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Unsung Heroes of the GAA

On a recent trip to Belgium I participated in a World War I tour that consisted of visiting hundreds of graveyards. In these graveyards, some littered with thousands of headstones, others with just a handful, lay hundreds of soldiers that lay down their lives for a cause they believed in to the limits of their very virtues. As I wandered through one particular graveyard I noticed there were intermittent headstones that were simply marked “A Soldier of the Great War”, unmarked graves. Nobody knew who these men were but understood they fought and were vital components in the name of a greater cause.

Afterwards, I thought to myself it must be soul destroying to give so much and take so little and where in modern society could this be evident. I then turned to domestic affairs and thought of a situation where this could apply.

What have an accountant, an electrician, a doctor, an unemployed, person, a student, a teacher and an IT consultant among many other professions and walks of life got in common? Out of the 2,500 domestic clubs and counting and the other 195 clubs across the world what is their common bond? If you were blissfully unaware of Ireland and some of its many unique cultures and associations you would hazard a guess at a political alliance perhaps or a religion or a cult even. However, the GAA is responsible for the unification of such varied backgrounds.

An amateur association envied by many professional ones that is run on blood, sweat, tears and voluntary work. An unparalleled amateur sporting organisation that is played and run at a professional standard. The effort required to excel in the competitive environment that is the GAA is one of almost superhuman effort. The effort put in at the grassroots level of a GAA club right up to the top at county level is highly admirable. The majority of this is done at a voluntary level.

If I am going to be honest I sometimes question the sanity of people involved in the GAA. I, as a frequent participant from a very young age, have witnessed the processes involved in the running of a GAA club at first hand. It is no easy task to run a GAA club no matter how small or big and I can only imagine the time and dedication needed to run an inter county team. At club level however is where it all begins. There are pitches to be maintained. Dressing rooms to be swept and kept in working order and presentable.  Money to be found to make them presentable.  Jerseys to be bought and replaced again.  Money to be found to buy the jerseys.  Transport to and from games to be organised.  Money to be found for the transport.  Camans to be bought, insurance organised, treasurers to keep a tightrope on the purse, money to be raised to expand the club, coaches courted and poached, players to be kept happy, the best facilities to be found to train the players to a high enough standard so this process can be repeated the following year at a higher level hopefully. All on fundraising.

GAA

The men and women responsible for this, Presidents, secretaries, treasurers, grounds men, coaches are constantly oiling the cogs of the machine behind the scenes, often out of their own pocket, sometimes to no great avail and without success for years or decades, without praise. All for the love of the GAA. In between their forty whatever hour working week they go to the greatest lengths to keep their respective club’s heads above water. They are under no obligation to do this and yet they do. They sacrifice time with their families and loved ones for the sake of the club. They forego that family holiday because it clashes with an important date in the clubs calendar or the club needed financial assistance and “sure they didn’t really need that holiday”. They are the reason players have a pitch to showcase their talents, jerseys to take pride in and successful careers to bask in.

You may ask why? I am afraid there is no clear cut answer to that question. That is why I question their sanity. Is it a generic GAA disorder that a person who is born into a GAA orientated family will dedicate their valuable time to a cause that brings communities together and unites beings that would never otherwise cross each other’s paths. Is it the common cause to bring that cup back to the parish and display it with pride at the local schools and churches and convention’s. That cup that may not cost a whole lot yet is priceless. That cup is the culmination of not only the players resolve, determination, grit and sacrifices but the efforts of those behind the scenes, those unknown soldiers, their unmarked graves representative of their unrecognized efforts.

I write this in recognition of these men and women, soldiers of the GAA, they are the rock the GAA is built on and without them we would never have Croke Park, the Kilkenny 4 in a row team, the exciting new generation of Tipperary hurlers, the Down team who brought joy to hundreds of homes last year, Jack Lynch a former Taoiseach, Christy Ring, John Doyle, Mick O Dwyer, Jack O Shea, the great Meath teams of the late 80’s and the great Kerry/Dublin clashes of the 70’s. We simply would have no GAA.

Written by: John Fagan

Proofed by: Dara O’Conor

Uploaded by: Emma Duggan

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