In the summer of 2015, Gaelscéalaí Inis Eoghain provided a snapshot of Inishowen’s eight GAA clubs, from Naomh Colmcille (Newtowncunningham) to Malin and all points in between: Burt, Buncrana, Urris, Carndonagh, Moville and Naomh Padraig Uisce Chaoin.
Over the past eight weeks, Gaelscéalaí has highlighted how the same clubs are meeting the challenges of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and, more importantly, their plans for the future.
Today it is the turn of CLG Naomh Colmcille, last but definitely not least, where optimistic PRO, Paul Callaghan, saw light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.
Five summers ago, Naomh Colmcille’s then Assistant Secretary, Sharon Monaghan honoured the proud tradition CLG Naomh Colmcille’s Gaels have to draw upon, with their antecedents in two fine teams.
Sharon recollected: “Back in the day there was a club known as Naomh Báithín, which played in John Bryson’s field in Carrigans. That team was made up of local fellas, customs men and Gardaí who were stationed in the area at the time.
“Meanwhile, in the early 1980’s, Newtoncunningham Gaels, Bob Wilson, William Toye and James Dowds entered an under-age team in the Inishowen League. As well as being the first manager Bob was the inaugural chairperson. William was secretary and John was treasurer. The team played in a field belonging to Black’s down at Blanketnook.
“The trio subsequently decided to amalgamate with Naomh Báithín, which moved to Newtowncunningham in 1985. Our new pitch officially opened two years later, by which time the president was Dr Cannon Cunnea and Leo McGurk (Sr) was the chairperson. Liam Callaghan, Sean McDaid, and Art McCloon were also vital club members.
“The secretary at that time was the late Maurice O’Donnell, who managed the senior and under-age teams too! Maurice was an integral member of Naomh Báithín GAA club during its formative years and his efforts and commitment were, and are, very much appreciated,” said Sharon.
Naomh Báithín changed its name to CLG Naomh Colmcille in 1993.
This historic event was marked by a match, in Pairc Cholmcille, between All Ireland Champions, Donegal, and Tyrone.
“After that CLG Naomh Colmcille went from strength to strength,” Sharon said with understandable pride. “We reached the Junior County Final in 1994, 1997 and 1998, beating Naomh Mura from Inch in 1994.
Speaking to Gaelscéalaí Inis Eoghain following the publication of the GAA’s ‘Return to Playing’ roadmap, Paul said pre-lockdown CLG Naomh Colmcille had been getting ready for the season ahead.
Paul recalled: “Back in March, our senior team had been training and getting preparations going because they would have been started shortly after Christmas. It had been all systems go as it normally is in the winter time.
“We had all of our underage teams, U8s, U10s, U12s, in the Columban Hall up in the village. We were indoors pre-Christmas and then after Christmas we had still been indoors. We had started back after Christmas, in January / February and then, the week after St Patrick’s Day, the plan was to move those kids back out onto the pitch, and then the whole thing went belly-up!
“I suppose, like every other club and business, we thought this would only last a few weeks. It still didn’t put us off because we thought, ‘This will only be a few weeks.’ But then, word came out from the Government and then Croke Park that all pitches were to close immediately.
“Then, as the days went on, you realised this was going to be a long haul and, lo and behold, 15 weeks later here we are. During that time, Kieran Friel, our Health and Well-being Officer, put together a squad of volunteers and went on Highland Radio and into the local media, to let the community know they were available to help, with complete confidentiality, anyone impacted by Covid-19 or cocooning,” said Paul.
At the very start, Paul remembered people being “very scared” for the first six or eight weeks but as time went on, people started to “relax” a bit.
Paul said: “On the club front and the playing front, we weren’t allowed into the ground, so Zoom came into its own.
“In Phase One, we were allowed to walk around the track in Pairc Cholmcille, so we saw more people about. But it is not until June 29, 2020, we are allowed back into the pitch. This means that, unfortunately, CLG Naomh Colmcille will not be able to hold its Cúl Camp this summer. It would be far too complicated.
“We had our first in-person CLG Naomh Colmcille meeting last week. It was outside and everyone was two metres apart.
“I work closely with Denis Kennedy, who chairs our Minor Board and is also our representative on CLG Bord Inis Eoghain. They are flat out organising fixtures and there is a plan for fixtures drawn up now for Inishowen. So, Denis is very, very busy with that and he is feeding that back to the club,” said Paul, “for the U8s, U10s, U12s, U14s, U16s and U18s.”
Although the teams are allowed back on June 29, Paul said there would be no matches until August 2020.
He added: “We are now waiting on the Government and Croke Park to give us the go-ahead. The GAA plan to go August, September and maybe half way through October to get the games all played. So, it will be a reduced game schedule this year but there will be games for the kids, which is great. We were keeping in touch with them all along, but it will be good to get them out on the pitch again.
“What we are busy doing at the minute is, Denis and the coaches who run the underage teams are trying to make the preparations for June 29. There are a lot of rules and regulations around getting back to playing again.
“You need Covid Officers and you need a few extra people to do all that. Every team has to have a Covid Officer with it, and they have to receive training. You could just imaging dropping off times for training! We are trying at the minute to put a schedule together within our own club, who is going to be training on what night and time. We will have a sanitising protocol.
“There is a document covering all of this from GAA Central Council, and it is quite detailed regarding what we are allowed to do and not allowed to do but it takes extra bodies and hands. There is to be one coach for every eight kids. So, if we have 24 kids at a training session, there are to be split up into groups of eight and train at different corners of the field. It is a challenge. That is the space we are in at the minute,” said Paul.
No GAA clubhouses can open even on June 29, so it will be Phase Four before matches are allowed.
Paul said: “It will be club matches first this year and then county matches. The Ulster Championship will take place from mid-September on. They are in the autumn this year.
“I think it will be different and it will be a novel thing. It might be a good thing. There is a lot of discussion out there, but I think the GAA made a good call in letting the clubs back first because there is only a couple of percent of players in the country that are involved at county level.
“97 percent of the GAA is club players and they have been waiting all summer. Even the senior club teams, it is giving them a chance to play. I think it is not a bad thing to give the clubs a run at it.
“It will be a much condensed club season. It will be down to 10 weeks. Donegal County Board has not come out with the format it is going to take yet. That will all have to be decided. There will probably be no league. It will probably be a championship. It is brilliant because, a month ago, I thought there would be no football at all,” said Paul, “and now we are going to see some action.”
Paul thought there were going to be serious financial consequences for many clubs following lockdown.
He added: “I think clubs will struggle. Ordinarily they would have had fundraisers going by this stage and different activities going in the club.
“It has almost been a complete shutdown. It is going to have a financial effect at the end of the year, trying to balance the books.
“It has been put to the County Board that they reduce the fees the clubs pay to them, but I do not know if that has been agreed or not.
“CLG Naomh Colmcille no more than any other club, are depending on the businesses and the local people and businesses are struggling too. It’s a tough one. There are people out of work at the minute, so it is very hard to run fundraisers. That will definitely be another headache,” said Paul.
With infectious optimism, Paul Callaghan said: “At CLG Naomh Colmcille, for now, it is all systems go for playing on June 29 and getting the ground open again and getting training going again.
“It will be great, and the wanes are mad to get back. They have been starved of any kind of action for so long.
“I think, when we open on June 29, we are expecting extra numbers, we are expecting to have plenty of players, plenty of new interest,” hoped Paul.
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