Given the prevailing mood of pessimism in the country, it’s all too easy to solely focus on the problems facing GAA Clubs because of the financial crisis and mass emigration. Peer through the gloom, though, and the edifying stories of a brand new Hurling Club, established in Dublin last year, appears like a green shoot in a seemingly barren landscape.
â??The first question we asked when we were setting the whole thing up was whether we could actually have a team and get 15 players. I really wasnâ??t expecting to get such an overwhelming response."
When Pádraig Ó Chaoimh initiated the drive to establish a Club in every parish in the country, it is fair to say the former Secretary General of the GAA probably did not envisage that some day social media such and Internet chat rooms would play key roles in establishing modern day GAA Clubs.
Chaoimh, however, had not reckoned with the innovative people behind the newest Hurling Club in the capital, Réalt Dearg.
Hurling fans in the capital will already be familiar with the Réalt Dearg success story. A passion for hurling and the unbridled enthusiasm of its members, as well as a proactive approach to promoting the Club and recruiting new members, has seen the Terenure-based Club make remarkable strides since its foundation a little over a year ago.
Two like-minded small ball devotees, Clare man Jack McNamara and Kilkenny native Liam Lanigan, noticed the ancient game was poorly catered for in the Ranelagh/Terenure/Rathmines area of the city and decided to take the matter into their own hands. The idea of forming a new Club was floated on the popular GAA website An Fear Rua and other Internet forums and the overwhelmingly positive response convinced the pair to pursue the project.
Nine people attended their first meeting in November 2009, but by the time of their first game in AHL Division 9 in March 2010, their ranks had swelled to 19. Given their base in the largely transient suburbs of south Dublin, it is hardly surprising that their player base is predominantly drawn from non-Dublin natives.
“We only have one or two guys from Dublin because if you grew up in Dublin then you are in an established Club. By and large it would be people from down the country – there are a lot of lads from Kilkenny, Clare, Limerick and places like that,” says Club Secretary and founding member Liam Lanigan. “
“We also wanted to attract people who had never played before, so we have a German player and we had French players last year and a Canadian player. In terms of putting down roots in the community it will take a lot longer.”
Although they enjoyed considerable success in their first season - including an appearance in the semi-final of the Junior F County Championship and two league victories – not having a pitch to call their own was a constant headache. They endured an itinerant existence, training anywhere from Sandymount Strand to Bushy Park in the early days and renting pitches from Thomas Davis and St James’ Gaels, Crumlin. They also relied on the goodwill of Clubs like Faughs and St Judes as well as the Dublin County Board, who made pitches available to them.
“We didn’t end up finding a pitch last year and had to play all of our games away from home. In terms of training, we used public parks – Bushy Park mainly. It wasn’t ideal because sometimes we would get there and there were people already on the pitch and you can’t really do anything about that,” Lanigan continues.
“At the moment we would categorise ourselves as more of a team than a Club until such time as we have our own facilities. We are aware that a lot of Clubs arise in the city and then disappear because people come from the country and then leave and that’s it.
“To become a properly established Club in the long-term, the main way of developing that is to have a proper underage structure and become a part of the community, particularly in Terenure, which is our base now.”
Membership has swelled to 53 players on the back of a clever recruitment drive that has involved spreading the word online and increasing the Club’s visibility in their catchment area with a striking poster campaign featuring the unmistakable Réalt Dearg crest.
Their success in attracting new members has served to further highlight their need for a permanent home, however, as they have entered a second team into the AHL Division 9 and the Junior F Championship this year.
It’s not the only headache for the embryonic Club though; attracting a manager has proven equally as challenging.
“At the moment all the management decisions, selection and all of that is down to the players. Players taking training sessions isn’t an ideal situation by any means,” Lanigan continues.
“We’re really eager to get a manager on board. A major priority for us at the moment is to attract people interested in management, selection and training. We need as many as possible because we have two teams that are dependent on the players themselves.”
Logistical difficulties aside, Lanigan says the entire project has been far more successful than he could have imagined when the idea was dreamed up 16 months ago.
“The first question we asked when we were setting the whole thing up was whether we could actually have a team and get 15 players. I really wasn’t expecting to get such an overwhelming response,” he says.
“Especially the speed that all of it has happened. When we had six people out at our first training session, if someone told me that a year on we would have two teams then I would never have believed them.”