Longford Secretary Peter O'Reilly pictured with GAA President John Horan at the Abbeylara Dinner Dance back on March 7, just before the Covid-19 outbreak sent the country into lockdown
The annual Longford GAA Convention takes place this Thursday night (7.30pm) and the virtual event via zoom starts at 7.30pm with contests for the Central Council position - Gerry Hagan (Killoe) v James Clarke (Clonguish) - and Assistant Treasurer - George McDermott (Killashee) v Marie O’Reilly Keenan (Colmcille).
The following are extracts from Longford GAA Secretary Peter O’Reilly’s Annual Report:
“I recall saying a few years back in my report about Longford GAA breaking with tradition when for the first time in many, many years we moved Convention from its home in Áras Uí Bhriain. Little did I realise that this year will be yet another break of a different sort with our first virtual Convention.
“Just 12 short months ago the new County Executive, all Clubs, their members and players in various ways were putting their plans in place for 2020 be they success at county or club level, avoiding relegation, breaking onto some of the county panels or onto their clubs first team, organising the next big fundraiser or just living life to the full. Less than 3 months later, most of these plans were in tatters with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Over the course of the last 9 months the GAA, be it nationally or at club level proved time and again what an outstanding Organisation we are especially in times of crisis. Blessed we are with good leadership at all levels of the GAA at this time which is now helping us and our communities get through this pandemic.
“Year on year the heroes in our Association are usually the team and management, be they county or club, senior or underage, who win the championship at whatever grade, the league or a local tournament.
“ I believe the heroes of the GAA this year are those grassroots members who provided such sterling service within their communities either as frontline workers or as part of a club coordinated volunteer response team who helped out neighbours, be they friend or stranger in many ways over this period. The club network has truly been magnificent and you the Officers and Members should all take a bow.” Míle buíochas libh go léir.
“Thankfully and in advance of COVID-19, the Longford Senior footballers got their hands on silverware with the winning of the Leinster GAA Accident Tournament O’Byrne Cup competition for the third time only – 1965, 2000 & 2020.
“Over the league stages they accounted for Kildare and Carlow and suffered a 1-point loss to Wicklow before beating Dublin in the semi-final and accounting for Offaly by 4-points in the final played in Tullamore. This left them in good stead for the forthcoming league where we had high hopes of promotion to Division 2.
“We started well, picking up 5 points over the course of the opening 3 rounds before falling to Down in Newry who scored a killer goal at the death to win by 2 after a fantastic comeback by Longford. All was not lost and we beat Tipperary (now Munster Champions) in what was to be the final game in the league prior to lockdown, a lockdown from an inter county competition point of view that lasted until the 17th October.
“Our final two games were away to Derry and at home to Cork. Training recommenced in late September in a totally different COVID era with new training and travel regulations, no dressing rooms and no crowds. Incidence rates of COVID in Derry were particularly high at this time and on that basis, we did make a request to Croke Park to move the game out of Derry City to an alternative Derry venue but as was Derry’s right they chose not to move for a number of reasons.
“Longford travelled with as small a party as possible and to be fair to Derry, their COVID adherence protocols in place were second to none. With just two changes to the team originally picked last March, we headed to Derry needing a win which was not to be and so, together with other results on the day saw our promotion hopes ended.
“With COVID rampant in places a decision was taken by Longford and communicated to Cork on Monday not to fulfill the fixture the following weekend thus protecting both squads (and saving Cork the expense etc) – something which wasn’t appreciated in some quarters. You just have to wonder where some people’s priorities lie in a pandemic!
“Next up the Leinster Football Championship in November – what? That’s right folks, this year has been turned on its head. So, on 1st November we took on Louth in Mullingar and on the strength of a hard grafted 2-point win, we faced Laois a week later in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park.
“This was a game we left behind with many saying we could have; we should have; as they left the field of play or switched over from GAA Go from the luxury of their own sitting room. And so, another season ends just short of 12 months from when it began with gym work and tough training. Credit to all who gave of their time in that period and I am delighted that you reaped some success this past year.”
“The Hurling League calendar played out as designed, finishing up on the 1st March, 12 days prior to lockdown. This group of players had high hopes of retaining 3A status and being in the shake up of the Nicky Rackard Cup competition.
“Two wins and a draw in the opening three rounds was sufficient to keep our league status and we put up very creditable displays in the final two rounds versus Tyrone and Donegal who we would be meeting in the opening round of the Nicky Rackard Cup later in the year – at that time we didn’t realise how much later.
“It was 24th October when we made the long journey to Letterkenny but faced an even longer one back having been defeated by 2 points and considering the gallant efforts of the second half where we pulled back a 6-point halftime deficit to almost beat a Donegal side who went onto win this competition.
“Having regrouped, it was felt that we could still reach the semi-final with near neighbours Leitrim standing in our way in a home game, the winners playing Mayo. Longford however failed in their quest by a 2-point margin in a game that saw us hit too many wides and possibly a level of complacency had set in.
“Never having a panel of 26 is not helpful going into national competitions but more importantly with this lack of numbers our national game will not survive in Longford. Great work is and has been done at club level with our underage by a very small core of people and now with the help of our hurling coach Seamus Hughes. This work is not leading to a transition of players to adult level and it would seem that in some quarters there is lack of encouragement of these young adults to get involved in the county scene. I realise fully that it is hard work to keep the game alive at adult level with only three hurling sections at this level but we need to work together.
“Is there a potential solution? I believe there is and this involves the playing of more competitive games.
“I welcome the intentions of the National Hurling Development Committee, which came to nought due to COVID, to play a cross border club league. In order to add a further competitive edge consideration should be given to having up to eight teams in each section (minimum of 6). The other addition I would add is to put counties with three or less clubs in the same league section and split those with four or more over 2 sections.
“The club’s placings at the conclusion of the league would determine who plays in that county’s championship semi-final / final depending on number. As a simple example, an eight-team league could be made up of the three Longford clubs, three from Leitrim and two from Cavan. At the conclusion of the league (7 games) the top two placed Longford teams contest the Longford Championship Final, likewise for Leitrim with the two Cavan teams playing in their county’s championship semi–finals versus the top two Cavan teams who have played in another section.
“To the Management Team and those players who gave of their time in 2020, many thanks. To those asked to join and who didn’t for personal or other reasons, please reconsider for 2021..”
“Unfortunately, our planned Club programme was decimated and a restructured programme involving a split league as well as the usual primary championships at adult level together with championship programme from U14 – Minor was put in place. Under the management of Damien and the coaching staff very enjoyable U12 competitions were ran.
“An outbreak of COVID in the county potentially impacting on a number of clubs led to the wise decision at that time to postpone games for a period. However, with the GAA subsequently pulling down the shutters on all club competitions due to the increasing number of COVID cases associated with post-match celebrations, we got caught out in not being able to complete our programme.
“Had we got the remainder of the week that the shutdown came, 25 of the remaining 41 games including both the senior and intermediate finals would have been completed. At this time, it is very hard to guesstimate when these will now be completed given that we must be at Level 2 before club games can recommence. Given the chaos surrounding post-match celebrations nationwide, the decision taken was correct and had it not been taken would have forced on us.
“The one adult competition that was completed, but not without controversy, was our Hurling Championship Final, the date for which had to be changed a number of times. When will people realise that going on social media or withdrawing from a WhatsApp group will sort such issues – it takes people who are willing to meet face to face, have a willingness to concede – just a little, and above all have the promotion of the game at heart to resolve matters.
“Longford Slashers were well in contention in the final until early in the second half when Wolfe Tones started to pull ahead following the first of three goals. At the final whistle Wolfe Tones were crowned County Champions for the seventh time in eight years – a truly remarkable record.
“What a Minor Football Championship we had with two of the early favourites beaten in the semi-finals and an intriguing final involving last year’s winners Longford Slashers meeting Clonbroney Wolfe Tones Óg who have been steadily rising in the ranks over the last number of years due to the impressive work going on at all age grades in the two clubs that form this Independent Team. One point separated the teams at half-time with the holders in front but by the end the underdog had turned the game to their advantage by one point.
“The Juvenile Final saw success go to Clonguish Óg.
“One point of note from the above finals was the way all six teams conducted themselves in relation to COVID compliance before, during and immediately after each of the finals in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park. This compliance followed on with the post-match celebrations / “drowning of sorrows” and all involved in these clubs should be commended for their efforts which DID NOT cause any rise in COVID numbers in our County.”
“2020 turned out not to be a year for a recruitment drive but that didn’t stop the new Referees Committee from putting plans in place and continuing to up-skill our current crop of whistlers. It is not a nice thing to say but in reality, we were lucky that a full compliment of games could not take place as we would not have been in a position to cover all of them with the limited number of referees available. Clubs must realise that they are part of the solution and it is from within them that the next batch of referees will come. With so many extra players around clubs this past year, I’m hoping that early in the new year clubs will identify one person at least who will take up the whistle.
“Continued success to Fergal (and a speedy recovery) and Patrick and their team of umpires who represent themselves and the county at inter county level. Thanks also to all the locals who week in week out and sometimes at short notice will hop in the car and head to ref a game. It has become a flippant statement but the fact is the games can’t go on without ye.
“Thanks to the Members of the Referees Committee for all their work. In recent days their Chairperson and Referees Administrator for the past year, Ken Leonard has informed us that he does not wish to continue in that position. I’m glad to say that there is an upside to this decision in that Ken has decided to go back refereeing and is willing to stay as a member of the Referees Committee. I want to thank Ken for all his work and attention to detail in his brief stewardship of this important role.
“By default, a split season with club first was foisted upon us this year. A lot was learned from it giving players their own distinct period for games be they club or county. All clubs are reporting additional numbers at training and whilst some of this is due to the lack of travel, I suspect a lot of it has to do with the defined period for the playing of club games. The split season seems to be here to stay with the argument being which goes first – club or county.
“For counties like Longford, it has to be county first for many reasons including; It allows 2nd and 3rd level students to complete exams prior to commencing club in the Summer.
“Players can travel in the early Summer and will commit to coming back to their clubs for championship – I doubt that the reverse would happen where the county played second.
“If club were first and required to be finished championship by late June, early July that would mean clubs knocked out in May – what will players do for the rest of the Summer?“