Golf challenge keeps the spirit of GAA going strong

By Bill George examines the spectacular success of a tournament exclusively for GAA players.

THE success of the FBD All-Ireland Golf Challenge for GAA players has proved so spectacular that this year a waiting list of teams anxious to compete in the Munster section had to be drawn up.

The competition, in its fourth year, now has the Irish Examiner on board as a key sponsor. It is open to teams of four representing GAA clubs, is disputed on a provincial basis first and, for logistical reasons, entries are limited to 30 teams per province.

A golf tournament for GAA players was the brainchild of Liam Daniels of Tramore Golf Club and Dunhill GAA in Co Waterford. He recruited his friend Martin Allen to help and set about lobbying for support.

"It was six years ago when I came up with the idea, but it took an inordinate amount of time to try and get my own club even to listen to what I was on about," he said.

"It struck me one day while standing in the GAA field that the one thing all players have in common is pride in the parish jersey. I thought I must be like a lot of other people around the country when you finish playing left wondering what can you do?

"You can either line the pitch or become a selector, and that only lasts so long, and you can never represent the club or the parish again. I was only just beginning to play golf at the time and I thought wouldn't it be great if you could put on the parish jersey for golf because I saw men of 80 years of age playing golf and they loved it.

"Then you have the other element, the great debate that has always been going on down the years ... was Eddie Keher better than DJ Carey? And if they ever played together what would they have been like ? Would they have been the best ever?

"Then it struck me that if they were playing together for a trophy on the one team wouldn't it have been a great thing to see?

"Now that can't happen because they are with different clubs. But I thought it would be good to come up with a competition based exactly on the way the GAA is structured. In other words, you would have to win your provincial title before advancing to the All-Ireland final."

Liam outlined the competition's special attractions: "You have teams open to players of all ages, from men who are fairly youthful to those who are fairly advanced. You can have mixed teams, the handicap limit is 20 for men and 28 for ladies.

"Toomevara and Mullingar Shamrocks have had a lady on their team. As long as they are members of the club and have been members for more than a year, they are eligible. One team had a parish priest playing and he said he thought he would never represent for the club in anything.

"It is a unique event in that it spans all generations of the parish or the club. What it does as well, there's so much talk these days about the big clubs and the super clubs, this competition is such a junior club can win it, the same as Nemo Rangers can win it or Parnell's of Dublin, both massive clubs."

Indeed, the success of the smaller clubs is a source of joy to Liam.

"It happened in the second year a little junior club up in Omagh called Dromragh Sarsfields won it. They had never won an adult competition of any description previously. They got a civic reception in Omagh, they were the first GAA team ever to get a civic reception. They were winners the second year."

Liam recalled the other winners. "The first were Boherlahan Dualla and Conor Gleeson was playing that year.

The third year the winners were Parnell's of Dublin. So you went from the extreme of having the smallest club, Drumragh Sarsfields, to one of the biggest the following year."

The special attractions of such a popular competition was not lost on Waterford Crystal, who presented Liam with a magnificent perpetual trophy for the overall winners. They also made special glass All-Ireland medals for the winning team and the runners-up.

Liam recalled some more of the history of the event.

"The first year we ran it, we had only one club in Ulster and now we have a big, big competition in Ulster.

Last year Joe Kernan won the Ulster section with Crossmaglen Rangers and unfortunately they couldn't compete in the All-Ireland final it held the same day they were playing Dublin in the semi-final. Joe loves it, wouldn't miss it for the world. He said he never thought he would be able to play for Crossmaglen again and he gave a very emotive speech in the Slieve Russell when they won, the fact that at his age he was going to go back to Crossmaglen again that night after winning something."

Liam paid tribute to the help he receives from his friend Martin Allen and also mentioned two others whose contribution is vital the former Dublin footballer Barney Rock and his fellow Dunhill member Brendan O'Halloran.

He said: "Barney is absolutely taken with the idea and he is a great, great ambassador for it. Brendan O'Halloran of AIB is from Turner's Cross and is on our committee. He handles all matters to do with money and none of us takes a penny out of it, not even for petrol."

The competitive element is very important, but the emphasis is on the social side of the event and Liam explained how they try to facilitate this: "It is a fourball, better ball competition for teams of four and we don't send the four members of a team out together.

"We might draw out Ballincollig with Mount Sion of Waterford so GAA fellows who might never otherwise have met will go off out and play a game of golf as a social thing. And the other two could be drawn against maybe Cratloe from Clare. So we've mixed up everybody to add to the social side of it and it is great fun."

The final is decided on aggregate scores over two days over the Faithlegg course in Co Waterford. The four members of the provincial winning teams and their partners are invited to Waterford for the weekend, they stay in the Tower Hotel and they are guests of honour at a social evening in the Dunhill club on the Saturday.

The competition has yielded a modest profit each year and that money is presented to the Dunhill club to fund their sports activities. Dunhill run four adult teams in hurling and football, they have a thriving underage section and they also have camogie and ladies' football members.

"We want this competition going in 30 years time and getting bigger and better every year so clubs will be saying we want to get into that, that's a prestigious event."

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