GAA Nua: Six storylines from the weekend’s club championship

From Valentia Island to gazebos in Dungarvan, from internet speed in Dolla to strange vantage points in Limerick, there are always GAA talking points 
GAA Nua: Six storylines from the weekend’s club championship
De La Salle dressingroom

An island’s anxiety

EVERY summer on Valentia Island they watch the enrolments at Scoil Naisiunta Dar Earca, the island’s only school, with something approaching dread. Valentia Islanders GAA club, which elevated Mick O’Connell, Ger Lynch, Ger O’Driscoll et al onto Croke Park’s pantheon, is barely breathing.

Yesterday they went under away to Scartaglin (1-16 to 2-8) in the Kerry JFC but it was a victory of sorts. That’s what fulfilling fixtures represent these days. “We will probably be able to fulfil the (Junior championship) fixtures this season,” suggested the club’s PRO Liam Lynch yesterday, a discernible hesitancy in his prediction. 

“This COVID thing has sort of anchored fellas and kept them around. It’s heart-breaking, the prospect of us going under, the GAA is the fabric of this island, it’s what we grew up with, watching Mick O’Connell bring glory and pride to this place. It was very touch-and-go last year, but this year we have picked up a couple of lads.” 

That the progress beyond the eligible age of 17 of Joe Lynch and Sonny Curran is a cause of considerable joy says a lot. The club suffered a seismic blow when Paul O’Sullivan and Kerry midfielder Brendan O’Sullivan transferred to Tralee’s Austin Stacks at the end of last season.

Those are swingeing blows.

Yesterday they brought 19 players to Scartaglin, a result of sorts. And yet, it’s only 15 years since Valentia were South Kerry champions. The following year, their own Paul O’Connor captained the division to the 2006 South Kerry Championship.

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, none of Kerry’s Co League Division 1 heavyweights fancied the summer trip to face Fionan Murphy (the current manager) and his rampaging Valentia colleagues on the island’s dust bowl. We’d stop at Tom Keane’s Ringside Rest in Caherciveen on the road back, taking stock of lessons and licking wounds.

Those top-flight days are long gone. The obvious next step for the Islanders is an amalgamation with Portmagee’s Skellig Rangers across the bridge. They are merged at under-age but like all these things, there will be opposition. From Valentia’s perspective, Father Time is a foe. John Daly in his early fifties, John Shanahan has turned 40. Last year, Richard Quigley kept goal at 51.

They’ve still got Cordal and Ballybunion’s Beale to play in their JFC group, and Lynch says Valentia are eyeing wins in both.

At least in terms of being there when the ball’s thrown in.

II

GAA goes gazebo

The GAA’s new normal has conjured its own lexicon. The latest oxymoronic conversation piece?

Outside dressing rooms.

To most that’s arriving togged and gathering in the corner of a terrace or stand. But clubs are improvising quickly. Castlehaven brought more than a winning performance to Clonakilty on Sunday, bringing a tent and ice bath and setting up station on Clon’s second pitch. In Waterford, the De La Salle hurlers went full gazebo for their SHC game in Dungarvan against Ballysaggart.

De La Salle employed the facility provided by their sponsor, Opel car dealer John Kelly, before and after the game.

Manager Brian Phelan Phelan said that in the continuing absence of access to dressing rooms, it shielded his players from the elements. He told local journo Tomas McCarthy: “One of the lads said it the other night in training. It was handy just in case it was raining, we were expecting big rain. We’re not allowed into the stand unfortunately. It gave cover for the lads if it was raining. It came in handy I suppose.” Will they use it again?

“Yeah, if we’re allowed!” It didn’t soften either them or Castlehaven any bit either. With Jack Fagan contributing 1-13, they eased past Ballysaggart 2-22 to 1-12 at Fraher Field. And the Haven showed why many see them as a dark horse in this year’s Cork Premier SFC with a commanding five-point win over Rosscarbery.

III 

Goal of the weekend?

So many games in so many counties – the bar was high for anyone scanning social media and looking for the eyebrow-raising result or moment. Kenmare’s 2-9 to 0-13 win over Kerins O’Rahilly’s in the Kerry Club SFC in Killarney (note: not Kerry SFC) might have been one such.

And it delivered one of the goals of the weekend according to Killarney Advertiser Sports editor Adam Moynihan, who gushed of Kenmare’s fifth-minute opener: “An unbelievable goal by Paul O'Connor. He received a high handpass and tapped it first time over his marker's head before spinning, gathering and placing a beautiful shot into the far top corner. Top class.” 

One note of concern for Kerry fans: Strand Road’s Tommy Walsh went off injured before the break – and Kenmare’s Stephen O’Brien did likewise shortly after half time.

Austin Stacks v Dingle match pogramme
Austin Stacks v Dingle match pogramme

Serious kudos, in passing, to Kerry GAA PRO Leona Twiss and her fellow toilers (and teachers) Emma Sweeney and Sinead Piggott, for the publication of 20 online match programmes from each weekend clash across Senior, Intermediate and Premier Junior championships in the Kingdom - and for providing the template for the home clubs to produce same in the other eight JFC games. Above and beyond but a compelling way to keep fans engaged in such elusive times – and an example for other counties to follow.

IV

John Paul the second

The two-man inside forward line relies on many things, but telepathy is up there on anyone’s list – that instinctive understanding with a gunslinging partner, that sixth sense of knowing where your second banana is – and where he/she is not.

Is it coachable? For sure. But it helps 20-year old St Vincent’s talisman in Cork, Blake Murphy, when his partner in crime is his father, John Paul. It’s not unheard of for dads to hang onto their boots in order to line out with the young fella – but rarely at Premier IFC level, where St Vincent’s began their campaign yesterday in Donoughmore running favoured Knocknagree to a 1-13 to 1-7 loss. The two combined for four points yesterday with Junior claiming three.

Blake is regarded as a standout attacking talent and already has an U20 All-Ireland medal with Cork from a year ago. He again showed his wares in this year’s U20 campaign as the Rebels relinquished their title in Tralee to Kerry, 0-17 to 1-9, last March. Murphy grabbed 1-3.

His dad turned 40 last January but is still an able foil, a willing support, for the young fella.

Aren’t they always.

V

The hottest streams in town.

Wasn’t there something magical about it? To be sitting in the car park of the Paul Street Shopping Centre in Cork, persuading the missus you’ll follow her in a few minutes, because it’s nearly half-time in Templemore. And Seamie is starting to motor for Drom against Roscrea.

That’s the kind of weekend it was. For a while Friday there were three screens going in the Ryan household. The Irish Examiner’s live coverage of The Barrs-Ballincollig, Kilmallock v Na Piarsaigh on TG4, and the big one from Kilcolman on Facebook, Templederry versus the Mines.

How well the GAA world has rolled with things. Not long ago, a PRO would want to be able to put together the club notes and organise a few bottles of Blue Nun for the raffle at the Sale of Work. Now many of them are one-man outside broadcast units.

It has already joined the lexicon, the important phrase: ‘we hope to stream the match live, subject to internet speeds in Dolla’.

It could prove an accidental marketing masterstroke, the 200-patron limit imposed this weekend, making access to a GAA grounds the hottest ticket in the land. And sending us clicking and swiping to all manner of streams, official and otherwise.

Part of the joy is the array of new voices in commentary — as half-time approached, our man in Templemore noted that describing Seamie as a hurler would be the same as suggesting "Michael Flatley did a small bit of dancing".

VI 

Safety in numbers?

On this week’s Irish Examiner GAA podcast Ken Hogan identified one concern about the streaming revolution that might well run counter-productive to the whole point of the enterprise.

PLANT HIGHER: Spectators use an excavator to gain a vantage point to view Mungret St Pauls V Kildimo Pallaskenry. Picture: Seamus McElligott, 
PLANT HIGHER: Spectators use an excavator to gain a vantage point to view Mungret St Pauls V Kildimo Pallaskenry. Picture: Seamus McElligott, 

Ken feared that 10 or 15 or more lads might well present themselves in the same sitting room to watch the local club in action, enjoying a few quiet ones in the process, rather than all of them putting their hands in their pockets for the streaming fee.

In that scenario, Ken was certain social distancing would be better served by spreading them all around the perimeter of a big field.

Mind you streaming couldn’t be blamed for a more visible example of the same phenomenon, in the already iconic photo from the Mungret St Pauls v Kildimo Pallaskenry clash in the Limerick PIHC on Saturday.

Of course, in this case, all the spectators involved might well be from the same family, or at least the same ‘bubble’, but if we’re going to see lads cramming into the bucket of a digger to watch the rest of the championship, we might be as well off opening the gates to let the rest in.

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