AS JUVENILE GAA players count the sleeps before they return to action on Monday, April 26, there is anticipation and excitement among mentors and officers.
Memories of last season seem distant.
The joys of victory or the tears of defeat have all faded away, as everybody gets set for the long-awaited restart.
Picture the scene on Monday next at Aghada’s GAA base at Rostellan, which will, once again, become a hive of activity when the gates are open. The likelihood is that all three of the playing pitches at this picturesque venue will be occupied at every available hour.
Apart from the young hurlers and footballers, camogie and ladies’ football teams are also thriving.
Donal ‘Ducky’ Walshe has spent the last five years as chairman of the juvenile GAA wing and has overseen a hectic period of activity, on and off the field. At the club’s virtual AGM, he moved ‘sideways’ to take up the office of PRO.
Donal represents the heart and soul of the Aghada club, steeped in hurling and football, and he, like so many other club mentors in the county, is busy with the preparatory work for a return to training.
“We are preparing diligently for the eagerly anticipated return for our juvenile members, with online Zoom meetings, coaching courses, updating of child-protection and garda-vetting requirements, discussions with Covid-19 officers, and a general stock-take,” Donal said.
We want the children to have fun in a safe environment, by prioritising player retention, as the pandemic has had a major upheaval in the lives of so many.
“At the moment, we cater for 26 teams in the juvenile club, with teams in every age group, from under six to under 18, in both hurling and football, with around 260 juvenile members.
“In general, sport plays a very important role in adults’ and children’s lives, not only for physical and mental well-being but also with a huge emphasis on social connections.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone and we are all very much looking forward to meeting up again on pitches across the county.
“In terms of Aghada, the club has achieved the Rebel Óg Gold Star award three years in a row. That highlights the fantastic work which is continuously going on here."
When games resume, Aghada juveniles will be hoping to pick up on the very positive signs displayed in 2020.
New chairman, PJ Hurley, originally from Mayfield, was team boss when Aghada won the U14 Rebel Óg Premier 2 hurling title last year, while former star Declan Devoy was the driving force behind the same group of players, as they won the eastern U14 football title.
In a fitting tribute to the late Kieran O’Connor, both victorious team captains, Santos O’Sullivan and Hugh Mulcahy, wore the number four jersey, which Kieran had donned with great distinction for many years.
“After our success last year, we will now play U15 Premier 1 hurling this year, a big challenge, but one we are looking forward to, and our ambition would be to play at Premier minor level with this group of players, at both hurling and football.
“It’s a big ask, but one we feel they are capable of achieving it,” said Donal.
There are plenty of dedicated people guiding the fortunes of Aghada on and off the field. Apart from the election of the aforementioned PJ Hurley as chairman, Aidan Kelleher has been elected vice-chairman.
Kelleher is a former Dungourney hurler and Aghada footballer and is a selector with the club’s Premier intermediate team.
Another well-known football name is Pearse O’Neill, who is still part of that Premier football team — he has also taken up the role of juvenile treasurer.
Margaret Deane fills the busy post of club secretary, while the Devoy brothers, Alan and Declan, occupy the respective roles of hurling and football officers, with Elaine Counihan taking over as coaching co-ordinator.
There will be challenges, including, keeping the pitch book diary in order during the busy summer ahead, with camogie, ladies’ football, and adult teams also requiring considerable playing time.
Donal Walshe said it’s going to be pretty hectic.
“The split season worked very well last year, when the club championship was played in the best of the summer weather. This year will be entirely different, as inter-county takes pride of place in the summer months.
“We have thriving ladies’ football and camogie organisations within our club and are lucky to have three pitches to cater for our needs.
“However, in the winter months, this becomes more difficult to manage. Thankfully, we are lucky to have a pitch with lights, as not every club does, and with the club championship now being played out in the darker and wetter months, this is sure to cause a few fixture headaches.”
With just a week to go before juvenile activity resumes on the fields of green, even the man in the red coat at Christmas would struggle to generate the excitement that is being experienced by Aghada juveniles and by the thousands of other young players spanning all corners of the county.
Let the training begin!