Three counties, one club: The drive to keep Galtee Gaels senior

Limerick's newest senior football outfit has challenges of geography and numbers - but they are desperate to retain their elevated status
Three counties, one club: The drive to keep Galtee Gaels senior

FAB FIVE: Pictured outside the clubhouse at Galtee Gaels are, from left to right: PRO Sinéad McGuire, Patrick English, chairman Thomas O’Dwyer, Liam Allen, and club secretary Dan McCarthy. Picture: Andy Jay

If the name Galtee Gaels doesn’t ring a bell immediately, the club’s focal point will chime with anyone who marked the milestones on the old road from Cork to Dublin.

I refer of course to Kilbehenny, and the Three Counties bar. Let Galtee Gaels secretary Dan McCarthy explain the particular geography of this corner of south Limerick.

“The border with Cork is about half a kilometre from the village of Kilbehenny, which straddles the three counties, hence the name of the pub.

“Our pitch is O’Mahony Park, just over from the village, and the club is a combination of Anglesboro and Kilbehenny, those are the two main areas.” 

It’s very close to Mitchelstown but the Gaels don’t have too many from outside Limerick, though McCarthy himself is from Kildorrery.

“We wouldn’t really draw people in from the other counties, from Cork or Tipp. Anyone on the Cork side stays on the Cork side, though there might be the odd person who’d send their kids into the school in the village.

“There’s another school on the Anglesboro side of the parish, and we border Galbally and Ballylanders on that side.

“Mitchelstown would be where the lads would go to to secondary school, and later on they’d go to socialise — or in the case of the far end of the parish, into Tipperary Town.” 

Like any small rural club playing numbers are an ongoing challenge, he adds: “We’re down five from the team that won last year’s intermediate championship, but four of those are injuries and one lad is gone to Canada — we’d have expected him back by August but that was before the virus became an issue.

“In general numbers are a problem for us. We’d nearly have every young lad who can kick a ball in the parish involved from the age of six up, but you struggle to hold them from minor to U21. Some of them lose interest, others move away, but the players who won the junior and intermediate titles for us came up together, with a few older guys as well.

“We brought through a good few together to backbone it, and they’re relatively young.” 

The club is midway between Limerick and Cork, though. Surely people could commute to either city for work and stay involved with the club?

“They could, it’s not a big deal compared to long ago with the motorway — you’re in Cork from Kilbehenny now in 40 minutes, the same the other way.

“The motorway has had an impact alright. The local shop in the village is closed. There were two pubs and now there’s one, so the village is quiet. There’s only casual traffic on the road, with people going in the back road to Cahir or whatever.

“I don’t know if you could even live there now if all the motorway traffic was going through it.” 

Galtee  Gaels have been proactive, though. Reaching the senior grade — they won the intermediate title last year — was a boost but they’re keen to stay up. Tonight is a crunch SFC game against Ballylanders (Kilmallock, 7pm).

“We’ve done a huge amount of work at underage level,” says McCarthy.

“We put a plan in place about eight years ago, we looked at our coaching structures and what we needed to do, and one of the items which was highlighted was player retention — what to do with players to keep them involved in their adult years, because we weren’t bringing enough younger players onto the adult team in the club.

“We put a lot of work into that and we probably won’t see the full fruits of that for another year or two, which is why it’s so important to stay up senior.

“Playing senior football in Limerick means more recognition. An intermediate team in Cork could have a fair pedigree, but in Limerick an intermediate team mightn’t be seen the same way.

“We’d have noticed that since going up senior that we have clubs ringing us for games that mightn’t have even answered a phone call from us a few years back.

“Also, everything around senior just works a little better. I think the GAA has improved in terms of how junior and intermediate fixtures are organised, for instance, but a few years ago a junior championship would nearly be played off whenever it could.” 

They’ll keep working.

“We have to keep feeding those one or two lads onto the adult panel every year. They don’t always come through, but you have to try at least to get them through.

“At minor level we might have five 18-year-olds and six 17-year-olds, but then you’re dropping down to 16 and even 15 year-olds to fill out the team. When you meet the bigger clubs, though, you can see the difference when the majority of the players are on the age or near to it. But that makes it all the more special when you do win.”

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