Western Australia's John West Féile adventure
By Cian O’Connell
The John West Féile commences on Friday with teams travelling from all over the world to participate.
Western Australia’s first appearance in the competition is particularly noteworthy with a panel of 20 players leaving Perth last Sunday evening.
Since arriving in Ireland the Western Australia panel has trained at Erins Isle’s grounds in Dublin, while also enjoying a tour of Croke Park.
Challenge matches have also took place during the week with the late Charlie McCarthy’s rich contribution to the GAA remembered in Aghada. Another influential figure in Western Australia, Dermot Kenny, was honoured in Devlin during the week.
Cratloe native Tom Murphy, Secretary of the Minor Board in Western Australia, who also serves as the State PRO, explains how this story has unfolded.
“The players come from a number of difference schools in the Perth area,” Murphy says. “All of them play with AFL clubs, they are all footy players and soccer players. Underage we have a Gaelic Games Junior Academy in Western Australia.
“It operates for 4-12 year olds, hurling and football, for about six months of the year starting in March and finishing in September. After that they come in under the remit of the Minor Board.
“We were sending minor teams across to the Australasian Games, we had two teams in Perth in 2017 and had one team in Melbourne last year when we won the Australasian shield. We saw there was a gap for kids up to the age of 15, that is the youngest they can go to the Australisan Games.
To participate at Féile is a significant achievement for Western Australia, who face Oran (Roscommon), St Brigid's (Leitrim), and Bective/Cannistown (Meath) in Division 12 action during the weekend.
“We came up with the idea of sending a team to Féile, it had never been done,” Murphy adds. “We bascially gauged what the interest levels would be like and found that there was a good bit of interest.
“We advertised trials in February, we had 55 kids taking part in trials up to Easter and then we picked a squad after Easter. They are mainly from the northern suburbs of Perth, most Irish people settle in the northern suburbs.
“Going through the squad list I'd say we only have three Irish born in the squad even though we have McCartans, Fenlons, and O'Dea's, not many of them were born in Ireland. It is great for them to go back to visit the home country.
“Three are Irish born, some of them are second generation, and a lot of them are Austrailan born and bred with Australian parents. They came along to the trials, they would be friendly with the kids in schools. That is how they got involved.
“Kids over here are mad to play sport, give them a ball and they are happy. They have the weather over here. We have Markonvichs, McCraes, Saunders, we have a set of twin brothers. Most of the team are Australian born, some have Irish parents, who might have been born and raised here.
“I suppose some parents would have come out here in the late 1980s or early 1990s to forge a career, got married and have families out here. None of the families involved have come out in recent years, they are all out at least 20 years most of them.”
In Western Australia Murphy, who has lived in Australia for three years, stresses the importance of trying to develop Gaelic Games through working with some local schools. “We run schools carnivals,” Murphy states. “The main school at the moment for doing that mainly because a lot of our coaches are teachers is John the 23rd College in Mount Clermont.
“What we do is hold carnivals there, we bring other schools in from places like Freemantle. They play carnivals at Under 15, Under 16 level and we use that as a way of forming a minor team to play in the Australasian games.
“Every October we will bring in the Michael O'Connor Cup. Michael O'Connor was a Kerryman out here, he started off the minor board here before passing away suddenly. We do hold schools carnivals and we invited other schools in.
“It is getting bigger because the more kids we have going to Féile, Australasian Games, invariably their friends are coming along from different schools. We are able to widen the net out as such to bring more schools in.
“That is the way we are developing Gaelic Football at the moment. We have very good links with our Gaelic Games Junior Academy, who now know there will be Féile to look forward to. One example is Darragh McCarthy, his older brother Conall played for Australia in the Australasian Games at minor level last year. His younger brother is following in his footsteps.”
That several players, who commenced in the Junior Academy will feature in the Féile provides a source of optimism and encouragement according to Murphy. “We have about 10 players, who came out of the Junior Academy over the last four or five years,” Murphy remarks.
“As well as being state PRO I'm the minor secretary too, we have strong links between the minor board and Academy which nearly works as one in that we have a streamlined process to bring them from four years of age to 18. It is just about identifying gaps and where to fill them.
“The Junior Academy are delighted to see kids they coached going on to represent their state at something like Féile it is brilliant.”
Before this week’s two challenge matches in Aghada and Devlin how did the Western Australian panel prepare? “ They played against themselves,” Murphy replies. “Our focus going to Féile was working on the skills side of things.
“If you're trying to explain to somebody in Ireland the kids over here are very strong, very fast, they are well able to catch and kick a ball because of the AFL background.
“The oval and round ball doesn't bother them, what does is maybe the pick up. In AFL if you go to do that you can get smashed off the ball straightaway. To read the game and get them used to stay in positions and what the half forward or midfielders job is can be a little bit different to AFL. We wouldn't be concerned about them in a match situation, it is getting their skills and getting them into a Gaelic Football mode because they are coming from an AFL background.”
Murphy acknowledges the work of so many, who helped to turn this project into a reality. “There is a financial cost, but we got an awful lot of help from the GAA in Western Australia, we got help from the clubs, from Australasia GAA, the team sponsors FT Workforce, Croke Park as well, Anne Gibney the International Officer has been very good to us, helping us out a lot,” Murphy comments.
“We have a lot of individual sponsors and people who have helped us out. When you are involved it doesn't seem to be a massive undertaken, but it is. We've had an awful lot of help from a lot of people that we really appreciate.
“A lot of families are going over with the kids to spend their holidays in Ireland. It is great for people in Ireland to see them playing in Féile, but also for families, the parents who came out to Australia, who are going back.
“They are really excited, we are going there for Féile, but it is going to be a hugely happy and positive time for everyone involved.”