A STIRRING rendition of the Rose of Mooncoin, by the students and staff of St John’s Senior School, greeted GAA President Liam O’ Neill last week, as he visited Kilkenny just four days before Sunday’s All-Ireland final replay.
“I’m delighted to be invited to come to a Kilkenny school,” Mr O’ Neill told the assembled children and teachers.
“When I accepted the invitation last June, I thought that the All-Ireland final would be over by now. But I have to be neutral until Sunday.”
Referencing the school’s historic contribution to both the local O’ Loughlin Gaels club and to Kilkenny hurling in general, the Laois native said the pupils should take pride in their own locality.
“You are very lucky to be from a [parish] that produces such great players,” he said.
“And also, to be in a school that has produced some of hurling’s greats, such as Andy Comerford.”
Indeed, that past pupil and Kilkenny hero – Mr Comerford – was present also. He reminded the children to cheer on clubmate Brian Hogan at the weekend, and welcomed the GAA president’s visit to the school.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting Liam O’ Neill on a few occasions now,” he said.
“He’s an effective worker and he doesn’t seek the limelight.”
Principal of St John’s, Padraig O’ Neill, then referred to another celebrated past pupil of the school, Enda McEvoy. He spoke meditatively on Mr McEvoy’s career as a journalist, which began in the school – and at whose recent book launch the GAA president’s visit was arranged.
“I first met the GAA president on June 28, when he came to Kilkenny for the launch of a very special book ‘The Godfather of Modern Hurling’,” said Mr O’ Neill.
“I invited him to visit us in St John’s Senior School and he said he would love to.”
Also in attendance was local man Jim Kavanagh, and O’ Loughlin Gaels president Eamon Doyle. Addressing the assembly, Mr Doyle – who is originally a Wexford man – said both the club and school had a special relationship within the St John’s Parish.
“When O’ Loughlin Gaels was established, we always said we would take this school under our wing,” he said.
“We regard this school as the launching pad for everything that happens in our club.”
“I remember Andy Comerford when he was sitting here in these chairs just like you,” he told the children.
“Not all of you will make it as big as Andy, but that’s not important. All that is requested of you is to do your best – in school, in sport, at home...”
The afternoon was concluded following a children’s question and answer session with the GAA president.
Mr O’ Neill said he wanted to make sure Gaelic Games could include as many people as possible – and that extended beyond the hurling/football flagships.
“Hurling and camogie are hugely important to us – so are gaelic football and ladies’ football,” he said.
“But handball is also a very important game in the GAA world, as is rounders. We need to encourage these games for people who mightn’t want to take part in the contact sports.”