WHILE the final stages of the All-Ireland series might be taking up most of the column inches and air time, for thousands of dedicated gaels around the country the real focus of their GAA season is in full swing — the club championship.
This year, with a shortened inter-county campaign, I’ve been able to get probably my best ever experience of club life both as a player, club committee member, but also as a neutral observer.
I’ll be honest in saying that for the early part of my career, for a few reasons, club football with Currin GFC had little significance.
My sole focus from an early age was on making my mark on the county team. When I started playing with Monaghan, at 17, my club was at a particularly low ebb. Perennially rooted to the bottom of the junior ranks, we were seen as the whipping boys of the county by many.
Add to the mix the fact that growing up throughout the eighties, Monaghan were one of the top teams in the country; along with my brother, my mother took us to many big games in Croke Park to watch my father play. Thus, from a very early age, all I ever knew/wanted was to play with Monaghan and try and emulate his achievements.
Thankfully, however, through the dedication and commitment of players, members and supporters alike, the club’s fortunes have steadily improved over the past number of years.
After gaining promotion from junior a couple of years ago, this year we are competing at the top of the intermediate grade with a realistic opportunity of progressing to senior ranks.
Success with the club now ranks right up there with securing that elusive silverware with Monaghan.
Also this summer I have decided to make an extra effort to attend as many club championship matches as possible; something I wouldn’t have done in the past. Once the shutters came down on our inter-county season, it was getting to the stage that I was seeing very little live football during the year.
Attending games as a neutral is very enjoyable, if for no other reason than to simply observe the raucous behaviour of club supporters. Local rivalries, questionable officiating and impartial family loyalties, all combine to form a potentially volatile cocktail on the terraces. On the field you can only hear a fraction of what is shouted out.
Not to sound naïve, but it is shocking to hear some of the stuff that gets bellowed from the terraces. Whilst having a fair idea of the answer, I asked my fianceé, Alison, the other day what sort of treatment I get in the stands. ‘You don’t’ want to know’ was her response, accompanied by a slightly disconcerting look! However, I fear I won’t be much better when my time in the stand comes.
Earlier this year I got a topic trending on twitter that caught the attention of thousands of GAA followers. #gaacliches threw up literally thousands of idiosyncrasies found in the world of GAA. Go to any club game and you’re likely to see most of them. The overweight manager poured into a skin tight ‘Bainisteoir’ bib. The young county minor with bleached hair and coloured boots — bags of potential but question marks remain over his temperament. The biased mother who watches everything through rose tinted glasses. The water carrier aka medic whose extensive medical training has taught them that pouring half a litre of water into your boot will instantly cure a twisted ankle!
The overweight full forward who despite all his efforts post Christmas still verges on the side of clinically obesity.
The number 28 who at half-time gives such an exhibition of scoring, it makes you think he must have serious mental issues to be so far down the pecking order. The supporters who only ever want you to ‘kick the fu*king thing on’. The mid-thirties ex-county player who although now slightly overweight, can still turn a trick or two.
I’m sure you could add a few more of your own… But on a more serious note it is fair to say that much of the work and time spent ensuring club fixtures go ahead every week is taken for granted by many.
As a committee member with my club this year I have got an insight into the huge amount of work required to keep a club functioning.
In most counties the county board get a lot of stick, but so much credit has to be given to these volunteers who give their time up every week after week. Unlike the players, these people rarely get the claps on the back or recognition; but without them the association wouldn’t be what it is.
Not to sound like another cliché, but there is something special and unique about playing with your club that can’t be replicated with your county team.
Whilst there might be only 300 in the stands as opposed to 30,000, the sense of satisfaction from achieving success alongside your family members and lifelong friends is unique, and sets the GAA apart from most sports.
Unfortunately, our championship aspirations ended this weekend as will be the case for many clubs over the following weekends. That being said things are still moving in the right direction.
With our 125th anniversary celebration night at the end of the year to look forward to, and the possibility of promotion to senior ranks via the league, ‘Club Life’ still has plenty to offer in this small corner of county Monaghan.