Irish Examiner column 20 Feb 2009

February 20, 2009

Wrong place but the right club

I F it’s Tuesday, it must be Waterford.

This column rocked up to De La
Salle GAA club’s new premises earlier this week in the Gentle County, ready for a press night ahead of the senior team’s clash this Sunday with Cushendall in the All-Ireland club semi-final.

We bounced over one or two speed bumps along the way: De La Salle are in the process of moving their base of operations from their old playing grounds, in Cleaboy, across to the new venue above Gracedieu in the city, so the club had a presence in both places on Tuesday night. The lift up to Cleaboy delivered us bang on time, only to discover the press event was going on in Gracedieu. Must really start reading those e-mails.

For an uncomfortable minute or two an extremely uncomfortable walk looked on the cards, before a De La Salle intermediate player — thanks, Ronan — offered a lift over to the new clubhouse. Reporter rescued, and sweaty, steamy arrival averted: everybody wins in that situation, believe me. That kind of willingness to give a stranger a dig-out is part of what makes covering the All-Ireland club finals more attractive, a lot of the time, than the big show itself. You end up in places like De La Salle’s new clubhouse, where some of the doors are waiting to be fitted and there’s a whiff of sawdust in the air as they put the outward signs of a club on show.

The inner parts are already in place. When we went into one of the club’s new meeting rooms there were pictures of the 1999 Féile na nGael team already framed and hanging on the far wall, along with a terrific poster advertising the county senior football final replay of 1958 (in the Gaelic Field?).

The plain table was of a make and model common to all hurling and football clubs the length and breadth of the country — an interior designer might call it a GAA, Come What May look. The sandwiches were traditional — plain ham and egg mayonnaise — though kudos to the sweet-toothed club officer who produced an inexhaustible supply of Cadbury’s Mini Rolls (take it as read that the assembled journos tried their best to exhaust it).

The club officials in attendance were beaming with pride, unsurprisingly. No unit of the GAA lives exclusively on champagne and De La Salle have had their lean years just like everybody else. Waterford star John Mullane, who captains De La Salle, spoke feelingly about the 15- and sixteen-point defeats he had suffered with the club senior side in the local championship just a few short years ago. That same cycle applies to Corofin and Kilmacud, to Cushendall and Ballyhale. When the good times come along you try to enjoy them.

O NE OF the great cliches that goes on heavy rotation at this time of year is the one thrown out by GAA stars so famous they’re usually identifiable by their first name alone — that it’s even better when you win something with the club and the lads you grew up with. It’s true, of course, and the proof was on offer in De La Salle.

Kevin Moran was keen to point to the seven hurlers in the picture of the 1999 Féile team who graduated to the senior team and lined out in the county final against Abbeyside last year. Brian Phelan was frank about the players’ meeting which turned the club’s season around in late August. Mullane paid tribute to club heroes like Derek McGrath, who had broken down in training on the Tuesday night before the county final and missed out on the big day.

Most weeks of the year you’re accustomed to meeting these players outside a dressing-room with dozens of others brandishing microphones, cameras and tape recorders. It’s nice, one or two weeks in the year, to meet them on their home ground.

And speaking of home ground… much obliged to club PRO John Sheehan, who kindly gave me a lift back into town from the new clubhouse.

It meant that those Mini Rolls could be digested in comfort.


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