IT'S coming up on 13 years since my first experience of covering a GAA game for the Evening Echo, as it then was.
The occasion was a senior hurling championship relegation clash between Blackrock and Castlelyons in Fermoy in October 2007 and, so nervous was I of missing a detail, my 12-year-old brother was brought along as a spotter, marking off scorers on the programme so that I could cross-reference later on.
I hope he enjoyed it – it was certainly a step up from when I used to ‘employ’ him as my assistant on games of Championship Manager. He was still interested enough to tag along when I had to go back to Fermoy the follow May for a Munster SFC clash between Tipperary and Limerick – the press-box that day was the back of a lorry and a picture of the assembled media was included in that year’s edition of A Season of Sundays.
Not long after the Blackrock-Castlelyons game, came an IFC semi-final between Carrigaline and Cill na Martra, with Carrigadrohid the venue and soon a collection of locations were ticked off.
To paraphrase the great Carrie Bradshaw, then I got to thinking – would it possible to cover a game at the home of every single club in Cork? A tallish order, perhaps, but certainly not an unattainable one.
The one potential kink is the fact that county championship games are played at neutral venues and it’s rare for clubs close to the edges of the county fit as potential sites for matches. So, while central places like Cloughduv, Éire Óg, Bandon and so on have been visited on numerous occasions, it’s unlikely that somewhere like, say, Adrigole would be called upon to hold a county championship match.
Thankfully, secondary schools matches between Cork sides and opponents from other counties, or Munster or All-Ireland club championship ties have helped to cross off places like Baile Bhúirne, Mitchelstown and Charleville.
Even so, it’s only natural that the rate of growth would slow over the years – as new venues were ticked off, the pool of places left to visit grew smaller and the opportunities weren’t always plentiful.
So it was that Glantane was number 84 in March 2018 for a Duhallow v UCC divisions/colleges clash in the senior football championship, but I was back in Glantane in August 2019 (Duhallow v Carrigaline) before managing to make it to number 85.
That was Newcestown v Ilen Rovers in a senior football quarter-final at the beginning of September last year on a pouring wet evening in Rosscarbery. As it happened, Ilen were involved again for number 86 last Saturday, with Carbery Rangers participating rather than hosting this time, with Kilmacabea’s home ground hosting the premier SFC group B meeting.
Again, the rain was present and the stormy conditions contributed to a tree falling on the road to the pitch from Leap. Credit to Kilmac, however, as they had a man stationed at the turn-off in the village, just past Ger’s Wild Atlantic Diner, telling patrons that they should instead continue on the main road to Skibbereen and then take the next right to come at the pitch from the other side.
I had played at Leap previously but this was my first time visiting as a scribe and it is quite a dramatic setting, with the fog coming down from the trees on the hill giving a sense of mystery.
While I’ll admit to having been sceptical about the possibility of running off group-stage county championships in such a short space of time, things are thankfully working well so far and a positive by-product is the need for so many venues. That meant that number 87 followed on Sunday, with Rossa Park in Skibbereen the spot for the meeting of Castlehaven and Newcestown in the same group.
This was a place I had ‘graced’ as a player – having come on for Kilbrittain against O’Donovan Rossa’s second team in a junior league game in 2003, I was denied a late goal by a save but should still have placed the ball better. Thankfully, the fare on show on Sunday was of a higher standard.
More importantly, it meant that it’s case of 87 down, 67 to go. Given that it’s about 30 years to retirement, the quest will surely be achieved, won’t it?