John Arnold: GAA is back, and children are frolicking like newborn calves

It's great to hear the clash of the ash again this week, so says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: GAA is back, and children are frolicking like newborn calves

Tom Nolan, 10, of St Brigids GAA Club in Castleknock, Dublin, at the launch of the 2021 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps in Croke Park.

O Ireland ’tis you that is looking so well

The countryside where I’m lucky to dwell

With more than fifty shades of green

Where rainbows of beauty can daily be seen.

YOU know of a ‘normal’ year, we would be in the full swing of the sporting scene by now.

There was a time back in the 1970s when around St Patrick’s Day or that weekend the GAA season would slowly crank up.

First, there’d be a few league games in both hurling and football, and when the time would change talk of ‘training’ would begin.

Since 1971, I’ve been involved at some level or anther with my club, Bride Rovers. Ye know from previous correspondence that I was not gifted as a player, but the great thing about that fact was it didn’t upset me greatly.

It would have been a lot worse if I had an opinion of myself, if I thought I was talented and yet wasn’t making even the ‘B’ grade team. Shure, I’d have been blaming the selectors and the trainer and the club officers.

In hurling, there’s a shot you’d rarely see nowadays, the drop shot. Most times when a hurler gets the sliotar in his hand he fires it up, eyes focused on it at all times, then when the sliotar is more or less parallel with the axis of the fulcrum of your body, you let fly with the hurley and give the sliotar a mighty puck.

That’s the kinda standard hurler’s shot and you’d hope you wouldn’t be blocked or hooked. The drop shot then is a variation whereby you leave the sliotar drop down and when it’s at ground level you pull.

Great players like Ring and Mackey could hit it whatever way they liked and they varied their style so their opponents never quite knew what was coming.

When I took up practising the ancient game, I had no trouble tossing the sliotar up in the air in front of me but actually hitting it was the problem. My hand to eye co-ordination, or timing as they call it, was sorely lacking.

In a car you’d have a thing called a ‘timing belt’ to take care of such movements, but I wasn’t personally fitted with such device. My main fault was I either pulled too early — before the sliotar arrived in the right place, or too late — when it was nearly in the grass. Such ‘previous’ pulling in an actual game would get you sent off.

Now, I was never, ever sent off but that, I think, was due to pity from the referee — they knew I wasn’t malicious or malevolent. Anyhow, as the sliotar was nearly always on the ground before I swiped I thought I might perfect the drop shot and still be a proficient, if not a classic hurler.

Did you ever see a fella tea-ing off in golf and he’d approach the shot, address the ball, look at his lie and then knock a sod from the ground and miss the golf ball? That was me on hurling fields, but lads, I loved the game so I hung around, and a few time when we were stuck for numbers — badly stuck — I played a handful of games.

I was about 14 when it was suggested that I might go as a delegate for my club to the East Cork Board in Midleton. So I agreed and David John Barry, a club stalwart and veteran, took me to Midleton.

Before that time in the early ’70s the meetings were held in the Town Hall but it was in the Courthouse I made my GAA debating debut — some say I haven’t stopped talking since!

A few years later, the meetings moved to the new Midleton GAA pavilion. Since then I’ve attended meetings here and there and everywhere, from Cork to Croke Park, Bartlemy, London and everywhere in between.

I can always recall the first few meetings I attended with David John Barry. He grew up in the GAA and was very grounded and schooled in its ways and traditions. Protocol was very important to him so when speaking he’d always begin with “Mr Chairman... I have been requested by my club to bring the following matter to the attention of the Board”, and then he’d outline his case.

I learnt that here was very little to be gained by roaring and shouting. No, make your point clearly and coherently and then sit down!

Another thing I learned from him was to ‘leave it all at the Meeting’ — in other words, don’t be going on later about what you meant to say or should have said — when the meeting was over, the Meeting was over.

Those were the days when not everyone had a phone so notifications for matches and meetings were done by letter or postcard. Often a match might be cancelled at short notice and David John’s ‘catch call’ was “Tell ’em all” — he was great mentor to me.

Lads, when I see the modern methods of communications in the GAA, I’m stunned. In a press of a button now one can tell a big group, a small group or two groups about the date, time and venue for any fixture. Though I often wonder where ‘social media’ will be in 20 years, I must admit, from a club officer’s point of view, it’s a Godsend.

We saw the first ‘green shoots’ of the new GAA season lat Monday when the underage groups were back training. 

Here on the farm, when we leave the new-born calves out on grass for the first time in the spring, it’s a joy to behold! They jump and run and frolic around the place. Well, by all accounts ‘twas the same on Monday evening as the under 8s and under 9s were back out on the pitch for he first time since last November.

They were excited and thrilled to be back. They just loved it, and to see such numbers involved in our native games fills me with pride.

Those opening lines of this column I wrote just to express the feelings of swelling happiness at the beauty of nature and sport. We are lucky, those of us who live in the country, to have greenery in abundance and so much fresh air on our doorstep.

As I said, of a ‘normal’ year I’d be down in the pitch three or four night a week — like thousands all over the country. This year it’s a slow burner, a gradual return, all due to Covid. 

It’s been a tough year but now at last we seem to be emerging from a dark place. 

The sun is out, the flowers and bushes are in blooming beauty. There’s a great feeling of freshness and newness about everything, so let’s take time to savour and enjoy it.

Hopefully, the Covid will have slowed down everything a little bit and maybe, just maybe, we might appreciate all we have and give thanks for it. It’s a great time of year, the birds are singing, and whisht, what’s that sound I hear all over the place? Young and old doing what I could never do — the sweet sound of the ash hitting the leather.

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