has underachieved at senior level.
In the 1970s, we were unlucky that in our East division we had to face an All-Star South Liberties team of the Hartigan brothers, Eamon Grimes and Joe McKenna.
We managed to sneak an East title in 1974 when Liberties got involved in a fixtures’ delay. Kids in Doon in the 1970s have childhood photos in their mothers’ arms or with Santa at Todd’s in the city; my first photo is being plonked in the East Limerick senior hurling cup.
Club hurling in the 1980s and 1990s in Limerick was dominated by superb Patrickswell teams made up of various Bennis’, Foleys, Careys and Gary Kirby.
In 2000, when we got to our second county final, the ‘Well beat us from memory.
More recently and more painfully, we have seen comparable Limerick clubs, such as Garryspillane (2005) and Bruree (2006), and earlier still, our Tipperary neighbours Cappawhite (1987), leave the excuses aside, make the most out of what they had and deservedly grab a county title.
But I suppose it all depends on what you mean by success. For a relatively small rural club, we keep producing good hurlers and lots of them.
This year alone, the seniors await the county final; our seconds lost the county junior semi-final to the eventual winners, Tournafulla; our junior Bs (our thirds) got to the county final and lost to our Limerick neighbours Cappamore (their seconds but still a sore one).
The reason for this production line is nothing particularly unique – hard work by club volunteers and good links with our local schools.
The latter is epitomised by the fact that Denis Moloney, who scored the winning point against Patrickswell in the semi-final, teaches at the local primary.
That is what you call a local role model.
The teachers there have always been superb, though special mention must go to Brother Dormer.
What it will mean to all of us from Doon if we win on Saturday night is hard to quantify but in a way, it won’t change a thing.
We’ll continue to develop our pitches, the floodlights and walkways for the local community. Planned earlier in the year with the county final a distant dream, the club have a huge fundraising event on Sunday night – a lip sync competition.
If we win, it could be chaos and last till Christmas.
Like so many clubs nationwide, fundraising is the background noise of our activity. This week, the club’s social media is full of pictures of club volunteers from hurling and camogie preparing for that event, as much as it is about the county final itself. And rightly so.
In my professional job, I speak regularly to professional sports organisation and clubs throughout Australia.
I often hear officials and coaches speak on how to develop the right ‘culture’ in an organisation. GAA clubs do not need a PowerPoint presentation or flipchart to create a culture; it is organic, intrinsic to what they are.
On Saturday night, my club wants to celebrate like Naomh Éanna of Gorey did on winning their first title in Wexford hurling.
I want, tired and emotional, to again take to Twitter and ask Joe Brolly “what do think of that?”
On Saturday night, we place our trust in our county players, Richie English, Darragh O’Donovan, Pat Ryan and Barry Murphy.
We know they’ll lead and inspire, ably supported by an array of surnames that have featured on Doon teams for generations – Cummins, Hayes, and, of course, Ryan.
From what I hear, Doon are injury-free and luckily most stayed around to hurl all summer and were not tempted to go to the US or elsewhere, even though at one point there was an 18-week break between senior club championship matches.
There is no point in me offering a preview of the game.
I am hopelessly biased. All I can say is that in some small way the current players realise how much a win would mean for those past players who continue to help build the club’s future, 50 years after going senior.
Club President Johnny Butler played in the 1968 defeat to Ballybrown. Virtually every Doon and Oola player who has lined out for us since has been either coached or given a lift to a match by Johnny. Johnny B will be there on Saturday.
Denis Kennedy, corner-back in 1968, and now to be found perched and chatting on his bench in front of the dressing rooms most evenings, will be there on Saturday night.
My father will be there. A lifetime of telling his children to stand behind the goals from Cooga to Caherline to make sure that no Doon sliotars were lost and another club’s were gained.
A lifetime of organising teams and sweeping dressing rooms and telling Mum that he would definitely not take a job this time at the club AGM and then, inevitably, taking a job at the AGM.
My alarm is set for early Sunday morning. The kids are going to join me in their signed Cúl Camp jerseys they got while at home in Doon in the summer.
We had a similar routine in August for the All-Ireland which ended in delirious victory for Limerick.
That was special because for those of us of a GAA persuasion, your county is all about where you are from. But your club? Your club is who you are and what you are made of.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved