IF you head down to Clonakilty and call into the GAA club then the chances are you will come across Carmel Calnan.
When it comes to dedicated club people and volunteers then they don’t come much better than Carmel.
She has been involved in GAA affairs in Clon for more years than she cares to remember and has fulfilled many roles over that time.
Not bad for someone who had no interest in GAA until she met her husband, Noel, when she was in her 20s.
Through Noel she started going to games and it wasn’t long before Carmel was immersed in the club.
But there was something lacking at the club and in 2004 she was a founding member of Clonakilty Ladies Football Club. Over the intervening years, she has taken on many roles — treasurer, team mentor, equipment officer, catering officer — as well playing herself with their Gaelic4Mums team.
Paying tribute to Carmel the club said: “Her dedication and commitment to our club knows no bounds. Whatever the job is, no matter how big or small, she gives it her full attention, and every minute detail is attended to meticulously.
“From ensuring every team is fully equipped with their football equipment and all first aid bags filled, to catering for all occasions and ensuring the hall is decorated to perfection with everything coordinated from serviettes to balloons — every club needs a Carmel. Her dedication as a volunteer is an inspiration.
“Carmel is like a best friend, mother, and confidant to all our girls and boys within Clonakilty Ladies Football, Camogie, and adult club. She tirelessly gives of her time to providing the most fabulous food to all our players and members, whether it be to players after training, to our girls and boys when they return victorious, or not to our complex after championship games and to our general members when functions are held in our complex in Ahamilla.
“Nothing is ever too much and it is all done with a smile and kindness that epitomises her wonderful volunteering spirit. She is an integral part of our club. She gets huge support from her family and they can often be seen helping her on many occasions.”
It’s amazing what a weekend bit of fun turns into as it was from that the ladies football club was formed. Carmel’s daughter, Jennifer, was one of a group of girls that was ‘down in the hall’ to do a bit of training and as she put it ‘have a bit of fun’ over the winter.
But the numbers started to grow and Justin Crowley, first chairman of the ladies club said to Carmel ‘we are going to have to set up a proper club’ and from that conversation, Clonakilty Ladies Football Club was formed.
Others involved in the founding included people like Mary Finn the club’s first secretary and Carmel as treasurer and equipment officer — a role she still holds today.
Carmel has always believed in something she heard on a training course for club treasurers — treat the money better than you would treat your own.
“I do a stocktake at the end of every season where the various teams either hand back, or if managers are staying on, tell me what gear they still have.
“I know what they got at the start of the season and this allows me to see what they have left and also puts a bit of responsibility on them to look after the gear, etc, during the season,” said Carmel.
Since then she has gone on to fulfil many roles in the club, including playing a major role in fundraising.
Carmel recalls the early days when they had to rent a pitch to train and play on as there simply wasn’t enough room at Clonakilty GAA Club’s facilities at the time.
“Because of the number of sides they had, and also the fact the camogie was there as well, we had to look for another pitch.
“So we rented one from the showgrounds to get started. At the time some of those involved used to go in and cut the grass with their own lawnmowers so we could play or train.
“There used to be animals on the pitch as well so there were plenty of occasions when we had to go in and clean up before them before we could allow the players in.
“But in 2009 we had a year that will never be forgotten in the club’s history. We moved to the new complex which was like heaven for us.
All sections of the club, men’s, camogie and ladies football have always worked superbly together and the move to the new complex now meant all were in the same place and that was great to see.
“It was also the year the men won the senior county football title and the ladies footballers won the junior county title, our first in adult competitions.
“That was a time I will never forget and the buzz around the whole of Clon was brilliant. The ladies footballers went on to win the Munster title and reached the All-Ireland final.
“The build-up was electric with the whole club and all of Clon showed their support beforehand and on the day of the final. It was a day I will never forget and to win the All-Ireland title was just amazing.
“We also won a number of underage titles that year as well and my daughter was on the football team that won the county U14 title, an extra special day for all of us.”
September 26, 2010, is another date Carmel will never forget — it was the day she got to play at Croke Park.
“I started playing with the Gaelic4MumsTeam and we were selected to play between the All-Ireland ladies finals that day.
“It was unbelievable to get to play there and a great memory to have. We really enjoyed our day out and I had great fun playing over the two years or so I did.
“To this day some of those involved go away for a weekend every year, which shows the friendships that were formed and will last a lifetime now.”
And in Carmel that is what they have — a life-timer. As well as equipment officer she also looks after the catering needs of the club.
Many a day she spent at home making countless sandwiches, etc, for teams who were travelling to games or else for when they returned.
On the occasion of hot food on the menu then she would head to the club’s catering facilities to ensure all was in order. Carmel also looks after the catering when teams (men or women) visit Clon to train and ask for hot food afterward.
No surprise to hear then that Carmel is the Kitchen and Bakery supervisor at Harte’s Spar on the bypass at Clon and she would like to thank the owner, Ger Harte, and all the staff for their support over the years.
Currently out of work due to a recent operation, Carmel said she is looking forward to meeting up with all the staff when she can.
“The club is a huge part of my life and I just love being involved and hopefully will be for many more years to come,” concluded Carmel.
A selfless volunteer Carmel is a worthy winner of The Echo Women in Sport Awards 2020 Hall of Fame accolade.
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