WHILE I am a Kilbrittain native, the last GAA game I played (as things stand, anyway, a late comeback can’t be ruled out), was actually for Rochestown, in 2010.
After one challenge game — which my then-girlfriend and now-wife, Jessica, still recalls, because an opposition player bummed a cigarette from an umpire — I was plunged straight into city junior B championship action against Ballinure, in Ballinlough.
How did I end up in what was such an alien setting for a boy from west Cork? The reason was one Pat McAuliffe.
Pat, who sadly died last Monday, was, in addition to a fairly full schedule as a journalist and his refereeing duties, almost single-handedly keeping the team and the club alive, and had misplaced enough faith in my 26-year-old self to propose a transfer.
It wasn’t too hard a sell — the training regimen was never going to be overly taxing — but, sadly, defeat to Ballinure meant an end to the season and, with an increasing workload on my end, especially during the summer, it wasn’t feasible to play in subsequent years. Not that Pat ever held it against me, for that wasn’t in his nature.
Pat was interested in sports of all kinds. He was capable of holding a conversation on any code, having built up a massive bank of expertise across the years, in covering so many Cork teams.
The quiet before Cork City games, at Turner’s Cross, or big matches, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Páirc Uí Rinn, was the best time to catch up with Pat. He would have read all of the relevant material in the lead-up and would have gleaned a statistic or two that nobody else would have thought of, while also regaling the latest strange occurrence he had witnessed: “I’ll tell you a good one now. I was doing the line up in Mary’s Park on Sunday morning and you won’t believe what happened..”
He always had an angle that the average hack wouldn’t have. I can still recall Cork’s opening game in the Waterford Crystal Cup in January, 2010 — these are the kinds of matches to be endured rather than enjoyed, but Pat was two steps ahead of everyone else.
As this was the first game after the introduction of a rule making the wearing of helmets mandatory, he had squeezed in a quick interview, beforehand, with Cork goalkeeper Martin Coleman — goalkeepers having to make the biggest adaptation, as so few wore helmets — and he had arranged to grab the custodian afterwards, too, to get his reaction on how big a change it had been. Something simple, but just proof of how on the ball he was.
The press boxes around Munster will be all the poorer for Pat’s absence and it’s no exaggeration to say that, given his workload,three or four people will be needed to replace him.
We really won’t see his likes again.
Pat’s passing was mentioned by Cork County Board chairperson, Tracey Kennedy, at last Tuesday’s meeting — she related that she was taken aback to see him one day at the school she worked in, where he was refereeing a soccer game — and that gathering was notable for the implementation of changes to the county championships from 2020 onwards.
While the controversial Option C had got people talking, it was always likely to be a bit too radical to generate critical mass, but, nevertheless, the board and county secretary, Kevin O’Donovan, deserve credit for allowing a wide-ranging debate on what should happen.
The chosen model, Option A, is the closest to the current system, but there are distinct changes, such as smaller grades, group games and automatic relegation, and it’s hard to see these alterations as anything but good.
With the return of group games for the first time since the 1980s, we would like to see the possibility of home-and-away ties. After all, it doesn’t make sense that so many clubs have fine facilities, but never to get the chance to use them in championship action.
However, that, too, may be a bit radical for now.
Maybe a bit down the road, though.