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A Comórtas like no other

A Comórtas like no other

My first memory of Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta is from 1984, when An Rinn was full of talk about Willie Joe Padden.


Though I recall nothing of the senior final, won by Willie Joe’s club, Béal an Mhuirthéad,the anticipation beforehand remains vivid. So does my amazement at seeing Páirc Uí Shíothcháin so packed.

Legendary broadcaster Seán Bán Breathnach considers Padden’s performance that day as the best individual display he has ever seen at the Comórtas. Even now, the name Béal an Mhuirthéad is as magical to my ear as Tír na nÓg.

Six years later, I played for the first time. I was so nervous I struggled to get my contact lenses in. We lost to a late point despite my expertly-finished goal from two yards. My mother had taped the commentary and I wore the recording out listening to the high-pitched exultation of SBB.

“Cúl don laid óg ón Rinn!”

That was as good as it got on-field for me over the ensuing 11 years but not even being dropped for two finals could dull the positivity I have always felt as the Gaeltachts of Ireland congregated in one small corner of the country on June Bank Holiday weekend.

In more than a decade of attending the Comórtas as a player, I saw and was involved in wars on the field but it was (usually) back-slaps and pints after. Lifelong friendships were made and romances blossomed. Boys became men but men became boys too!

It is a festival of football but the craic, music and singing are just as important. It is a celebration of our unique identity, our language and our culture.

The Comórtas returns to An Rinn this weekend — neighbours Sean Phobal are providing invaluable assistance with Páirc Colmáin also hosting games – and the excitement is palpable in the area as they prepare for around 5,000 visitors.

For those that can’t make it, all the games – including ladies football – are covered by Raidió na Gaeltachta, while TG4 will have the junior and senior finals live. That’s another highlight for me – watching on television as my brother, Cian scored three goals to lift Rinn Ó gCuanach to their first success in 39 years in 2008. He was named man of the match and interviewed by a former Rinn Ó gCuanach midfielder, Micheál Ó Domhnaill.

Dara Ó Cinnéide has very fond memories of the tournament, even if his inter-county commitments reduced his nocturnal activities as the demands in that sphere increased.

“It was an excuse for Gaeltachtaí around the country to get together,” he recalls. “It was very much a social aspect and to play a bit of football. My first time playing Comórtas Peile was 1992 and I finished up playing around ’06, ’07. It was always a great weekend. “It was viewed by us at one stage as an All-Ireland final in itself. Some of the better clubs in Galway, Donegal and other counties were coming from Gaeltacht areas and it was a good chance to pit yourself against them. It is still viewed as a competition worth winning.

“The big benefit was letting Gaeltachts know ‘there’s more than you out there’. Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 have helped in that way too. I think an awful lot of young Gaeltacht players don’t realise there’s a whole network of Gaeltacht communities out there.”

It is a very different competition now to 20 years ago, not to mind when Antóin de Bairéad and Antóin Ó Cearbhaill got it going with a game between Gaoth Dobhair and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh played in a blizzard on January 5, 1969.

It was during the subsequent revelry that the idea germinated of having a dedicated tournament for Gaeltacht teams. In the past, you saw inter- county players at every turn. Apart from Padden and Ó Cinnéide, you had Páidí Ó Sé and his nephews Darragh, Tomás and Marc, Seán Óg de Paor, Martin McHugh, Anthony Lynch, John O’Driscoll, Tommy O’Malley, Jerry Lynch and Hugh McClafferty.

You won’t see too many now, although the host club’s Railway Cup winner Liam Ó Lonáin as well as Tadhg Ó hUallacháin will be available as Waterford play on Saturday night.

The strained economy has left its mark too, with some clubs from Connemara and Donegal withdrawing.

“I think it has changed over the last number of years” says Ó Cinnéide. “Teams were more geared towards their own domestic championships and the Comórtas was getting in the way. If they only stop to think about it, they could use it as great preparation.”

There is the obvious tourism and economic benefit but it goes deeper. Being host is an honour, an inevitable rallying force as the community unifies in the very best display of volunteerism that characterises the GAA at grassroots level. Then you have the recently-formed Irish-language oriented clubs from Belfast(Laochra Loch Lao) and Dublin(Na Gaeil Óga). They will parade their special identity proudly amongst their brothers from Kerry, Cork, Mayo,Galway, Meath and Donegal.

There will be many yarns spun after this weekend but most of them will be unprintable. Ó Cinnéide remembers hearing of Padden and Páidí Ó Sé having a feast of beer on a Sunday night and then going at it hammer and tongs on the pitch on a Monday. John O’Driscoll’s power also left an impression.

One year stands out more than any other.

“In 1996, about two weeks before we went to Baile Bhúirne, two lads in our area had gone missing at sea for 24-36 hours, presumed lost. Happily, they were found and still live in the community. Everyone was so relieved to have the lads back on board, they gave the whole weekend buying them pints. That will always be with me.”

Seán Bán remembers Padden and John Gallagher celebrating their ’84 success.

“The rest of the team went home but Willie Joe and John were still in Mooney’s Pub at 3pm on Tuesday. And the crowds were still gathering to see this beast of a man, Willie Joe. The women were just drooling over him. He was a fine footballer but also a fine man.”

It will always be a cracking weekend.

Beir bua.

 

Comórtas memories: Five of the best

Willie Joe Padden (Béal An Mhuirthéad/Mayo)
His high-fielding exhibition in the 1984 senior final is still talked about in hushed tones and the two-time All-Star continued to support the competition annually until his retirement. His son Billy Joe did likewise until his transfer to Armagh club, St Patrick’s Carrickruppen.

John O’Driscoll (Béal Átha An Ghaorthaidh/Cork)
Dara Ó Cinnéide: “I remember the first time I saw Seán Ó Drisceoill. A big strong bucko. He was just unstoppable at that level. He used to just burst through full-backs and get scores and it was great to get to watch those fellas close up.”

Páidí Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht/Kerry)
Padden embraced the social side of the Comórtas and so too did Ó Sé. Legend has it that they often embraced it in each other’s company. By the time he was Kerry manager, Páidí was less inclined to release his entire Gaeltacht cohort, at least until they reached a final.

Jerry Lynch (Naomh Abán/Cork)
Seán Bán Breathnach: “Willie Joe was close to the best but I think Jerry Lynch – Jerry Free as they called him – was THE hero of the Comórtas. You had all the greats there but my hero would be Jerry ‘Free’ Lynch, of Cork and Baile Bhúirne fame. He was a great fielder. He actually had it all.”

Martin McHugh (Cill Chartha/Donegal)
Máirtín Beag was an integral part of the team that won four senior titles from 1987-1991, alongside his brother James.

 

Further information on Comórtas Peile Rinn Ó gCuanach 2013 can be found at www.clgnarinne.ie, on Twitter @ComortasPeile13 or on Facebook — CLG na Rinne.

 

Foilsithe ar 31 Bealtaine 2013 / Foilsithe ar Gaelport.com 31 Bealtaine 2013

Seans go mbeidh spéis agat sna scéalta a leanas:

Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta seolta ag peileadóirí idir-chontae na nDéise

Cearta Craoltóireachta Chraobhacha an CLG 2013 faighte ag Raidió na Gaeltachta

As Na Nuachtáin: Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta

Lean an scéal seo agus @Gaelport ar Twitter: #Gaeilge @ComortasPeile13



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