Around the country this month, the serious end of the various championships are playing out. It’s the bigtime baby. No room for sentiment, its winner takes all. Months of training, blood sweat and tears. It all comes down to this. Gladiators. Dying with your boots on. You get the idea!
We all have seen the cycle of the players in our clubs, families etc – the enthusiastic child, the young player between youth and manhood, the player in his prime, the decline, retirement, kids.. and repeat. The end of any playing career can be hard to take for people regardless of the level or professionalism of their sport. We see playing as part of our identity, what makes us part of the tribe, a big part of who we are.
Often in GAA circles this happens somewhere in your mid to late 30s (but we all know the few exceptions!). We struggle on, training becomes a chore or non existent, the body starts to give you the little hints – “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone (except in the place where Stevie Bambrick stood on your foot in the Div 3 league final in 94) The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone (Well it is but there is a whore of a scar on it where Pat Coady pulled a little high (he said the ball was there?) in 04).. and that’s the natural law…. I think that’s the way the song goes anyway!
So around the country there is a collection of those lads, and despite what they say – ah, I'm too old, ah I had my day, ah It’s a young lads game.. they still want to play. We never lose this. Fine we might not be able to move as well as we did, but we still love the skills and showing these off. We re just worried about embarrassing ourselves! Will we still answer the call to tog out if the juniors were short? “Where are my Mikita gloves and power boots, Bridie??!”
The big thing we often tend to forget is that there is more like you and me – we are not alone! So all we need is a space to feel comfortable in doing this. In recent years, local soccer has seized (apt after a game!) this interest and started an over 35’s league. I have played in it now for a good number of years with Nurney Villa – the exact number of years will only be revealed along with the 4th secret of Fatima/who killed JFK. This year it has 3 divisions of 6 teams, so with cup games, each player was sure of 12 games. A great pathway – we seemingly only use the term player pathway up to a certain age – what is wrong with a pathway for me? Am I not part of the organisation? Do I no longer have value?
We pride ourselves in the GAA about being inclusive and a community. We are all wanted and there are roles for us all across the club. Sometimes the older or ex player drifts from things. They find it hard to make that transition. So we loose a lot of expertise, members, potential coaches etc as a result. Lucky we (the GAA) have decided to begin catering for those who want to keep tipping away on the pitch but not in that competitive or structured manner – Social hurling/Social football/Mothers and Others in ladies football/camogie
The social scene (it is actually my only social scene at this stage!) is growing at a rapid rate in clubs/counties around the country. And long may it last! In Carlow, we have had a hurling outfit for the last 3 years or so. It’s a mix of anyone who is interested in pucking a ball about. No need to show the county medals to play, just a hurl and a helmet. You are not tied to a club, there is no membership and its turn up when you can. The great thing about is that there is a place for everyone – the ex county man, the lad who never played until he turned up here etc. All shapes and sizes, all ages (we have men in their late 60s playing away).
And the buzz? A mutual respect for getting out and friendships through a common love of sport and having a bit of craic doing it. You play at your own pace and contact is to a minimum. Remember that famous Father Ted episode with the soccer?? The best description of it was from Niamh Bambrick when she referred to it as “Go Games for auld lads”!
I would encourage clubs, a group of friends etc to think about getting it going across our own county more. We all hear of the 5 a side soccer in the hall or on the Astro – so why not a bit of football or hurling? There is an unfortunate reluctance to do so in case of that most dreaded word in Irish society of late – insurance – I have included a photo of the only “injury” I have seen in 3 years of hurling bar a few tight hamstrings – my broken windshield!
But issues around this area are easy to work and any advice I can give on our set up I will do so to anyone. The powers that be in GAA headquarters are hosting an annual blitz for the social scene in Abbotstown (thanks to Colette Coady for the work on this) and there is no prerequisite to be a club member, to have your team even associated with a single club – we go under Carlow Social Hurling or Carlow/Castlecomer Social hurling. So do not put barriers where there are none – if there’s a will there’s a way!
The main photo sums up what every coming together we have is about. Taken as we finished up our matches last Saturday and headed off to have a cup of tea and a chat before lads faced out for Dublin, Kildare, Tipp, Kilkenny and Carlow. A mix of Fathers, Grandfathers, brothers, a daughter, big men, slow men, a former director of hurling, a Pal man playing his heart out in Dublin, a Tipp man in a pair of golf shoes etc but most important of all, hurlers, all smiling. These are my comrades; this is my tribe.
For any details on Carlow Social Hurling (next blitz is in Abbottstown on Sept 30th – all most welcome!) or if I can be of any help in setting up something in your club/area, feel free to contact me on 0876136802.