THE club championships at this time of the year, many believe, are what represents the true meaning of the GAA.
In all four provinces, the battles are intense for the right to represent your county in the provincial finals and maybe subsequently a day out in Croke Park on All-Ireland Club final day.
These games are far removed from the glamour of the summer months when venues are full to capacity with inter-county fare.
Not so at this time, mainly it’s just the supporters of the two clubs who are present for these club championship games, in a lot of cases when two small clubs are battling it out there might be no more than a thousand souls presence.
The pitches are no longer in pristine condition like they are in July and August, the weather is raw and cold but where these games are concerned that only helps to enhance the entire experience of the day.
The introduction of the provincial club championships was one of the GAA’s best ever decisions.
One has to be present at these games to really get caught up in the experience, two small communities striving might and main for the honour of the little village.
People travel to these games that might stay away from the glamour venues during the summer.
It’s all about the club player on these days, more so now than ever when it seems that they are being relegated to second-class citizens in the higher echelons.
The GAA is the lifeblood of these communities and in the North, South, East and West the story is similar.
For a week or longer the lead up to these games is the only topic of conversation, how will we do on Sunday, what are the other crowd like, just two of the frequent questions posed.
When a team wins its own county championship there might be a tendency to say that’s the season’s objective realised.
But after a few days of rightful celebration, there’s a realisation that a lot more can be achieved, an opportunity, that might be just once in a lifetime, to maybe get into Croke Park in the spring.
The county title is parked for a couple of weeks and the energy levels rise again as the pursuit of a provincial title begins.
Here in Cork, we have been fortunate to witness quite a few clubs go in search of that Holy Grail and return in the springtime with the honours.
There was a time that the senior hurling club championships were almost the sole preserve of Cork hurling and football teams, the Barrs, Glen and Rockies, Nemo Rangers and the Barrs too on the football fields.
These days we are a bit more reliant on our junior and intermediate clubs to bring back the glory.
Last Saturday afternoon our travels took us deep into North Kerry to get behind Charleville in their opening mission in the Munster Club IHC.
The opposition was Lixnaw, the Kerry county senior champions playing in their own backyard against the Cork Premier Intermediate champions.
A week previous Lixnaw had eliminated Tipperary’s Cashel King Cormacs, they had home advantage too that day.
This was a dangerous game for Charleville, all the more so as it came less than a week after being crowned Cork champions and being put to the pin of their collars by Courcey Rovers.
Lixnaw is a fair distance away, it was one of those aforementioned raw days and you had to be ready to face a huge home following.
In those parts of the Kingdom hurling in their game and you have to earn the right to represent your county. The pitch was near perfect, over 1,300 souls were in attendance and there was a right aul buzz in the village beforehand.
This was not going to be a stroll in the park for Charleville.
Lixnaw led by four points to no score after the opening minutes, 0-6 to 0-2 a few minutes later and they were using the strong breeze to their advantage.
But then it all changed, Kevin O’Connor, brother of team coach Ben, fired home a cracking goal and Charleville never really looked back subsequently.
Lixnaw could muster up just two points in the second-half as Charleville took complete control of the proceedings.
Their backs were excellent, Darragh Fitzgibbon was in sublime form not too long after he had been conferred with All-Stars status. The end result was a comprehensive win for the Cork team and there was delight in the camp afterwards.
Word came through that Feakle from Clare had taken care of Clonea from Waterford in the other game, it was going to be Charleville and Feakle in the Munster final two weeks later.
But that was for another day, the Charleville players mingled with their supporters and reflected on a job well done.
Lixnaw had given it their best shot without a number of key players but there is a gap between Cork and Kerry hurling.
And so we headed for home, enriched by the experience of the day in North Kerry and the welcome that was there from the local club.
These are the days when the true meaning of the GAA is brought tellingly home.
There are such days spread across the association’s landscape Sunday after Sunday at this juncture in the year.
It is what the association should be about, the club player, the club supporter giving it all for the place that made them what they are.
Long may those days continue.