Long-time Poc Fada sponsor Martin Donnelly believes the competition is best placed to mark the return of Gaelic Games activity.
Remarkably, 2020 marks the Cooraclare man’s 25th year sponsoring Poc Fada and he considers the annual All-Ireland final across the five-kilometre course in the Cooley Mountains, which usually takes place in early August, as a feasible way of reviving GAA action this year.
With the benefit of television coverage and the use of drones, Donnelly also envisages it capturing huge public attention. “Things would obviously have to improve from a health and safety point of view but what better way to come back then by celebrating the very heritage of the game of hurling.
“It is an All-Ireland competition and it has had some famous winners like Brendan Cummins, Davy Fitzgerald and Ger Cunningham. The drones have been used a few times before and they could really add to the coverage of it. It’s my 25th year sponsoring the event and I was hoping to organise some charity around it but it might take on even more now if the will is there.
"The problem we have with it every other year is we’re competing with other major GAA events. I truly hope it’s not the only GAA event to take place for the remainder of this year but as things stand it’s one of the safest that can.” The competition celebrates its 60th year in 2020 having been founded by local priest Father Pól Mac Sheáin and Dundalk’s Naomh Moninne Hurling Club as a way of acknowledging the legend of Cú Chulainn in the area. The winner is deemed to be the person who has completed the course in the least number of pucks.
“If we can’t social distance on a mountain then we never will,” continues Donnelly. “We wouldn’t threaten the 5,000 crowd limit either - the most that would have been at an All-Ireland final would be 1,000.
“We have an excellent Poc Fada national committee chaired by Tom Ryan (long-time Croke Park steward). It would be feasible. There’s normally the length of a puck between each player every time. You’re out in the open air and each player has their own sliotars - they share nothing with the other players. There is no interaction and it would be easy for people to keep their distance.We would have to devise a new means of qualification with the current precautions being taken. Currently, it’s 12 in the main final, the four provincial winners, the runners-up, the current champion, the current All-Star goalkeeper and invitees.”
Meanwhile, Donnelly has effusively praised his friend and fellow West Clare man Noel Walsh, who passed away from Covid-19 related issues earlier this week. The former Munster chairman died on Tuesday at the age of 84 and like Donnelly was a great supporter of the Railway Cup.
“I would have known Noel very well from my time growing up in West Clare. You would think for an army man and a high-ranking army man that when it came to the GAA he would have the same respect for authority but he challenged it in a healthy way. He was a fighter and he was relentless.
“Apart from the open draw in Munster which he fought very hard, he battled for the interprovincials during Seán Kelly’s presidency. A committee was set up to revive them and Noel, being a great advocate of them, was chairman.
“We revived it for a period of time. We went to Rome, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Boston twice as well as bringing it back to Croke Park, but obviously it wasn’t to be as the calendar became more crowded and presidents change and attitudes change.
“I worked closely with Noel on that and (as team sponsor) I saw first-hand how he was involved with the Clare team in 1992 as a selector and he brought in John Maughan as manager, another army man. Discipline came into Clare football and what they achieved was immense, beating Kerry in the Munster final and getting promoted up to Division 1.
“He was tireless when he faced a challenge. He always carried through. He’ll be missed. I’d know Karl, his son who lives in Australia, and it’s very sad that we can’t all pay our respects in person in Miltown-Malbay. I know there is a guard of honour for him there but unfortunately we can’t travel that far. We’d all love to be there reminiscing about him.
“I have no doubt he gave a fair fight against the illness too but his legacy will live on. He made his presence felt in the GAA and put his stamp on a lot of changes such as being an advocate for the opening up of Croke Park. An achiever and a gentleman, they will be my memories of him.”