When we blew the whistle on the Irish Times Best Sports Club in Ireland competition you'd sent almost 3,000 entries. Your nominations, which consisted of pitches of up to 500 words, were then presented to our judges, the Grand Slam-winning rugby player Fiona Coghlan, the Irish Times online sports editor, Noel O'Reilly, and the GAA journalist Jerome Quinn.
Then they had to choose the 20 entries that stood out for them. It wasn’t easy.
Coghlan promises that the judges were friends at close of play, and that consensus came more easily than they had feared, but she says this was purely down to the quality of your submissions. So thanks to all our entrants whose efforts averted a judicial bloodbath.
It wasn’t a cakewalk, though. “It is obviously very difficult to shortlist, particularly when people are so passionate about their club and took the time to write in to tell us about it,” she says.
O’Reilly agrees. He was amazed by the volume and the quality of your submissions, which he found “quite staggering. Whittling them down to a mere 20 was quite a process.”
Coghlan says that for her “a club is not about buildings or pitches. It is about the people and communities that have a sense of belonging that a club gives them. It is about the positive experiences that people have from being a part of a club.” The entries contain “some fantastic stories about the difference these clubs made in people’s lives”, she says.
Accessibility to clubs and their facilities – for an affordable price – is important for the judges, as is the extent to which communities get involved.
“Clubs need to be sustainable and always have an eye on the future,” says Coghlan. “In all the shortlisted pitches we got a feeling of what the club had to offer and what it would be like to be a member.”
We’re putting the judges back in a darkened room next week and will publish their top five clubs on Saturday, June 11th.
The Irish Times will announce the Best Sports Club in Ireland on Saturday, June 18th.
The winning club will receive €5,000, with a further €1,000 for another deserving entrant. Both awards are courtesy of the contest’s sponsor, the National Dairy Council.
The shortlisted 20
AUSTIN STACKS GAA
Tralee, Co Kerry
Sport Gaelic football and hurling
Club Successful club with a great sporting record, keeping hurling alive in Tralee. austinstacks.ie
"I've given up two tickets to Alison Moyet for this, lads," our manager shouted at half-time. It's June 1987, and I'm 13 years old and playing for the club my father, and his father before him, loved with a passion. We stick together. My club is always there, always a place to go and understand why it is we love our own patch. No one gets cocky around here. Loving a club is a life's journey, with highs and lows – a journey where many are called but few are chosen. I'd do anything for my club. Even give up two tickets to see Alison Moyet."
Nominated by Stephen Fernane
CITY OF DERRY SWIMMING CLUB
Club A cross-community, cross-Border club. facebook.com/derryswimming
"City of Derry is one of the jewels in the sporting crown of our city. Founded in 1959, it is a cross-community, cross-Border club which relies mainly on the input of volunteers. The historic City Baths on the edge of the Bogside is the main teaching pool. There is a waiting list for classes . . . and some of the swimmers are chosen to start morning swimming. This is an entirely new experience for the unsuspecting parent. In essence, a club for all that has seen challenge as opportunity and continued to thrive."
Nominated by Angela McCarron
CLL INIS MÓR
Aran Islands, Co Galway
Sport GAA handball
Club A handball club with the wild Atlantic all around it
"It was a common site some 50 years back to see the boys and men of Inis Mór playing handball against gable ends. Now young and old are again involved in this all-inclusive club. Is this the only handball club where the locals wait on a cold winter's night on a windswept pier for the incoming boat to welcome home their young heroes? Even though the club is on an island it is not insular, and it hosts the annual One Wall on the Rock tournament. Players who travel to the competition experience the island life while playing their favourite sport."
Nominated by Niamh Donohue
COMERAGH CYCLING CLUB
Club Enourages both leisure and racing sections. comeraghcc.ie
"Established in 1988, the club has produced numerous champions, including the double Olympian and multiple Rás, national and international champion Ciarán Power. The club is immensely proud of its current superstar, the Rio 2016 Paralympic hopeful Damien Vereker. They are the epitome of dedication, commitment, care and giving, within their club and beyond. They are so deserving of this award for their club spirit, their wonderful sporting achievements and their willingness to help anyone who asks."
Nominated by Siobhan Power
CUALA GAA CLUB
Dalkey, Co Dublin
Sport Gaelic games
Club 1,600 active members make it one of Dublin's largest GAA clubs. cualagaa.ie
"Cuala GAA Club is based in Dalkey but spreads its net wide, from the harbour in Dún Laoghaire to the heartlands of Sallynoggin and Ballybrack, then as far south as the Dublin-Wicklow border. 'Not just a club but a way of life' is the motto on bumper stickers on the hundreds of cars that descend on Saturday mornings, when as many as 400 boys and girls learn the basics of football, hurling and camogie . Cuala's future is getting brighter in a place where the GAA was once something that took place somewhere else."
Nominated by Lorraine Hayes
FALLS PARK COOLERS
Club Local running club started in May 2011 with 20 members. Now has 150
"Falls Park Coolers Running Club is located in a working-class area of west Belfast that is economically and socially disadvantaged. It aims to be fun and inclusive and to target those on no or low incomes, especially women. It's free and staffed by volunteers, young people who have been socially excluded or engaged in antisocial behaviour. It's not competitive but participates in running events. For the Belfast Craic 10K all of the 60 runners were couch-to-5K novices, with no fitness or history of running or walking."
Nominated by Máire McCotter
FR SHIELDS CAMOGIE CLUB
Greencastle, Co Tyrone
Club 60 members. Bringing the clash of the ash to an isolated rural area
"Some 40 years ago a woman from a small village bordering Derry and Tyrone met a man from west Tyrone and moved to the hills of Greencastle. The woman (my mother) had grown up with camogie, and when she had daughters she started the first team. The clash of the ash became a popular sound, but when the daughters went to university the team drifted apart. However, the daughters returned and re-formed the team with their brother. They brought with them their own daughters, and all of the sound has started again."
Nominated by Sinead Donnelly
KILLARNEY CELTIC FOOTBALL FOR ALL
Sport Soccer for all
Club For players aged five-16 with an intellectual, sensory or physical disability
"Killarney Celtic Football for All started three years ago. It's a team for players from five to 16 years of age with an intellectual, sensory or physical disability. We are a family-orientated team. Siblings are encouraged to train with us. Most of our coaches are parents of our players. The ethos of Football for All is participation. We have played at Turners Cross, in Cork, during half-time in a League of Ireland game for the past two years. we focus on each player and encourage them to be the best they can no matter what their ability is."
Nominated by Jane O'Donoghue
KILLINARDEN ANGLING INITIATIVE
Club Offering a hobby and competitive sport inclusive to all ages and abilities. facebook.com/Killinarden.Angling
"Killinarden Angling Initiative was formed to offer a sport that is inclusive to everyone. Over the past two years we have trained more than 50 youths to become competent anglers and entered 30 youths into national championships. We coach youths with all manners of disabilities. We also work with rehabilitation groups and the probation services, to create social inclusion and distraction from addiction and antisocial behaviour. Anyone can fish."
Nominated by Patrick Ryan
Cashel, Co Tipperary
Sport Pitch'n'putt, tennis, badminton
Club Multisport club serving young and old. facebook.com/LarkspurParkCashel
"What have a racehorse, an American ambassador, a world-famous horse trainer and a sports complex got in common? Larkspur Park is a sports complex in Cashel. Vincent O'Brien trained the horse Larkspur to win the Epsom Derby. The horse was owned by Raymond Guest, the US ambassador – he donated the money to buy a field in the centre of Cashel. Groups have visited Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Saint Émilion. Our success is due to our ability to change and adapt to the changing needs of the people of Cashel."
Nominated by Rosemary Maher
LARRY'S KICKBOXING CLUB
Club Three-year-old club, a great contribution to its community
"Larry's kickboxing club is open three years and caters for all ages from age five. There are kids', men's and women's classes five days a week. The club has travelled far. Students have even gone to Italy and Benidorm for the World Kickboxing Unified Championships. Our club is like one big family. Everyone is treated equally, and we all have great fun. It's a great sport to keep kids active and healthy. It's great for the mind and body, great for self-defence and discipline for kids. This club has been a great contribution to the community."
Nominated by Chloe Brennan
O'HANLON PARK BOXING CLUB
Dundalk, Co Louth
Club Fun and exercise in a safe, positive environment. ohanlonparkhillview.com
"The club is run by Paul Taafe, who runs this club voluntarily. His goal, his vision, is simply to help the locality and create a community spirit. The club, which is located in a lower socioeconomic area, opens its doors to everyone. Paul gives everybody a chance, but if the rules of the club are not abided by he has no hesitation expelling offenders. Although the club nourishes some fine young boxers, the primary goal is to get people together having fun and exercising in a safe and positive environment ."
Nominated by Conor Kerley
Sport Dragon-boat racing
Club Sport and exercise for breast-cancer survivors. plurabellepaddlers.com
" 'Tis far from dragon-boat racing that I was reared. So, one fine morning in summer 2010, I decided to see what it was all about. I was given a paddle, buoyancy aid, technique training and safety briefing. I haven't looked back since. I have had an amazing six years with a wonderful bunch of women. (Sadly, no men have joined us just yet.) I have increased my fitness and made lifelong friends. Together we have faced great sorrow and great joy. Truly a serious competitor for Ireland's best sports club."
Nominated by Fiona Slevin
SHERIFF YOUTH CLUB
North Wall, Dublin
Club Soccer club in Dublin's inner city
"Sheriff Youth Club are considered the junior kingpins of Irish soccer. The team has reached the prestigious FAI Junior Cup final four times in the last five years. Sheriff YC was founded 44 years ago and has been a beacon of positivity and change within Dublin's north inner city. The area has received a large amount of negative press. The football club has been a constant source of pride and sense of hope with its motto: 'Always Trying'."
Nominated by Stephen Dunleavy
SKIBBEREEN ROWING CLUB
Club Founded in 1970, it is among the most successful clubs in the country. skibbereenrowingclub.com
"What's in the water in Skibbereen? The answer is that it's not what's in the water but rather what's on the water and in the blood of Skibbereen Rowing Club members? No one could ever have envisaged Skibbereen Rowing Club achieving its 150th national championship title in 2015, 32 years after it was founded. Faith, foresight, hard work, fundraising, the dedication of all and a very supportive local community have driven SRC's success."
Nominated by Máire Keating
TEMPLEOGUE BASKETBALL CLUB
Club Formed in 1976 and celebrating its 40th year in 2016. tbc.ie
"Forty years ago some enthusiastic past pupils from Templeogue College formed a team to play in the Dublin leagues, and gradually we had three senior teams. In the mid-1990s, when these players had sons and daughters of their own, they set up our junior section. our kids are the best supporters in the land. Even for away games we tend to outnumber the home supporters. Templeogue is an open, competitive, fun club with great ambition, and we hope to strive for further success in the coming years."
Nominated by John Walsh
TERENURE COLLEGE RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
Club It has six adult teams and – on Sundays – 450 boys playing mini rugby. Most nominated club in the Best Sports Club competition. tcrfc.ie
"What makes Terenure RFC the best club in Ireland? Is it a history of winning; the trophies, the performances, the memories? The players: the good, the bad and the legendary? Is it the upsets? The unlikely away win? Yes, it's all of that, but for Terenure RFC it is the people, it is the atmosphere as you walk into the clubhouse or take your place on the terraces. It is more than a sports club: it is bringing a community and people together."
Nominated by Caroline Kennedy
TOURLESTRANE GAA CLUB
Sport Gaelic football and hurling
Club Rural Sligo club fighting falling numbers tourlestrane.sligo.gaa.ie
"We truly are one club, one family. And never more have I seen our true sense of community family as I have of late. We've suffered severe heartache in recent weeks, with the loss of two young senior players on top of the loss of so many influential GAA stalwarts in the past five years, but every single time we got knocked down our GAA community picked us up and stood up strong. We take satisfaction in that when we step on the field we have 14 brothers or sisters there with us too."
Nominated by Katie Walsh
TRALEE PARNELLS HURLING & CAMOGIE CLUB
Sport Hurling and camogie
Club Its mission is to to revive underage hurling in Tralee. facebook.com/ TraleeParnellsHurlingClub/
"A young family moved to Tralee town from New York city. Summers had been spent playing baseball. It seemed natural to get involved in another stick-and-ball sport, even if our new home was in the heartland of football. Tralee Parnells Hurling and Camogie Club welcomed us, as it does anyone who wants to 'come and try it'. Fast-forward four years: not many under-six teams can claim that their manager is from the hurling stronghold of Brooklyn!"
Nominated by Carmel O'Shea-Maloney
VIRGINIA RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
Club "Rugby in Cavan, you snigger. No task is insurmountable."
"Sport: the eternal unifier of the human race and the common thread that creates positivity and purpose in communities across our island. Nowhere is this ethos more evident than in our small rural club here in Virginia, Co Cavan. Rugby in Cavan, I hear you snigger, is almost akin to bobsledding in Jamaica, but the might of human determination transcends all the impossibilities; our 2015-16 season is a testament to people power and belief."
Nominated by Carol Kiernan
The Best Sports Club in Ireland contest is sponsored by the National Dairy Council