My Club: Aidan Harte - Gort
In this week’s ‘My Club’ feature, Galway senior hurling Aidan Harte tells us all about Gort GAA club.
By John Harrington
Gort GAA club was founded at the turn of the 20th century, but there was a strong tradition of hurling in the town long before then.
An extract from an 18th century newspaper, Pue’s Occurences, described a match played in Goraton October 16, 1759, between two teams representing Galway and Clare for a purse of 100 guineas.
There’s also an account of a match played by 21 Gort hurlers against an Offaly selection in Athlone in 1854, which Gort won by two goals to one.
In 1886, not long after the founding of the GAA, a Gort man, Ned Treston, is credited with making the first standardised hurling sliotar before a match between Galway and Tipperary.
Before the match there was a dispute over what sliotar should be used as the sliotars used by both teams varied in size and weight. Treston, saddler by trade, resolved the situation by making a new sliotar at a saddlery near Dublin Castle which became the prototype for all others for many years to come.
Gort won senior county titles in 1914, 1916, and 1934, but thereafter endured a long barren spell until they rose to prominence again in the early eighties, winning county titles in ’81 and ’83 when the team was powered by county players like Sylvie Linnane and John Commins.
They came agonisingly close to winning an All-Ireland title in 1984 when they drew with a star-studded Ballyhale Shamrocks team from Kilkenny in the Final before losing the replay.
1995 was a red-letter year for the club as they purchased the 25-acre old Golf Club grounds, having, previously used various locations around the parish for their pitches.
They now boast state of the art facilities including two full-size hurling pitches, one smaller training pitch, an 800-capacity seated stand, a clubhouse with a gym, four dressing-rooms and a hurling ball-wall.
The club has enjoyed huge success in recent years, winning county senior titles in 2011 and 2014.
For more information on Gort GAA club, visit their website www.gortgaa.com.
Q: For those who don't know where Gort is, can you tell us a little about the area?
A: Yeah, so we're in south Galway, right on the border with Clare, about four or five miles from the border. We're steeped in hurling tradition. The first sliotar would have been made by Ned Treston in Galway back in the late 1800s.
It's a town with a lot with a lot of heritage. Lady Gregory lived in Coole Park and Yeats and O'Casey coming down there to write their poems. Yeah, we'd be steeped in tradition really in all aspects.
Q: Hurling has always been part of the fabric of Gort?
A: It has, yeah. It gives us a great sense of community and we've a new field development that's been opened for five or six years and we've great numbers there from U-6 right up to senior level. Thankfully we're a very competitive club, it's great.
Q: Can you remember first playing for Gort?
A: I suppose things would have started with the U-8s or U-10s over on the old Boy's School pitch as it was called. We used to be in what was called the 'Old Field', it was a community field given to the club by the parish priest and there was soccer, rugby, hurling, all taking place until the GAA club got its own piece of land which they bought, the old golf-course.
I can remember winning an U-11 ground hurling tournament down in Clarinbridge which was a great thing for us because what prospered from it 10 years later was our first county senior championship for our generation in 2011 when we beat Clarinbridge. I'd say nine or ten of the lads from that U-11 team were on the senior first 15 in 2011 and many of them would have had fathers who were playing in the '81 and '83 county finals that Gort won. It just shows the tradition that's there.
Q: Your father Josie won county medals in '81 and '83. I'd imagine he was a big influence on you?
A: Yeah, certainly. Dad was born into Kilbeacanty which is just out the road from us. He took the opportunity to go to New York when he was 19 or 20 years of age and was there from '66 to '77. When he came back he bought the pub in Gort and they were badgering him all the time to make the transfer.
I think he was actually 34 or 35 when he won his first championship in '81 and he was captain of the team in '83. Yeah, he'd be telling us all about the great battles that they had with the Fennellys from Ballyhale Shamrocks and we then had our own battle with Ballyhale in 2014 and they beat us by four points, so they've always been a thorn in Gort's side in terms of the All-Ireland Club. But, yeah, plenty of experience and advice at home.
Q: It must have been a huge deal for your generation to come along and win the club's first title in 28 years?
A: Yeah, '83 to 2011, a 28 year gap. It was massive for us. People always talk about winning a county championship and how great it is, and there's no doubt about it that was brilliant. We came back into the town that night and the Tulla pipe band led us up the street and there were three or four thousand people in the square. There's just no substitute for an experience like that, it was brilliant.
Q: You would have previously hurled in a County Final that you lost in 2008?
A: Yeah, we lost the 2008 Final with more or less the same team, but a lot of us were about 18 or 19 years of age and we were playing a Portumna team at the time who were really at the top of their game, both in terms of their hurling and their physicality.
You could see that from the pictures of that match, I think a lot of us looked like dwarves in our jersies and you were playing against the likes of the Cannings and Damien Hayes, and even quality hurlers who weren't on the county panel like Leo Smith and Niall Hayes. Big-built guys who were really top of their game.
We just learned from that and took the experience into Pearse Stadium three years later and weren't fazed then by the day.
Q: That 2008 Final would have been the 25th anniversary of the club's previous title in '83. Did that add to the pressure of the occasion?
A: Yeah, certainly. In Galway at half-time of the County Final they bring out the 25 year (Jubilee) team so they would have all been there. It was obviously disappointing, but it's not something you think too much about at the time.
Q: Was Mattie Murphy the Gort coach in 2011?
A: Yeah, Mattie was our coach in 2011 and in 2014 when we won the county title again. In 2011 himself and John Commins who played in goals for Galway in the 1980s would have been in charge of the team along with Conor O'Donovan who would been from the Liam Mellows club but lives in Gort.
Then in 2014 we had Gerry Spellman from Clarinbridge who would have won County Championships with Clarinbridge himself. Himself and Mattie were in charge of the team then. Gerry was excellent for our club. A fantastic coach and a really enthusiastic guy who was really good to the lads and he's someone we'll always be very grateful and thankful for.
Q: Mattie Murphy has obviously achieved lot as a manager of the Galway minor team, would he have also coached the club's underage teams when you were coming up along?
A: No, he would never have coached us as young lads. I suppose the way it works really with young guys, is that the manger is someone who has sons playing on the team. Dad was over teams, Gerry Lally, Joe Regan, Micheál Cahill, they were the guys that had sons playing in the team. Mattie didn't have us until we got to senior, but he would have known a lot of us from playing minor with Galway. You'd always know him from around the town too and he was also principal in the National School so he would have known a lot of the Gort guys.
Q: You're playing corner-back for Galway these days. Has the great Sylvie Linnane ever given you a special one-on-one coaching session on the darker arts of corner-back play?!
A: Maybe the game has evolved a bit since Sylvie was playing! Ah no, Sylvie was great in his time. If I could achieve half the things he achieved, I'd be very happy.
Q: Would he have been the number one local legend back in eighties when he was playing for Galway and winning All-Irelands?
A: Yeah, I suppose he would have. But by the time I started playing hurling he was probably coming to the end of his career. The trophies are there to show how great he was. He has his All-Irelands and his All-Stars. Definitely, he was one of the iconic guys at the time.
Q: Growing up in a pub, I'd imagine it was hard to escape conversations about hurling and still is?
A: Yeah, certainly. There's always a conversation about hurling. I have to be honest, I don't do too much labour in the pub anymore because I'd be trying to avoid it if at all possible. Look it, you enjoy talking about the game, but when you're not training you try to switch off as much as possible. I'd talk about soccer all day no problem, but try to keep away from the hurling if possible.
Q: So that 2011 County Championship winning team was mainly made up of a generation that hurled together all the way up along?
A: Yeah, it was. We won an U-21 'A' in 2010, which was my last year in the grade, and then they won it again in 2011, the same year we won the senior. It was huge success for us at the time, and that was the backbone of our team along with the likes of Ollie Fahy who played for Galway for years. Paul Killilea, Gerry Quinn, Andrew Coen, and Peter Cummins would have been the older guys. They led the team and the younger lads just followed.
Q: You won the County title again in 2014 and were beaten finalists last year, so the club has been consistently competitive since that breakthrough win in 2011?
A: Yeah, we have. In 2012 St. Thomas' beat us in a replay of a county semi-final and went on to win an All-Ireland club. 2013 was a bad year, we didn't even get out of the group, but that shows you the competitiveness of the Galway championship. On any given day, and I know it's a cliche, but it's fact with Galway club hurling that any team can beat you on a given day.
In 2014 we beat Portumna in the Final. There was a bit of a saga to that, it went on to the 14th of December. In 2015 we were beaten in a semi-final by Sarsfields who went on to win it. Last year we were beaten by St. Thomas' in the Final.
So we have been really competitive. Obviously you want to win them all, but being competitive is good for the community and for the younger guys coming up. A big thing these days is that you'd see small guys going around in Gort jersies and it's great for them. It gives people a sense of community and somewhere to go to.
Q: I'd imagine the club's development work has helped in that regard too in terms of bringing through a new generation of hurlers, you have great facilities there.
A: Yeah, the facilities are absolutely top-class. We have a ball-wall there, the two full-size pitches and then a smaller training field down the back. I was involved with the VHI summer camps last summer and I think we had 120 kids in Gort, it was great.
What's happening now at the moment is the likes of Peter Cummins and others have gone back to coach the U-6s and U-8s to pass on their experience which is obviously hugely important. I suppose we're a commuter town and we've a lot of people who have moved into Gort from outside the area and they're gaining that experience from them as well and passing it on to the kids.
Look it, it's a voluntary thing, and any help you can get at all is great, everyone is welcome.
Q: Has this Gort team got the ability to win more silverware in the coming years?
A: Yeah, definitely, definitely. You could even see that time when Ballyhale beat us, they beat us by four points in a good game in Tullamore (2015 All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final). You had TJ Reid, Henry Shefflin, Cha Fitzpatrick, the two Fennellys, Eoin Reid, Joe Holden was after lifting the Liam McCarthy that year. We didn't come up against a bad team, and only came up just short.
What I find is that it's very important as a sportsman not to be satisfied with what you've already won. It's important that guys think, 'ah, sure, we're getting to semi-finals every year, don't worry about it, we'll get there again'.
You have to understand that the teams that aren't getting there are trying their utmost to get there and if you're not trying your utmost to stay there, they're going to pass you out.
You have to keep driving it on. We'll be long enough sitting above in the stand roaring out at other lads, so we might as well do it while we can.
Q: You'll be annoying other lads yourself in the pub in a few years!
A: Yeah, that's it!