Mighty Ruadh just another dish on a bigger menu
Sports clubs in the recession Part 2Aodh Ruadh were once one of Donegal’s top clubs but, in an era of increased choice for young people, the club is now just one option among many for the youth of Ballyshannon
It has been a hectic November for the Aodh Ruadh GAA club and on this wild midweek afternoon Betty McIntyre, the chairperson, is run off her feet. She has the fire lit in the living room and goes through the list of things she has to do. It seems endless. Tickets for a Strictly Come Dancing evening . . . boards to put up on the bridge to wish the senior team well in the Intermediate final . . . organise collection buckets . . . call Maurice McLoughlin, the senior manager, about training in Garrison.
“It’s the nitty-gritty. That’s what it’s about. Driving to Bundoran to pick up buckets,” she laughs.
The McIntyres live down the Mall in an 18th-century house in the heart of Ballyshannon, a town cluttered with historic buildings. Hugh Allingham, brother of the poet William, lit this same fireplace 130 years ago.
From the window in the living room can be seen a daunting looking building across the river bank on the Rock which was a fever hospital in a former life but will always be known as “The Brothers”, the De La Salle college which was a secondary school of unsentimental education and also the soul of Gaelic football in Ballyshannon.
Did the closure of the school in 2000 lead to the decline of football success in the town? Some would argue so.
In any event, this is the biggest month Aodh Ruadh have had in quite some time.
Betty McIntyre considers herself an accidental GAA woman. One evening in the street she met (the late) Jack Grimes, a neighbour and constant presence in the stand at Fr Tierney Park. He half-coaxed, half-scolded her into attending the Aodh Ruadh AGM in Dorrian’s hotel that evening.
“You’ve cubs involved now”, he pointed out. “Cubs” is the Ballyshannon word for boys: Betty’s twin sons were outstanding players on a strong underage team.
She was given a job and because she is brisk and energetic and organised, she is now completing her third season as chairperson. Her sister Catherine was roped into the club committee, and became treasurer. With Emma Gaughan as secretary, the three women form the administrative engine of the club.
Betty readily confesses she had little interest in football or hurling. Even now, her most pressing concerns are financial and organisational. The redevelopment of “Munday’s field”, the Workhouse Meadow where the first Aodh Ruadh team trained in 1909, brought a terrific all-weather training facility and a debt of €250,000.
They pay off €18,000 per year. Transport costs had spiralled out of control: the club spent €20,000 on buses last year alone. Fundraising is a 365 days-of-the-year task and as Tom Daly, the former president of the Ulster Council and Aodh Ruadh member, delicately puts it, “the culture of fundraising has changed”.
Still, Aodh Ruadh have the bingo franchise, and run Sunday night Lotto and periodic entertainments like the Strictly Come Dancing. Austerity has been duly embraced. Not one penny in expenses has been paid to any of the managers.
“I think they are fantastic,” Betty McIntyre says. “It is costing them more than just time . . . they are driving all the time, making phone calls. But they just get on with it. All they get out of us is tea and sandwiches when there is a game in the park. I think we are lucky to have them.”
It says something about the swiftness with which Aodh Ruadh’s stock plummeted that an Intermediate final in November has become so important. It is hard to overstate the club’s tradition.
“That’s all we did. We played football,” the actor Seán McGinley said on The John Murray Show last week of growing up in the town. “Morning, noon and night.”
Until last month, Aodh Ruadh were level with St Eunan’s on 12 senior county titles won, joint second on the county honours roll. But that figure comes with an asterisk because from 1965 to 1976, Aodh Ruadh and neighbouring club Bundoran conducted an experiment in unity which produced the best Donegal club side ever; they strolled to seven county titles and an unofficial club All-Ireland title in 1968 .