Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: The club I love so well

THE Derry county finals were on last weekend and my own club, John Mitchel’s, Glenullin, were in the Intermediate final for the second year running after winning the title last year.

I was asked by those who were compiling the programme about my thoughts on a volunteer within my club.

I said I would not feel completely comfortable penning anything on anyone in particular, for two reasons. I would not be qualified to give a full story about someone who has gave so much to our club and it would take more than the 500-word limit to describe them.

However, the main reason was I could not justify selecting just one person and all their respective endeavours to talk about when I sat down to think about my own club and what we have built locally.

My words which follow are not about self-indulgence around my own club Glenullin, rather just what I know personally. I know that each and every part of what I am saying can stretch to 99 per cent of GAA clubs within Ireland.

When the word volunteerism is mentioned within the GAA I tend to look no further than the example set within my own club, John Mitchel’s, Glenullin.

As you come down the hill and the grounds come into view, everything about it perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the word volunteerism.

We are very lucky to have some of the most selfless and hard-working volunteers there to set the example for many others within the club and the community and I purposely use these two words together as they are intertwined so deeply in Glenullin.

To me, that is what genuine leadership looks like. My memories of the club stretch back 35 years and there have been many men and women who have come and gone before that and set the example for others to follow.

As we look to celebrate our 100 year anniversary in 2025, we can be very proud of what we have achieved as a community in that time.

From those on the committees setting the example and providing leadership and direction for others to follow, we are all very aware that we are only custodians of the club hoping to pass it onto the next generation to do their bit and so the cycle continues.

In my time with the club we have only had six different chairmen over the 39-year period, which is a remarkable consistency and each one would be the first to say they are only there as part of a wider team which stretches far beyond a committee.

While it is club members and ultimately the committee who make the day-to-day decisions, there is a team of men and women who provide their time simply because they realise are part of something greater.

Volunteerism in Glenullin reaches into many different facets of our club and the community and the club facilities serve as the central hub in Glenullin for all things GAA and non GAA.

From the on-pitch activity of coaching each and every child from fundamentals right up through to seniors, a rough estimate of 75-plus coaches right across both football and camogie are giving up countless hours for nine or 10 months of the year.

For those whose talents might lay in Scór, administration or fundraising or through to maintenance there is always a space for anyone willing to lend a hand in any capacity.

While this sounds contradictory in that it would be unfair to name anyone in particular, our club has been represented on the national stage in footballing terms via the All-Stars with Dermot McNicholl in 1985 and Paddy Bradley in 2007. Our former chairman Martin Mullan won the volunteering equivalent of an All-Star in the GAA President’s Award in 2008.

In a similar way in which many club volunteers took pride in both Dermot and Paddy, it was the same with Martin who would be the first to acknowledge he would not be on the national stage without the help of everyone around him.

From my own personal point of view, in our O’Kane house we look no further than the example set by our father growing up.

Volunteerism and giving back has always been at the heart of what our father has done and it’s not until you grow older and start to get involved yourself and you start to see everything from a different set of eyes that you realise the true importance of it.

This is only my own memory of growing up and is by no means limited to our O’Kane household but is most definitely the case with all the volunteers within Glenullin.

Each person will have their own story to tell and to pass on through generations of their own families and when all is said and done and we are all but a memory, John Mitchel’s, Glenullin will hopefully be going from strength to strength ready to celebrate 200 years in the year 3025.

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