Ratoath on Leinster silverware trail again
By Cian O’Connell
Another December Leinster Final beckons for Ratoath. A year ago the Meath club claimed provincial Intermediate Gaelic Football glory, but this Saturday they venture to Nowlan Park for a junior hurling decider.
That match with Mooncoin will be a severe examination for Ratoath, who won the Meath Intermediate hurling title in October.
It means that in 2017 the club will operate in both codes at senior level for the first time ever which is a noteworthy achievement according to Ratoath Chairman Larry McGowan. “It is terrific, obviously we are absolutely aware of where Meath hurling is in the pecking order.
“Although to be fair they had a good run in the Under 21 B which they won and the Christy Ring as well after a great battle with Antrim.
“I know in the overall pecking order it wouldn't be considered to be climbing a mountain by any means, but they are baby steps from a Meath perspective which puts us back into the Leinster Championship next year. That is a positive.
“Then coming back to the club, we started off in 1903 as a hurling club and then like a lot of clubs in Meath football took over in the 1960s and 70s.
“It was only with the influx of population into the area that things took another direction again. The hurling got a bit more energy around it, all the usual challenges were there with the urbanisation of rural clubs, but we will be senior as a club in Meath for the first time since 1963. That in itself is some feat and for the first time in our history we will be playing senior football and senior hurling.”
McGowan explains why Ratoath’s hurling fortunes have improved recently. “We started off as a hurling club, but then migrated into a football club, but hurling has picked up momentum in the last 10 years or so.
“I've three sons involved, they all play senior football as well. At least half of the guys in the hurling panel play football. In hurling we are an amalgamation of Ratoath and Curragha.
“The guys that play hurling for us from Curragha, they play football with them at Intermediate level. That would be James McEntee's team. It is a village three or four miles down the road. They are football only so they play hurling with us.”
Ratoath’s diligent work in the underage ranks is now beginning to be reflected at adult level. “The team that are coming through are really the first that are showing the signs of the investment that was put in 10 or 15 years ago with the new young lads moving into the area,” McGowan admits.
“Kilkenny set the standard for Leinster. We were Intermediate in the early 80s, but were relegated down to Junior. We had been maybe 30 years or so down in the wilderness of Junior basically down to the fact that most of the guys were playing football and there wasn't the population.
“As that expands people with different interests move in and there was a resurgence. My own first love would be hurling, I would have put a reasonable amount of effort into it and continue to do so. Loads of other guys like Jim Flaherty and Larry Kirwan to name a few.”
During the past few decades Ratoath, who were beaten by a classy Maurice Fitzgerald trained St Mary’s in the 2016 All Ireland Intermediate Football Semi-Final, have started to prosper.
“The club has grown,” McGowan says. “If you go back 20 or 30 years ago the local population was just 500. The population now would be between 10 and 12,000. The club has 1500 members, that is three times what the population of Ratoath was 20 years ago. We have 20,000 square foot of buildings and areas inside, halls, gyms, training areas.
"We have 30 acres of pitches. We went through all the challenges through the Celtic Tiger when there were large repayments of debts, but we have it all back down to manageable levels. We are looking at a development to further enhance the facilities. We are looking at purchasing land, we are just putting plans in place for that.
“We have about 1500 members in the club - men, women, and kids. We did a survey a little while ago, 30 of the 32 counties were accounted for across parents and kids. Obviously the vast majority of kids were born locally, but their parents ticked 30 of the 32 boxes.
“So if you take my lads for example, I'm Dublin, but their mother is from Antrim. As you go through the club you'll see lots like that. People will pigeon hole you as this, that or the other, but like most GAA clubs there is a distribution of people right across the board.
“Our AGM is on Friday night, we are playing in a Leinster Final on Saturday. One year ends, but we seem to carry on regardless as we try to put plans in place for the following year while still participating in Leinster. That is a challenge in itself.”