The Kilkenny club who has made a habit out of scoring firsts has been urged to continue to show strong, dynamic leadership and to drive on confidently into the future.
One of Kilkenny’s finest, James Stephens, are currently celebrating their 125th anniversary.
GAA President Christy Cooney hailed the city outfit as a shining example of what could be achieved through unity of purpose, strong leadership and sustained commitment when he addressed a special celebration dinner in Hotel Kilkenny on Sunday night.
“James Stephens are very much part of the GAA, of the parish, of the community,” he told nearly 500 supporters of the club at the gala dinner. “Generally as you get older, you get feeble but you have gone from strength to strength.
Built on commitment
“You have ambitious plans for the future, and they will be challenging,” he said of the club’s proposed development of new grounds on a sprawling site on the Kells Road. “You have never backed off a challenge. The proposed new facilities will strengthen you as a club.
“I am a great believer is not looking back. You can’t change the past. Going forward is what matters. Continue to be the force and strength you are, and continue to be an integral part of the GAA and the community.”
The President said the GAA was built on the commitment, strength and work of volunteers. James Stephens was an example of the best the GAA stood for, and the club played a huge part in the lives of people.
“I applaud you as a club,” he told the attendance which included the members of last year’s Kilkenny senior hurling county championship winning squad.
Earlier club chairman, Tommy Lanigan, reviewed the ups and downs during the club’s history. He took pride in pointing out that ’Stephens were the longest continuous senior club in Kilkenny, having attained the status in 1955.
“The transformation of our club began in the sixties,” Mr Lanigan continued. “Within a short time we had begun to blaze a trail of achievement on the field and become a genuine club serving the whole community.”
James Stephens began to clock up many, many firsts – first club in Kilkenny to capture the All-Ireland club senior title; first to capture File-na-nGael; with almost 120 county championships won they have more than double that of any other club; first in Ireland in terms of All-Star awards won; first club in Kilkenny to develop a major social centre in 1976; first to tour the US and first to develop a comprehensive juvenile coaching policy in the seventies.
Continues to set standards
“That continues to set standards of coaching excellence and is the envy of every club throughout Ireland,” the chairman added.
“All this was done thanks to truly exceptional leadership on the field of play and in the committee rooms,” he continued. “It would be wrong to single out any of the many individuals in our history who led from the front. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Mr Lanigan said the greatness of the club always depended on members seeing a problem to be solved and solving it; an opportunity to be taken and taking it; a job to be done and doing it; a word of praise to be spoken and speaking it; encouragement to be given and giving it.
“Leadership in our GAA club is about every act that people do well and without fuss, from playing the games to the best of their ability with pride in the jersey, holding hurleys, gathering sliotair, helping out, selling a few tickets, sweeping the dressing-rooms and the myriad of crucial roles that makes our club great.
“That is true leadership in our club,” he insisted.
Work, but have fun
Mr Lanigan said ’Stephens were now embarking on a new phase of development that will guarantee the most magnificent facilities for themselves, their children, grandchildren and great grand-children.
“Let us hope when James Stephens GAA club comes together in 2137 to celebrate 250 years of Gaelic games in The Village that they will say of this generation – they took the correct and brave decisions; we showed loyalty, commitment and love for the parish, our people and games; that we put in the work, we gathered the resources; we produced and continued to produce great and committed player and above all that we had great fun,” he concluded.
The James Stephens club was founded in 1887, three years after the formation of the GAA.