Joanne O’Riordan: Club football is most romantic contest around

Idea is simple: you play the game you love with the people you love, for the people you love

 Carnacon’s Erina Flannery and Michelle McGing celebrate after beating Mourneabbey in the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club Football Championship Final in Parnell Park. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Carnacon’s Erina Flannery and Michelle McGing celebrate after beating Mourneabbey in the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club Football Championship Final in Parnell Park. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

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It was about a year and a half ago I sat in my college apartment familiarising myself once again with Victoria Lodge, Apartment 63 in Cork. I had returned from my year abroad in York, dealt with the Brexit, an election and my housemates fangirling over Jeremy Corbyn – no seriously, that was a thing; the guy was like a Rockstar in the Yorkshire city. The difference between my first year in York was I felt empty like I was missing out on something.

I had absolutely amazing friends and housemates over there but from September all the way to March (if you’re lucky), that whole timeline you are engrossed in one championship and one championship only – the club championship, both men and women. When I arrived back to my same apartment in Cork, I was familiarising myself with my new PAs, and I struck up a conversation with one of them about club championship.

From the first hour to the last hour of working together, we consistently spoke about club championship, how it brings out the best and the worst in people (we’ve seen that with the odd melee/brawl/whatever term we’re now using for inexcusable fighting) and how, no matter what, you put your heart and soul into the club year in, year out in the hope you’ll get something in return.

Idealistic

The club championship has to be the most idealistic and most romantic championship around across all sports. The whole idea is simple – stay together and play the game you love, with the people you love and for the people you love. That unbelievable vibe where you can be a hero and a villain all in one moment, but chances are you are a hero irrespective of what happens.

Flash forward to two weeks ago when my eldest brother, all the way from Sweden, interrupted my trip to London at 2am to inform me that our old club of Dromtarriffe had won the Junior A County Championship. In his own words, it felt like that moment in WWE when Eric Bischoff came back to take over RAW, and his theme song was “I am back . . . and better before”. The sleepy villages and parish of Dromtarriffe were back, trying to hunt down every title it sets its sights on.

And that’s the beauty of club championship. It reunites everyone from home and abroad and makes you think of absolutely everyone who came and fought for the club and created the club that won a county championship, provisional or even more. It is the unsung heroes who do trojan work behind the scenes.

My brother and I were on the phone for at least two hours discussing old times, old people, the time my dad gave a goalkeeper a cigarette because the match was so dull and the goalkeeper had yet to face a shot, the bizarre moments that stick out in your memory.

I am incredibly lucky that while doing some public speaking engagements I’ve met some incredible people along the way in the sports world. From Rena Buckley to Bomber Liston and Ciara O’ Sullivan to John Allen and everything in between. Each and every one of them were honed on tiny pitches up and down the country and nurtured by the clubs, volunteers and unbelievable coaches who remain in the background but remain pillars of various communities across the country.

Conquered

This weekend, the ladies football club semi-finals are taking place across the country with junior, intermediate and senior teams all trying to forge their name into an elusive All-Ireland final. For the past few months we have seen Mourneabbey destroy all around them in their drive to five campaigns in Munster, Foxrock-Cabinteely become one of the most successful clubs after only being formed a number of years ago, while Kilkerrin/Clonberne defeated vengeance-seeking Carnacon in Connacht and Donaghmoyne conquered all forces in Ulster.

Before all of these teams, and those competing in intermediate and junior, is a chance at writing their name in the history books. From the heartbreak-driven Mourneabbey to the history-seeking Foxrock-Cabinteely, these semi-finals are set up to be two incredibly enthralling contests.

This All-Ireland series is right there for the taking. And I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about what lays ahead for every single one of those teams.

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