The long and winding road to an All-Ireland dream

Oileáin Árainn footballers travel from Inis Oírr to play Liverpool's John Mitchels in Birmingham. Picture: Ray Ryan

For Ciaran Foley and his Oileáin Árainn footballers, this weekend’s All-Ireland JFC quarter-final against Liverpool’s John Mitchels is a journey of epic proportions.

The match venue, Páirc na hÉireann in Birmingham, is a long way from the club’s grounds on Inis Oírr and Inis Mór and it cannot be underestimated the strain the occasion has put on the club.

The island-based players, management and officials will head off from Kilronan this morning on the 8.15am ferry to Ros a’ Mhíl on the mainland in Connemara in Co Galway.

The hour-long transfer to Galway city will then be followed by a three-hour bus trip to Dublin airport, before they fly on to Birmingham.

For those supporters who wish to try the 10.15am Saturday morning departure out of Dublin, the easy part of the journey comes when they land at Birmingham international as Páirc na hÉireann is just a two mile spin down the B4438 – plenty of time for the 1.30pm throw-in.

But for a group of 50 supporters it will be close to a 24-hour trek as they will get the ferry to the mainland and then bus it to Dublin before travelling across by ferry to Holyhead.

The bus was organised after they defeated Achill Island in the Connacht final and was sold out inside two days.

Organising the logistics of the trip has been a huge project for everyone involved says team manager Foley.

“The team are leaving Galway city at around midday on Friday. The players are mostly sorting out their own way over, they are getting GoBus up to Dublin. We have a few lads on a flight at a quarter to five, a few an hour later and then the rest of us are heading over at 7pm.

“We are staying about 20 minutes outside Birmingham. The cost of hotels in Birmingham was ridiculous. For the sake of a few miles out the road we said it was worth it for lads to get their own bed at least,” said Foley, a former League of Ireland soccer player, who has led Oileáin Árainn to their maiden Galway and Connacht JFC titles in his first year in charge.

It is estimated that for players and mentors alone the trip will cost in excess of €14,000. A grant of €10,000 from GAA headquarters goes a long way to softening that blow, but, according to Foley, the remainder is money well spent if his side can reach the All-Ireland semi-final.

“It’s huge for us. It has come around very fast after the Connacht final, another few weeks would be nice. But we are fully intent on going over there and winning. We have one or two injury concerns but I think they’ll be okay. I was home last weekend for the first weekend in a while and the whole place is gone bonkers to be honest.

“There is a coach of 50 supporters going, but there is a lot of people flying over on their own too and islanders making their way from all around the UK.

“The Croke Park money has taken the pressure off a bit, but it doesn’t cover it all. We have to do a fair bit of fundraising.

“It’ll be some occasion over there so hopefully we can perform on the day and give them all another day out,” he said.


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