That precious germ of ingenuity that feeds the passion to keep Garnish GAA alive is motoring well.
The furthest club in Ireland from Croke Park, on the tip of the Beara peninsula in west Cork, should have succumbed to a shortage of players by now, to a lack of funding and ultimately to a dearth of games, extended by a national lockdown.
But it refuses to lose. This week it is rolling out a vintage Massey Ferguson tractor, a thing of beauty, and auctioning it in a drive to stay alive. They’d rather be red than dead, says the indefatigable Ollie ‘Rue’ O’Sullivan, the man behind the steering wheel.
“This year we’ve no income stream due to Covid restrictions. Hence, we’ve gone a different road, and we agreed on the vintage tractor raffle. We found Patsy Dineen in from Ovens and the finest 1967 Massey Ferguson 135, fully restored to showroom condition,” he explained. “And we got Tomás Ó Sé to launch it.
“We have valued the tractor at a modest €10,000, we are selling tickets at €100 and limiting sales to 500 only.”
The appeal is obvious: agricultural envy. Who wouldn’t want to cut a dash around the parish on this?
“We are seeking the support of the farming community, the vintage community, the GAA community and people like ourselves all over Ireland who appreciate the struggles of a rural community in exchange for the once in a lifetime chance to win a like-new vintage tractor.”
The depopulation dilemma has hit rural GAA clubs hard. Neighbouring villages and parishes, once sworn enemies, have been forced to amalgamate to ensure games for remaining players. That Garnish GAA is fielding at all is a small miracle.
“If any fella comes west of the Gap of Gour and looks like he ever put on a pair of boots, he doesn’t escape. We need everybody,” Ollie ‘Rue’, the club’s vice-chairman said. He’s 48 and still playing.
When Ollie ‘Rue’ started knocking heads with progressive young club chairman Eric O’Neill, Limerick-based treasurer Ruairi Mensink, and chairman of this fundraiser, Cormac McMahon, who’s living in Kildare, one imperative was understood: without players there was no club.
“We have gained lads working here, married into or in a relationship in the area, and from the father’s club rule. Needs must,” he says.
“There are about 350 adults living in the parish of Allihies with about 45 kids in the local national school and around 40 more going to secondary school. Players are well used to making the long journey home for matches and training during the season. But I’d say they’d willingly do it after this pandemic.”
Garnish plan to spend proceeds on improving dressing rooms and also around the pitch and grounds. “Also we want to invest in the youth of the club. We need every child participating at some level. In my time I attended one of three national schools before we all merged to the current national school.
“Last year we considered folding due to numbers but decided to drop a level to suit older and younger lads. It has put great pressure on our players at their peak to carry us on big days. There are a number of young boys in parish and it is our responsibility to make sure there is a club there for them when they come of age.
“Garnish GAA was founded in 1927 and, for such a small club, it has a long history of providing players to Cork GAA. Some great people have held the baton of Garnish before - It is our responsibility to hold the baton now,” O’Sullivan added.
Covid-19 and lockdowns haven’t a lot to recommend them, but there is this: communities will inevitably have a greater appreciation of everything about them when it all ends, most of all the community reach of the local GAA club.
“We are expanding the reach of the club in the community, getting people involved who might not previously have been with us. We intend for the club to be a focal point in the parish with everyone in the parish having ownership of it.”
The Allihies parish is on board with the initiative, doing shout outs on Facebook to “Support Garnish GAA Tractor Fundraiser: If it’s not red, let it in the shed.”