By STEPHEN GLENNON
With the Government indicating children’s outdoor sports may return on April 26, City outfit Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg will launch their 2021 juvenile season with fun games and activities at Crestwood on Saturday, May 1.
These are exciting times for the Gaelic football club. Adopting a “fresh approach” to their underage structure, Juvenile Chairman Benny Lawless says that there has been a genuine surge in interest in Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg since they began to advertise within the schools and build strong links with them.
The May 1st launch will take place between 11am and 12:30pm, with all registered children receiving a full kit, and Lawless and the club will be hoping for a fine turnout.
After a number of years of juvenile stagnation, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg, whose catchment area includes Menlo, Tirellan, Ballinfoile, Castlegar, Terryland and The Claddagh, has sought to rejuvenate their underage structure in the past two seasons.
Up to this point, too many players from their catchment area were joining neighbouring clubs – usually following a classmate or friend – and the club realised that if they were to sustain their adult set-up and advance it in the years to come, they would have to nurture and bring through young players.
“So, we made a conscious decision to work down the way from the age of 12 because it was too much hard work to try and attract them (players over that age) back to the club. We wanted a fresh start and that was the strategy we took at the time.
“Since we made that conscious decision to concentrate on the lower age groups – the oldest age we have at the moment is 12 – we have been putting in a very good plan,” says the Juvenile Chairman.
Despite a string of storms forcing the club to cancel sessions in early 2020, they did get in a number of work-outs before the Covid pandemic hit. “We squeezed two or three sessions in during February in Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre and 85 children turned up. We knew straightaway then that we were doing the right things and that there was interest.
“There was nothing then until we had the Cúl Camps in Crestwood last August. They were a huge success. We had 65 children attend them and, then, on the back of that, we kept the training sessions going until the end of October when Covid stopped us again. By that time, we had up to 100 children turning up on a Saturday morning in Crestwood.”
Club juvenile chairman, Benny Lawless; club chairman Tom Cox and underage head coach Alan Campbell.
Lawless says it “was a great time for the club” and for Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg this represented significant progress. “You could see the future taking off and that kind of set the foundation for this year,” he says. “There is a genuine interest there of building up a club for the community and it is really joining the whole community together.”
As with any amalgamation, establishing a new sense of identity can take time, particularly when Fr. Griffins, once a powerhouse of Galway football, and Éire Óg had both invested many years in cultivating their own traditions.
Formed in 1947, Fr. Griffin’s, based in the Claddagh, won seven county senior titles. Éire Óg, meanwhile, was founded in 1972 by local men Willie Keane and Tom Small and it won Junior ‘A’ titles in 1975 and ’80, in addition to numerous underage titles in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s.
However, the demographic of their primary catchment areas was aging and in 2007 the two clubs agreed to amalgamate. Fr. Griffins stalwarts Myles McHugh, Tom Cox and Vincent Gilmore and Éire Óg’s Mike Burke, Johanna Downes and Tom Costello led the negotiations.
Yet, progress on the field was slow over the next decade, with one of the few highlights an U16 (Division 2) campaign in which they defeated Oughterard in the West Board final before accounting for Glenamaddy in the county decider.
Senior players Adrian McPhilbin, Sean O Faharta and Darren Moylan
In early 2017, the adult players met and pledged to get their team back up to a level they felt it should be competing at. Within 18 months, they won back-to-back leagues and, captained by Adrian McPhilbin, they also claimed the County Junior ‘A’ Championship.
A club on the move, the focus then became about how to sustain this progress.
“I know the angle I am coming at this is from underage, but you can’t forget about the adult side of it,” says Lawless. “You have two clubs who have come together and it has gained a lot of traction in the last two or three years, especially.
“The adult team is going from strength to strength – Gay O’Brien from Barna is managing them – and we now also have a second adult team in Junior ‘C’ and we are well on the way there. Those two adult teams have about 10 subs on each. So, there is a huge amount of adults involved and there is a huge amount of interest.
“We also had Enda Concannon representing the club on the Galway juniors (in 2019). So, bit by bit, we are gaining momentum,” says Lawless, who credits Club Chairman Tom Cox for a lot of this good work.
“Tom is a stalwart; he has been the constant there from when they amalgamated. He is a very positive person and he is driving it from an adult perspective while I am working with him on the underage side.”
With numbers swelling at juvenile level, the aim now is to increase their participation at underage by a grade year-on-year. That’s our goal,” says Lawless. “We have an U12 team there and we are looking at building on that, building on those young lads.
“Our target is to field an U15 Féile team in three years’ time. I have no doubt we will do it. Would I love to see a few more lads down with us at that age? Absolutely, and at the minute we are working at building that. As I said, the numbers are going one way at the moment, and that is up. That is really positive to see.”
Under Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg Coaching Officer Alan Campbell, who has experience of working in the county underage set-up, the club is ensuring the coaching that the children receive is “as good as anywhere in the country”.
“We are working on achieving a high level and maintaining that standard of coaching is probably our number one priority,” continues the Juvenile Chairman. “That is what we are hoping will segregate us from the rest. That is what we are aiming for.
“Dennis Carr (Galway GAA Games Development Administrator) has been very much in touch with us as well and is there to help us to develop. So, from a City point of view, it is positive. We are trying to keep up with the standards set by the other clubs: St. James’, St. Michael’s and Salthill/Knocknacarra.”
This body of child coaching fits into the club’s overall strategy, led by Myles McHugh, who is developing a five to 10-year plan to support the growth of Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg.
“If you came up to Crestwood last September and October, all you would have seen is 80 to 100 children on the pitch, beautiful weather, and it was a really good vibe and a real positive outlet for a Saturday morning. That is what we want to continue,” says Lawless.
“I suppose, our biggest challenge at the moment is getting the word out to the whole community that this football club is here and people are more than welcome to come up. We are an open and diverse club, everybody is more than welcome, regardless of ability, be they boys or girls.”
Clubman Enda Concannon in action for Galway in 2019 All Ireland Junior Gaelic football final against Kerry.
Indeed, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg has many girls also involved and Lawless says the club intends to build on this going forward. “We want to be a fully-fledged club, like any other club, male and female, at all levels. That is the goal.
“We have plenty of girls coming up to us and we have two female coaches at the minute. It is a side we are working on and it is very much part and parcel of the plan. The plan is to have a girls U12 team in the next couple of years and roll it on from there. We are going to have a ‘Mothers & Others’ team in the summer as well.”
If the club grows its playing base, as it intends, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg will also need to expand its facilities. Already, the club uses Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, which Lawless describes as “a fantastic facility”, but he acknowledges they will have to further develop their outdoor amenities at Crestwood and, possibly down the line, at South Park.
In this respect, he notes that discussions are already underway to improve Crestwood, which is owned by Galway City Council, under the City Development Plan. He would love to see it become a mini “Cappagh Park”, particularly given Hibs also operate out the facility.
“We are trying to get the dressing-rooms upgraded and this is all part and parcel of this City Development Plan. The City Council has been very good to us, in fairness to them, but now we are asking for more.
“We are not asking for two floodlit pitches with Astroturf or anything like that, although you could have two GAA pitches and two soccer pitches because there is that much land up there. So, there is an opportunity to expand the facilities and the club is working on that in the background. I think the City Development Plan has come at the right time for us.”
For now, though, he says the objective is to get the word out there that Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg, which also has the use of Fr. Griffins old stomping ground at South Park (The Swamp), “are here – and here to stay”.
He praises PRO Luke Murray for the work he has done while he notes the signposting they have erected to their pitch in Crestwood has also been crucial. “The signs have given us a visibility to let people know where we are, that we are as good as any other club around, that everyone is more than welcome, and that we are a community-based club.”
“So, there is a lot happening in the background at the minute and we also have a new website, we have the Clubforce app and, as I said, we have our registration and launch day on May 1. Obviously, that is dependent on Covid announcements,” stresses Lawless.
- For further information, check out the club’s website: fgeo.ie. Registration for 2021 is currently available on Clubforce: Fr. Griffin’s Éire Óg.
Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’
Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.
The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.
Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.
An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.
Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.
“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.
“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.
“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.
“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.
“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”
(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!
Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.
Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.
“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.
The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.
Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea
Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.
County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.
In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.
“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.
He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.
Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.