A small club thinking big

Founded in 1886, Staker Wallace GAA is one of those clubs that typifies all that makes the GAA what it is — the heartbeat of small communities nationwide.

It’s not one of the powerhouses of Limerick hurling, operating at junior A level, a grade at which it has won only one county title in its long history (1977).

Representing the parish of Martinstown/Bulgaden, the club is named — as is so often the case — for a local hero, Patrick Wallace who was hung, drawn and quartered before his severed head was displayed at Limerick gaol and his body ‘staked’ locally after the failed uprising of 1798.

Since its foundation Staker Wallace GAA club has operated in relative anonymity, keeping the ancient traditions alive as best it can.

Tomorrow, for one day, all that is about to change as Staker Wallace GAA is in the limelight, hosting a celebration of both the Limerick and Kilkenny teams who contested the 1973 All-Ireland final before a full-blooded senior hurling challenge game between the current members of the same two sides. And make no mistake about it, says current Limerick captain Donal O’Grady, it will be full-blooded. “In challenge matches the result isn’t always important. If you win by 10 points, lose by 10 points, I wouldn’t be too worried, they’re funny games like that, far more open than a championship game. The Kilkenny game is different though. Limerick don’t often get a chance to play Kilkenny and we all know, Kilkenny take every game seriously. There’ll be an extra edge, we’ll be getting stuck in.”

It’s all in honour of the fact that Staker Wallace GAA is celebrating the official opening of its new development; it’s all possible because of the fortuitous fact that Martinstown has a new resident: one JP McManus.

“It’s a huge day for us,” says stalwart and club secretary, Denis Martin. “Hopefully the weather will improve for it! It’s a great coup for the club, a great attraction, the reigning league and All-Ireland champions. JP called over one evening and said ‘It’s time we gave this place an official opening’, turned to his right-hand-man and said, ‘Get on to Kilkenny, see if we can get them here.’

“And that was that — I don’t think we’d have managed to get them ourselves, not just a few weeks before the championship! It’s an attractive fixture, two strong teams travelling. We’re honouring the two teams from the 1973 All-Ireland final, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh will be introducing them to the crowd at half-time, and we also have the Artane Band coming.”

That hasn’t been JP’s only input into this event, however — far from it.

“We had our own pitch and facilities originally, just up the road from where we are now, but JP bought that out to facilitate the entrance to his new house. He then bought this site for us and paid for the development, for which we’re extremely grateful. We have two full-size GAA pitches, one community pitch, and a fine community centre with dressing rooms, meeting room and a big games hall.

“As a club we’ve also spent a lot of money ourselves, on machinery to maintain the place, on new dugouts, a new electronic scoreboard, but we make money over the winter leasing out the all-weather floodlit pitch.

“Financially I’d have to say we’re in good shape — we’re solvent anyway, which is a plus these days!”

Heady days for the Staker-Wallace club then, a day to remember in prospect, reckons Martin. “The official opening is at 6pm, by Eamon Grimes, captain of the Limerick ‘73 team; the match is at 7pm with the two ‘73 teams introduced at half-time — we’re hoping Brian Cody will be there in his capacity as a member of that Kilkenny team, he was only 19 then but played wing-back. There’s then a function in the centre afterwards for the teams.”

Important to remember too though, there will be a very positive legacy for the local community — the facilities themselves. “The place is being used nearly round the clock. The people here use it, the Munster Council, the West Division Board, and we’re getting big games here now too. We recently hosted a senior camogie championship game between Limerick and Tipperary. A stand is our next project now.”

And that’s it again, the GAA — never standing still.

Limerick (SH v Kilkenny): N Quaid; S Walsh, T Condon, M Carmody; P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; P Brown, C King; D Breen, J Ryan, S Hickey; D Hannon, G Mulcahy, S Tobin.

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