14 May 2009 Edition
More than a game BY MATT TREACY
Man O War a relative infant
LAST weekend, GAA clubs across the country celebrated the 125th anniversary of the association in various ways. I happened to be out in north County Dublin and spent a while watching young Seán strutting his stuff for Man O War. Man O War, for those of you who don’t know the exotic place that is Dublin between the city and Meath, is basically a townland between Skerries and Lusk and named after the battleship, for some reason that I have forgotten. It also has a famous 16th century pub of the same name.
The club itself, founded in 1946, is a relative infant compared to its neighbours, the Harps in Skerries, founded in 1908, and Round Towers in Lusk, who date from 1906 and who once had Thomas Ashe as a member while he was a teacher there. Gaelic football, however, has a much longer tradition in the north county and when the association was founded it was one of those parts of the country where already existing village teams were put on a formal basis. In the early years there were something like 50 clubs in north County Dublin and even within living memory places that you would not realise you had passed through and at one time even a row of cottages had their own teams.
Local clubs have supplied a steady line of Dublin players over the years although senior clubs have been a rarity. Of the 32 teams in this year’s senior county championship, only four are from the north county and only really Maurs of Rush and Fingal Ravens could be described as country Dub sides as Fingallians and Naomh Mearnog are located in places that have been subsumed into the urban sprawl.
Junior football is the game of choice out that way and hurling is little played although that is changing and even the Wild Geese in Oldtown have hurlers now, a fact attested to still by a lump on my shin! A chap who knew them of old likened the handing of sticks to Fingal lads to the donation of a thermo-nuclear device to an unstable regime ruled by a crack cocaine addict (which is more than a slight overstatement, I hasten to add).
There would be a school of thought that would claim that north county football is ‘robust’ and there have certainly been some rough old games in the past, particularly between neighbouring clubs. A famous rivalry of the past (actually the not-so-distant past) was between Erin’s Isle and St Margaret’s, the latter being a small village a few miles from Finglas and dating back to when Finglas itself was little more than a village.
Not so far away were the poetically named Starlights, who had a pitch close to the airport. Their name, however, was where the romance ended, and they were actually thrown out of the Dublin junior league and championship for a while due to their, eh, over-enthusiasm on the field of play. Happily, they are now back in business and still largely comprised of one or two families.
Anyway, back to Man O War. Their facilities are pretty basic but the place was full of kids being coached in the basic skills of the game and kick-boxing. I jest, of course. Ciara managed to resist the temptation to have her face painted. Too sophisticated anymore to want to be a tiger or a butterfly.
Of course, what was going on in Man O War was being replicated in hundreds of clubs all over the country as ordinary fixtures were suspended to allow the foundation stones of the association to celebrate both their own and the organisation’s history and place in their community.
THE only competitive senior inter-county matches last weekend were in the Ulster hurling championship and the Christy Ring Cup. Most of the games went as predicted, with Armagh, Donegal and Fermanagh winning in Ulster, and Kerry, Down and Carlow winning in the Christy Ring, but there was a huge shock in Mullingar where Kildare beat 2007 champions Westmeath after extra time.
I have little doubt that Westmeath are suffering from having been effectively consigned to limbo. Despite having won Division II last year they were refused promotion and were rightly miffed at being excluded from the Leinster championship with the arrival of Galway and Antrim.
It will no doubt be argued that their poor league and now this illustrates why they were treated in that manner but that misses the point. The only incentive for winning a lower league is to be promoted. If that is denied then there isn’t much point in it and Westmeath were clearly set back by the whole affair just as Dublin would have been in 2005 when a similar move had to be overturned at Congress.
Westmeath ought to have been allowed take the same chance as Dublin. They may have been beaten out the gate in most matches but that would have been better than their current malaise. And by the way fair play to Kildare who are another county that are showing signs of progress, having just two weeks ago won the Division III title. Perhaps it is the first step on their way back to once again competing at senior level as they did in the late 1970s.