Who is Munster’s best GAA fan?

Who is Munster’s best GAA fan?

By Colm O’Connor for the Irish Examiner newspaper

The Irish Examiner and Munster GAA teamed up in May to launch the search for the Irish Examiner Munster GAA Supporter of the Year with the aim of acknowledging GAA fans who have real pride in club or county.

To enter, GAA fans submitted a captioned photo, told us who was in the photo, where it was taken and why it was special. There was a huge amount of entries which we have now whittled down to three finalist places.

Each of the finalists will get a signed county jersey as well as tickets to attend the glittering black-tie Bord Gáis Energy Munster GAA Awards in December and be in with a chance to become the overall winner. The winner will be crowned Irish Examiner Munster GAA Supporter of the Year at the Bord Gáis Energy Munster GAA Awards in December. They will get a coaching session by a leading intercounty player for their local club and in addition they will receive one pair of tickets for each match their county plays in the 2013 Munster GAA Senior Championships as well as a Munster GAA Season Ticket — which gives the winner access to all club Championship, Minor, U21, Intermediate and Senior matches in the province 75 games in total running throughout the year.

Enda McGuane, Deputy CEO, Munster Council said: “Munster GAA are thrilled to get the opportunity to reward the people who make our games so special. The heartbeat of the GAA and the Munster Championships are the people who attend out games every year. They are the ones who help create the wonderful atmosphere on match days that makes the Munster Championship what is. This award gives us a chance to recognise some of these supporters and highlight the contributions they make to the Munster championships.”

As stated, the winner will be announced at an award ceremony in December and will be picked from a panel of judges from the Irish Examiner, a selection of GAA journalists as well as members of the Munster GAA Council. The winning choice will be based on the photo submitted by the nominee and an interview.

Pa Buckley (Limerick)

Nearly every GAA fan in Limerick has seen Pa Buckley’s house before. It’s green and white and decorated with countless Limerick flags blowing in the wind.

It has the Sporting Limerick logo emblazoned across the front, and stands out like a beacon in the heart of Ballinacurra Weston, visible from 100 yards away on the Childers Road.

When Pa takes his flags in for a wash and freshening, people get worried, he says.

“I took them down to wash them. I was full of phone calls and e-mails and young fellas knocking on the door asking me where they’d gone.”

He’s been following Limerick devoutly since 1973, the year of their last All-Ireland SHC triumph. He’s been the most recognisable face in the crowd ever since, and when Limerick found themselves in two finals in the mid ‘90s, Pa was unlucky enough to be working in England at the time. It didn’t stop him trying to get back though.

“I missed the ’94 and ’96 finals, when I was over in England,” he said. “I couldn’t get away from work, so I trusted a friend of mine to go off with the money and buy the plane tickets. I haven’t seen him to this day.

“In ’96 I had an accident and I got out of hospital the day before the match. And I was ringing around everyone I knew to see if there was anyone driving back on the ferry, but I couldn’t get anything.”

Despite the politics and in-fighting of recent years, Pa says he will follow Limerick GAA teams through the highs and the lows and the rough and the smooth.

“Coming back on trains and buses you see people getting despondent, thinking why should they bother anymore, but I always say that players have good and bad days, and it’s our job to cheer them up.”

Interview: Neil Treacy

Gráinne Lynch, Cork

Gráinne Lynch, the Cork representative in the Irish Examiner’s Munster GAA Supporter of the Year competition, has been a vocal fan of the county’s teams since childhood.

The Mitchelstown native, who works at UCC’s Coastal and Marine Research Centre in Haulbowline, thanks dad, JJ, for developing her passion for the GAA.

“I started going when I was about six or seven,” she says. “My dad dragged me along and we’ve gone together to all the matches since.

“It gives us a connection, I suppose, and if it wasn’t that, then I don’t know what we might have in common. My mother says that we’re as thick as thieves when we head off together!”

That opinion did not stop Gráinne’s mother Kathleen from providing her seamstress skills, however.

“In the picture I sent in, I’m wearing a pair of trousers that have one red leg and one white one,” Gráinne explains.

“I plagued my mother for years and eventually I wore her down so that she sewed them together.

“She made hats for the two of us as well, people must think we’re off our heads when they see us at the games.

“We appeared twice on television this year though, so it’s all good!”

As a Cork supporter, Gráinne has been lucky enough to have more good memories than bad over the years, though there have been dark days in there too.

“Obviously, the double in 1990 stands out as the best experience,” she says.

“Nobody else has done it in modern times, so it’s great to be able to say that I was there for both matches.

“More recently, the hurlers’ wins in 2004 and 2005 were great and the football in 2010 was more of a relief than anything.

“The worst memories are getting beaten by Kerry in Croke Park, I suppose the 2009 one was the worst, as they had played so well that year and were favourites to win.”

Interview: Denis Hurley

Donal O’Leary (Kerry)

Pat Kelleher had no equivocation in nominating Rathmore’s Donal O’Leary for the Irish Examiner’s Munster GAA Supporter of the Year.

Having first met him at a gundog trial, he has realised just how much Gaelic football means to the Kerry GAA Supporters Club chairman, who has held the position since 2002.

“Since 1972, he’s attended every Kerry football game in all grades,” said Kelleher.

“He was a Kerry minor selector when they won the All-Ireland in 1975 and was again when Dublin beat them in 1982.

“In 1989, the Kerry GAA Supporters club was founded and he was there at the first meeting, along with MEP Seán Kelly.

“The group has now grown to 600 members and he has been organising everything from travel and accommodation to away league and championship matches to fundraising.”

Kelleher has the utmost respect for O’Leary and his ability to help financially back Kerry’s footballers with events such as the annual gala dinner in the Ballygarry Hotel.

“You never hear Kerry footballers complaining about not being giving something. Donal is part of the reason why that is so — he’s a fantastic organiser.

“This year, Sky Sports came to Tralee’s greyhound track on the Kerry team fundraising night and broadcast live on a night when €60,000 was raised for the team.”

As well as his supporters’ club brief, O’Leary also found time this year to train the Rathmore junior football team to the East Kerry O’Sullivan Cup as well as the East Kerry junior league title.

“If I have to criticise him, it’s that he can be hard on young fellas,” joked Kelleher, “but his heart in the right place.

“He spends about €70 a week on diesel going to games. He’d go to games in Duhallow a good bit and I remember him coming back after watching Aidan Walsh play against Aghada in a match and being worried because Cork had such a good young player coming up.

“That’s him — he lives and dies for football.”

Interview: John Fogarty