Returning to live in Howth meant I could not avoid the GAA

'I admit that initially I didn’t include GAA in the activities I thought we would get involved in when we moved back'

Within a week or two of joining I had become an under-eight hurling mentor? Photograph: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Within a week or two of joining I had become an under-eight hurling mentor? Photograph: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

 

Eight years ago when we upped sticks from Glasnevin to Sutton, one of the very first things I did was bring the kids up to the newly re-launched GAA club in Howth (Beann Eadair) to get them involved.

This was somewhat ironic given that I had spent the previous eight years in Glasnevin explaining to my other half that GAA was just not me. I was pretty apathetic about my kids involvement in it as I had no background or interest in Gaelic games. Growing up, I was in my late teens before I even set foot in Croke Park and I was vague enough about what went on there. I had seen the name “Pairc uí Crocaigh” appear in Irish text books at school and thought it was a park in Cork (Pairc í Corcaigh – see how that could happen?)

Anyway, in 2011 we were moving to Sutton where I had grown up and I was anxious for the kids who were already well into their primary school years at this stage, to get settled in to their new community as quickly as possible. Luckily Sutton is a high-amenity area offering a wide variety of sporting activities; tennis, sailing, rugby, soccer, hockey, golf, horse-riding, swimming and very popular (even in my day) stuffing your face in Supervalu (or as it was then Superquinn). Now GAA could be added to the list.

I admit that initially I didn’t include GAA in the activities I thought we would get involved in when we moved back. The whole reason behind the move in the first place was that I was trying to bring something of my own background into my children’s lives and rather inflexibly, imagined that once back, we would be recapturing things that I remembered doing, like playing hockey, smoking and wearing a lot of eyeliner. In sporting terms, my first love was hockey and I suppose the fact that my father didn’t follow GAA meant it wasn’t something that came on to my radar.

In truth, once I returned, my sense of place was restored enough for me to let go of childhood fuelled ideals and embrace the 21st century where meanwhile the world and its wife was playing GAA. So on our first sunny Saturday morning in September we took off for the Gaelic grounds of Beann Eadair which are located on levelled pitches to the north-eastern side of Howth hill.

I still planned to enrol my daughter in the local hockey club too and did so on the first available Sunday. Photograph: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
I still planned to enrol my daughter in the local hockey club too and did so on the first available Sunday. Photograph: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

The first thing I thought is that you would join this club for the setting alone whatever about playing any GAA (see Allianz ad featuring Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh). Even now, eight years on, I never tire of the views over Ireland’s Eye and Lambay right up along the coast to where on a clear day you can see as far as the Mountains of Mourne.

I still planned to enrol my daughter in the local hockey club too and did so on the first available Sunday. However being an ex-player meant it was hard for me not to stay watching and offering, shall I say, words of encouragement. After about 10 minutes of this my daughter said to me, how did she put it again let me think? Oh yes, I remember now, “go away”.

Interestingly at the GAA, not having a clue seemed to lend itself better to getting involved and in fairness they did seem pretty busy. Anyone wearing a tracksuit who looked like they might be able to “help out” was quickly given a job. Within a week or two of joining I had become an under-eight hurling mentor? This is amusing on many levels, which this piece is too short to go into, suffice to say I was teamed up with a co-mentor who actually knew how to play hurling.

Mentors are GAA-speak for coaches and these are the men and women who truly give meaning to the phrase “community spirit” for which the GAA organisation is well known. In those first few months post-move as we tried to find our feet, my son’s Gaelic football mentor drove the boys to and from training every week, no questions asked. I know mentors who collect kids from their houses when parents can’t get them to the match meet up point, bring them to McDonalds for lunch afterwards, hold on to them after matches if parents are not at home. As I write this a mentor is ringing me asking me if I am coming to collect my daughter from training.

No, obviously. Jeez. I’m busy. You know where I live.

Where was I? Ah yes. Mentors. They also regularly organise outings for the kids; trips to Croke park to see (in our case) the Dubs in action (how many times do we need to see the Dubs in action?), team-building events, trips to neighbouring counties for friendly blitzes, even Christmas outings to the panto for younger teams. Sixteen trillion Teamer messages a week aside, I wonder how I managed without them before?