CORK U20 football manager Keith Ricken was the main speaker at the recent Carbery GAA All-Stars event, held in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen.
The St Vincent’s club man proved a resounding success as guest of honour, and earned a standing ovation from the capacity crowd following a genuinely heartfelt and brilliant speech.
Keith confessed he was a reluctant speaker at the awards.
“I hate official functions, not because I’m shy, but because I feel the nights should be all about the winners. I would much rather be the fly on the wall, talking to and listening to their stories,” declared the GAA coach.
During his broad and varied speech, Keith paid tribute to the characters of all the award winners and the people who help make the GAA so special. Keith also praised the GAA for the positive role it plays in society.
“I always feel you are either a good person or you are not.
“There are two types of people — givers and takers. People who will suck the life out of you and people who give you life no matter who you are. What we do as an organisation is we give life.
“The GAA also gives hope, with the success of the St James’ junior A footballers winning their divisional championship title for the first time in their history.
“It gives an identity. I shudder to think if the GAA wasn’t here. The GAA was founded in 1884 to give our country hope and something they could identify with.
“During our troubled history and tough times in this country, young people travelled overseas and they met up with each other through GAA. There are GAA clubs all over the world.
“They also kept in touch with back home as to how their club were getting on, and so forth.
“The GAA gives people an identity, which is vital. It is a special organisation. It brings us together and creates a great bond. You can’t beat hurling and football.”
The coaching enthusiast has always felt a close connection with Carbery GAA.
When Keith first began coaching in the late 1980s, his first club visit was to Castlehaven GAA Club, a visit which he recalled with great clarity and humour.
“I was very lucky to be offered the job as development officer for football. We had to work throughout the whole county,” he said.
“My first club visit was Castlehaven. It was a rough baptism of fire.
“There were no sat navs in those days. I was a pure city fella. I would go as far as Bandon, but after that I didn’t have a clue.
“I always remember I arrived at 10.45am. The gates were closed and there was no-one there.
“I thought I was in the wrong place. Lo and behold, just before 11am, the place was packed.
“I did two coaching sessions and I was given great hospitality afterwards.
“I travelled around West Cork for the next six months and coached in the schools and clubs.
“It was meant to be,” he added. “It is a great area.
“Their passion and love for the GAA really inspired me. GAA means so much to West Cork people.”
He was delighted that the Cork U20 footballers were able to play two games in Clonakilty this season.
He made the decision so that the players could witness the sheer passion which exists for the game in the Carbery Division.
“I rang Kevin O’Donovan, urging him to consider bringing games down to West Cork, and fair play to the County Board executive, they made it happen,” he said.
“I was delighted to bring the Cork U20 team down to Clonakilty.
“It meant so much to the local club, but all the clubs and people throughout West Cork.
“I wanted the young lads who don’t hail from West Cork to sense the passion and love for GAA in West Cork.
“It was great for them to see what it means to people.
“We took a risk playing Kerry in Ahamilla, but thankfully it went well. There was a great buzz in Clonakilty.
“The GAA matters in West Cork. Winning and losing matters.
“There are huge rivalries, but connections and a love of GAA bring them all together. You can feel the energy,” he added.
“I wanted to bring football back, not just to West Cork but back in general. I want kids to see their heroes and want to emulate their achievements.”
Keith elaborated upon the real sense of spirit that is inherited from an involvement within the GAA, whether playing, coaching, serving as an official, or as a supporter.
“There is a great sense of loyalty within the GAA,” he said.
“I have been to lots of funerals over the years, too many, unfortunately, to mention. You would often see the GAA jersey draped on the coffin as a mark of respect, or a guard of honour formed by your old club mates.
“What always strikes me is when players from other clubs come out to show their appreciation also.
“You could have traded blows during a game, but they were with you in your final moments.
“You don’t get that anywhere,” he noted.
“We can take stuff for granted. The GAA builds character within our people. It makes them resilient.
“It is about winning and losing, but it is also about playing. Every child should experience it.
“The GAA is good for children as they are surrounded by good people.”