FOUR years after the first steps were taken towards providing a sporting outlet for those over 30, Cork Social GAA returns tonight at the 4G pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh (8pm).
The brain-child of Cork County Board games development administrator Colm Crowley, the initiative has proven very popular, though of course the past two years have seen its operation impacted by Covid-19. Crowley is delighted with the sense of a fresh start that the new season brings.
“With this, it’s very like five-a-side soccer in that the open season is the opposite of the actual GAA season,” he says.
“Over the last two years, we struggled with Covid in the winter, so it’s nice now to be able to go back and not worry about it. Obviously, we’re conscious of it but it’s not hindering any of the plans.
“We won’t know how many we have until the first night and that usually sets a tone for the first six weeks. We work in three blocks – now until Halloween, then a block from there until Christmas and a block of eight weeks from January to March.
“The numbers kind of dwindle as it goes on and a large amount of it is down to people being active in their own GAA clubs. You’re quiet at this time of year but then, as it goes into January, February, March, you’re picking up again so the numbers for social GAA start slipping a small bit.
“We’d be hopeful of hitting the 40-mark every night for the first few weeks and seeing where we go from there.
“If we’ll have 40, probably 16 of them will be footballers and 24 hurlers, three pitches set up and bibs for six different teams and so on.”
From Social GAA, a Cork Masters football team has come into being, but, while pleased to a point with how things have gone in Cork, Crowley feels that there is still a lot more potential to be realised.
“Since we started, one of the best-known groups would be the Half-Pace Hurlers up in Belfast, they’re really active on social media and they run social Saturdays and things like that," he says.
“It seems to have really taken off up the country – Naas are running a blitz in October and they were over-subscribed within a week of throwing out the options to book in a team.
“In Cork, Glenville have a hurling and football group that they try to keep going, Brian Dillons and Bishopstown have groups and Carrigaline would be active too, but it probably hasn’t really got going in Munster to the level that I thought it might have. I don’t know why that is – maybe the club rivalries here are a bit stronger.
“Not a lot of our players were playing GAA to a high level five years ago and what I mean by that is that they weren’t playing at all or they were retired longer than that. When you’ve played from 17-35 or whatever, you probably need 10 years away from it as you’re drained.
“There are a lot of domestic constraints and what we’re saying is that, if you can come on a night, come, but there’s no pressure.
“Nationally, it’s a huge success and, in fairness to Croke Park, there’s a contacts list online that’s always being updated when new groups start.
“I still think there’s huge scope for it to get bigger. A lot of the players are still playing Junior B or C for their clubs and maybe that’s the future – running Junior C blitzes over the summer.
“It’ll be interesting to see where it goes now that we have a proper run at it without Covid. It’d be great if we could branch out with a few bases around the county, giving people the opportunity to play locally as it’s not always easy for people to come into the city at eight o’clock on a Thursday night.”
Of course, a key thing in ensuring the success of the endeavour is having a group of people driving the organisation.
“That’s a small flaw of it at the moment,” Crowley says, “nearly all the groups have one person driving them.
“I know that I won’t be available in November for a few weeks and I know that I can give the responsibility to a number of the regulars and maybe we’ll end up with the GAA committee structure of a chairperson, secretary, PRO and so on rather than one person being in charge and then it falling apart when they’re unavailable.
“Part of playing is the organisation and co-ordination and all of that.”