What the GAA is all about
December 30, 2009
The GAA is no different to all other sports in that success is usually measured in terms of victories on the field of play and in the amount of silverware on display at the end of a season. By Eunan Whyte.
However, as a community-based organisation it is equally true to say that success in the GAA can be measured in many other ways and the Wolfe Tones football club in Drogheda is a prime example of a club whose main victory is in continuing to provide Gaelic Football in the locality.
After many years in the doldrums, the signs are that Wolfe Tones are a club on the up as they are taking small but significant steps to maintain the spirit of the GAA in their corner of Louth.
One man who epitomises the spirit of the Tones is Michael Kelly who has battled over the years to keep the club alive and now can look forward with some confidence to a brighter future.
After over a decade as chairman of the club, Kelly has had to endure a pressure unlike most people in his position. His main challenge has not been the attempt to win trophies, but along with other dedicated members, in ensuring that the club was kept alive.
"This is my 12th year as chairman and during that spell there have been times when we didn't know if we could field an adult team, or even continue to exist. There is no doubt that there have been tough times for all involved with the Tones, but this year has been very encouraging and one of the most enjoyable in recent years," explained Michael.
The reasons, Michael and his fellow members are enjoying their football so much is simply down to the success of the juvenile structures and that thriving section of the club points to a positive future for the Tones.
"Although it hasn't been a season to write home about in terms of adult football, we have been given great encouragement by the levels of participation and success at underage level and as a result the signs for the future are very good.
"We have a nursery running every Thursday night from April to September for kids from aged five to 13. Some people might think it is young at five years of age, but other clubs are doing it so we have to start at that age.
"We run the coaching sessions for two hours and the response has been absolutely brilliant, with all of our teams competing very well at their respective levels."
The sight of so many young players at the field is a victory in itself but there has been even greater reward in that many of the sides have enjoyed great success over the season as Michael explains.
"Out U-9s are competing in the local Drogheda League and reached the final only to lose to Ardee. Our U-10 and U-11 teams have been very good this year and were really competitive in their leagues while the U-12 and U-12s have made great progress managed to hold their own throughout the year.
"Moving up the ages, out U-14s got through to the semi-final of the Division 2 Championship which was a great achievement for all involved. Meanwhile, the U-16s lost in the Championship quarter-final but went on to reach the final of the secondary competition.
"The efforts at under-age level haven't yet filtered through to the Minor team just yet but we do have a number of promising U-17 players so we hope that they can continue to improve next year."
For Michael, along with committee members and coaches, seeing the teams competing well is a great reward for the hard work put in of late and one of the main benefits of the success is that Wolfe Tones are now holding on to players that in the past may have drifted away from the club.
"Over the past few years, Oliver Plunketts have set the benchmark as far as underage football is concerned in Drogheda. Other teams have been trying to keep up with their efforts and it is great for us to able to compete with them at different levels.
"One of the great things for us is that we are noticing that we are not losing players at the same rate as in the past. We found previously that lads would play with us for a few years and then move on to other clubs."
One of the reasons for the thriving underage structure is that Wolfe Tones have put a lot of work in at primary school level and this has resulted in players identifying with their local club.
"We have a club school link in place at the moment and that has worked brilliantly for us. Congress Avenue school is right in our area and we have worked hard to get those lads to play with their local club. Every Wednesday a few people who are self-employed or unemployed have given two hours up to coach and the amount of players we have got from that is phenomenal.
"We have even had lads from outside our area looking to play with us, but having suffered in the past from losing players to other teams, we always send them to play with their local club."
As with all clubs who have a successful youth structure in place, the challenge for the Tones is to ensure those players graduate to play adult football and in time make the Drogheda side a force in Louth football once again.
"We all remember having a very good U-14 team at the club in the 1990s but unfortunately that proved to be a one-off and there was nothing to follow from that success. Many of those players didn't come through to adult level and our aim is to make sure we have a steady stream of players coming through."
Although the current adult team has enjoyed little success on the field, Michael believes that the feel-good factor at the club also extends to that level with some encouraging signs this year.
"We have a core of about 20 dedicated lads who have been training twice per week and that effort has been obvious on the field. While we haven't won many games, we have held our own in a lot of matches and nobody has really hammered us.
"I suppose our difficulty at the moment is that we have a very young team, with the oldest about 25, and the lack of experience of a few old heads in the teams has cost us on a couple of occasions.
"That was most obvious against the Clans in the Junior 2A Championship when we went down to Dundalk and were six points up at half-time. Unfortunately, we didn't have the know-how to hold on for victory and they came back to draw before winning the replay."
Overall, it has been a good year for the Tones and Michael is hoping that 2010 will bring even more success to the Drogheda men as they continue to build for a bright future.
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