Friday, January 05, 2007

Dublin GAA Supporters Club – A History – Finola O’Brien

In 1969 a group of dedicated supporters decided to band together and form what is now the “Dublin GAA Supporters Club”. Tired of travelling to matches up and down the country with only a handful of supporters in tow and very little to cheer for on the pitches, they felt some action had to be taken and a first meeting was held in the Autumn of 1969 @ 6 North Great George’s St. A Committee was formed from the following: John Carthy, Mick Gill, Tadgh O’Donnell, Danny & Pauline Norton, Ann & Frank Dolan, Rena Kelly, Liam & Pauline Heuston. John Carthy was elected Chairman.

Throughout the lean years these loyal supporters gathered momentum and developed a healthy membership. When matches were played in Croke Park most of these people congregated to the right of the old dugout on the Cusack Stand and kept spaces for one another in the event of someone being late etc. That practice continued for many many years, but unfortunately disappeared with the increase in popularity of the Senior Footballers and the advent of all-ticket games, when you were lucky to get a ticket for a game, let alone sit with your mates.

The Supporters Club continued to grow and prosper and branched out into various fund-raising activities with the aim of fostering Gaelic Games in Dublin. We were also very lucky to have some former players willing to take an active part on the Committee, Paddy Holden, and Paddy Cullen to the fore. The late Jim King (County Secretary) was also very active on our Committee, as was the late Joe O’Hara, who served for many years on our Executive.

We ran many concerts with performances by The Wolfe Tones, The Fureys & Davy Arthur and the Dublin City Ramblers, all of which proved very successful and we were able to make donations to the County Board, to players funds for trips to the U.S. and the Canaries etc. and before the days of sponsorship, sports gear to our Hurlers & Camogie players. We also made presentations to players selected on All-Star Teams at a time when they travelled to the States for matches and also those chosen for the compromise series down under. At other times the Club made contributions to various hardship funds, set up because of prolonged injury or illness to a player and in some cases sudden death. This was not just confined to Dublin players.

In the late ‘70s we delved into the unknown when we thought up the idea of an Inter-GAA Club Quiz. We ran this for many years and had some of the best craic in the history of the Club, even if a few of the Committee members were in danger of being served with divorce proceedings because they were out gallivanting so many nights of the week ! It certainly helped to heighten the awareness of the Supporters Club in Dublin, as many of the GAA Clubs were blissfully ignorant of our existence. We were lucky to have the likes of the great broadcaster and commentator Liam Campbell, Kevin Heffernan, John Saunders (RTE) and Des Donegan (Gaelic Press) act as quizmasters. Some of our distinguished participants were Jim & Aileen Brogan (St. Oliver Plunketts), Des Cahill (Cuala), no Jimmy Magee but good for a laugh and former County Chairman and his wife, John & Roisin Egan (Clanna-Gael /Fontenoy). One of the most welcoming Clubs visited was Whitehall-Colmcille and a young member of their Committee even went to the bother of dressing up the table in front of each participating team with Club colours. All in all the venture was a very worthwhile exercise.

We also set about organising buses to away games and this proved very successful. The buses were very well supervised and if the journey was particularly long we stopped off at a pre-arranged halfway venue for tea and sandwiches. On the way home we usually had a singsong (depending on the result!) Few members will forget Frank Hanlon’s rendition of Galway Bay. Word spread very quickly about our buses and many relatives of players began to travel with us. How many of our older members will remember a very young Jason Sherlock being brought on the buses with his Uncle Eddie? At that time Eddie was a Committee member and Jason, sporting a little woolly hat, used to be carried around on Eddie’s shoulders to and from matches. Little did we know at that time what talent we had in our midst and the part he would play in our Minor Footballers reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and our Senior success in ’95.

The musical talents of Club members have been tested on many occasions over the years. In ‘92 Pete St. John invited some members to help out with a recording, and if you listen very carefully, although you might not want to, you can almost make out the “sweet” tones of some current Committee members on his rousing tune “Up the Dubs - March to Dublin”.

At various times the Committee tried organising members get-togethers on the evening of home matches and some of these were excellent. However it became more difficult to find central venues to suit everyone and then numbers began to fall off as many visited their regular watering holes, or their local clubs etc. and preferred not to venture back into town later the same evening. In recent years we have been lucky to secure the use of the Dublin Fire Brigade Sports & Social Club, courtesy of Tommy Ellis, and we have had some really enjoyable nights making presentations or just socialising. In recent years the Committee have been grateful to also hold their meetings there. Another premises we were privileged to have had the use of was the Beamish & Crawford Head Office at Fitzwilliam Place. The late Jack Barnes, a Committee member for many years, ensured that everyone was made very welcome and no one ever went home hungry ! or thirsty !

The Club also became involved in the Paul Mulhere Scholarship fund, the sponsorship of various Cumann Na mBunscol competitions and even the old scoreboard in Parnell Park.

Jerry Grogan, Cumann na mBunscoil receiving acheque from the Club

One of the more pleasurable tasks of being a member of the Committee was sending telegrams (fax machines were not yet so available) to players when they got married, or to Kevin Moran making his Man. United and International debuts. Kevin’s wonderful mother, Lord rest her, always made a point of contacting us to express Kevin’s delight at receiving these good wishes and to know he was still thought of.

We also sent messages to Niall Quinn when he joined Arsenal and later Jack’s Army. Any member lucky enough to be at the ’83 Hurling Finals will remember a puck-out from the goalie reaching the mighty Quinn at mid-field who just pulled on the sliotar to see it sail over the bar for a magnificent point - what a pity he hadn’t been brought out to mid-field a little earlier when we might have beaten Galway. Just another of the many “if-onlys” involving Dublin teams.

Many people believe that being a Committee member is a dawdle, but a lot of hard work has to go into it and some difficult decisions have had to be made from time to time. Matters of discipline occasionally occurred and at all times maintaining the good name of the Supporters Club was of the utmost importance. Although the Club has been in existence for almost forty years in terms of numbers our membership has never been above the 600 mark, even in the heady days of the ‘70s. We were always quite happy with this number ensuring a more intimate Club with most people knowing each other, if not by name at least a nodding acquaintance. We discussed increasing our membership from time to time but always returned to the fact that we prided ourselves on the behaviour of our membership and if we opened up the floodgates we could not vouch for everyone in the Club. For example if there was trouble at a match or on a train we could be held responsible if that person was a paid up member of the Club. That was why we had to give serious consideration to the proposal from the County Board to incorporate their Associate Members under the umbrella of our Club. We thought long and hard about this and eventually agreed a five-year plan with the County Board for the future development of juvenile games in the County. This would be achieved by increasing our membership fee to £10 and our numbers to a maximum of 1300 over five years. The County Board would receive a substantial cash donation each year and in return each member would be guaranteed a ticket for all ticket championship games involving Dublin. This ran successfully for 2/3 years, and the rest as they say is history. On the positive side our membership has now returned to its former dyed-in-the-wool genuine supporter who joined the Club just to be a member and not for the sole purpose of getting a match ticket. Hopefully we all learned something from the exercise.

In recent years the Committee set about organising trips to the tournaments in Glasgow, very memorable occasions. All who travelled will remember the flight home from the first trip, Hughy Maguire’s jokes focusing the thoughts of members away from the turbulence and the second trip home with a plane full of Scottish musical hats probably interfering with the aircraft radar equipment. Those who travelled were perfect ambassadors for the Club and for Dublin and it is the hope of the Committee that a suitable occasion for a return trip will come about again, perhaps even a weekend away for a League game.

Members at the Galsgow '96 game

Throughout the years we became involved in purchasing Club merchandise, such as ties, scarves, umbrellas, sports bags, polo-shirts, baseball caps, car stickers, pens etc. This
merchandise continues to promote the presence of the Club and is worn with pride by so many around the County and even as far away as Australia. There are still some shirts and ties available so contact the Club if you want to sport some Club colours.

Since the foundation of the Club the Hurler & Footballer of the Year Awards and Annual Raffle have proved highlights of each year. Apart from membership fees, the Raffle is our only consistent source of income and we rely on your generosity at this time to keep the Club afloat. We know it is not always easy to drum up the enthusiasm to sell the lines , especially when our Senior Footballers are not involved, but please bear in mind that even one punts worth is better than nothing to us and will be put towards the running costs of the Club or to some of the sponsorship ventures mentioned earlier. Thankfully we have received generous sponsorship from Arnotts in the last number of years towards prizes so we have been spared a considerable expense.

The Hurler & Footballer Awards are presented at our Annual Dinner Dance and each year the players consistently express how honoured they feel at winning this award, because it is the genuine supporter who have voted for them. In fact, it is not long ago that Cuala’s John Treacy listed it as one of his proudest achievements and John won his hurling award in 1985 so remember to vote later this year, the players do appreciate it.

When all is said and done we should feel proud of our little Club. While we may not have the high profiles of the Tipperary’s/Clare’s/Kildare’s etc. we are still approached regularly for newspaper and radio interviews and enjoy a good rapport with most journalists. Okay so we may not have the cash turnover of some of the above-mentioned counties, but we certainly do not want a place in the dugout. Team selection - could you think of anything worse than trying to pick a team that would please everyone and win - no thank you. So each of our members take a big bow for enduring the highs and lows of the past ~40 years and look ahead to the new millennium and many more fruitful years of Dublin GAA glory.

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