Gael force flourishes at Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta

The last lick of paint was applied one hour before Jimmy Buckley took to the stage in Ballyvourney last night.
Gael force flourishes at Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta

It has been a three-year process, but the Mid-Cork village is ready: the dressing rooms are furnished, the toilets plumbed, the kitchen fitted, the grass cut, the pitches lined, the scoreboards erected, the bar stocked, the bread buttered, the ham bought, the hotels booked, the entertainment secured, and the dignitaries en route.

Now, quips Naomh Abán chairman Cathal Ó Riada, the real work begins.

From midday this afternoon, 24 teams, plus spouses, families, and supporters, will begin arriving in Ballvvourney from London, Belfast, Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Meath, and Dublin for the 48th edition of Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta.

That’s some 600 players, some 3,000 spectators.

They’ll each hop back onto the N22 on Monday evening, by which stage Ó Riada expects the local organising committee to have begun letting their hair down. It is 13 years since the football competition comprising of clubs from Irish speaking Gaeltacht areas was hosted in Ballyvourney and it has changed a fair bit since.

“The first Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta I attended was in 1996 and it was here in Ballyvourney. The whole event has changed dramatically over the past 20 years,” says Ó Riada. “When we had it in ‘96, the whole competition was run off on one pitch. We have three pitches on the go this weekend and you couldn’t even begin to compare the difference in the crowds attending.

“Away from the football, there is some amount of documentation to get through to host this weekend. There are so many health and safety requirements that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Country singer Jimmy Buckley was in the marquee on Thursday night and we were flat out until just before he went on stage.”

Naomh Abán were informed three years ago that it would play innkeeper to Comórtas Peile 2016, a decision that led to the significant fast tracking of the construction of a new clubhouse adjacent to Páirc Iosagáin.

There are two pitches serving the club; Páirc Iosagáin and Páirc Abán. Páirc Abán comes with dressing rooms, Páirc Iosagáin, until recently, came with portable buildings.

“We had started the planning process for the new clubhouse but when we were successful in our application to Coiste Náisiúnta to host this weekend’s competition, it gave us the impetus to have it ready and complete for this weekend. Páirc Iosagáin is a fantastic field, but it badly needed a clubhouse.

“There are two floors. On the first floor of the new clubhouse, you have four dressing rooms, a referees room, a medical room, an office, public toilets and storage space. Upstairs, you have a gym, sports hall and kitchen.”

The overall cost came in around €800,000, kept down by the work of local tradesmen who were happy to lend a hand free of charge.

“We had €200,000 in savings from the lotto. We got a loan from Clann Credo. We started a scheme for club members called Clann Abán where for a €1,000 subscription fee, a family would get five-year club membership, a ticket for the county board draw, be part of a syndicate for the Euro Millions and prize bonds. We have raised €190,000 from that. We had a golf classic there a month ago and we raised over €20,000. There’s a bit of road still to be travelled yet, mind you, but we’re getting there.”

The clubhouse and adjacent marquee, erected for the weekend and capable of housing 1,200 people, will be the epicentre of Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta 2016. And it is quite the itinerary they’ve put together.

An U14 match between Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh and Cill na Martra at 6pm in Páirc Iosogáin gets the action underway, followed at 7pm by the meeting of Lios Póil and the hosts in the junior championship. GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail will also be on hand to snip the tape on the weekend’s activities.

The senior, junior, and ladies competitions continue at 11am on Saturday morning with all three pitches – Coláiste Ghobnatan have also offered up their field – in use until 7.30pm that evening; the senior clash of Kerry’s An Ghaeltacht and Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh the pick of the early afternoon schedule. Games run from 12 noon until 7.30pm on Sunday, with An Cailín Gaelach – described by Ó Riada as “a mini Rose of Tralee” - taking over that night. Monday is finals afternoon with the ladies decider throwing in at 12 noon, the junior final is pencilled in for a 2pm start and a 4pm start for the senior final.

“We have President Michael D Higgins coming down on Monday so that really spurred us on to have the place looking its best.

“There’ll be around 150 volunteers manning all stations throughout the weekend. But there has been so much gone on over the past number of weeks and months to get us to where we are. The accommodation committee, for example, started last October arranging accommodation in Macroom, Millstreet and Killarney for the visiting teams. People here in Ballyvourney have been fantastic in opening up their houses to the travelling parties.

“We could not have succeeded without the support we have had from the community. You need everyone at the wheel and all the committees, accommodation, finance and development, have been working very solidly for the last three years. There is no way this competition would have been possible without the input of all these people. It has brought out a great buzz in the community. It has brought the community together. We will have a mighty night on Monday when it is all over.”

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