EVERY GAA club and probably other sporting bodies as are glued together by a hard core of individuals, mainly those of a homo sapiens disposition, but in recent times by the spine of Irish society, ladies, mothers, sisters, daughters. They are transporters of children. They line pitches. They stick up the flags and the nets, and they take them down again.
They go to meetings and they head up little committees. They make decisions, many of which carry an in-house tag of importance, but to outsiders are nondescript. They run raffles, sometimes buying more of the tickets than any other, and they bake cakes, tarts and lemon meringues - the ladies I mean.
They do all this unconditionally. There are no rewards. There are no envelopes. The closest they get to meet a President is if someone like Paddy Buggy goes to their church for a funeral or Nickey Brennan does something similar.
They pay to get into every match, but they don’t mind. Its all for a great cause.
They do mind, however, when they see someone they know, but whose contribution would merit a resounding minus on the Richter scale, being shuffled gratis through a gate by a Maor Geata in the long-standing traditions of GAA cronyism.
You won’t see them seated in the front row of the Ard Comhairle at any stadium, rather they will be delighted to get seated down in the corner at the confluence of the Hogan and Davin, and boast about the great luck they had in getting the seat.
Did it ever dawn on you if any of the galacticos seated in the up-and-down-wans are paid up members of any club? I apologies. I digress.
I was down in Mooncoin recently, and I met with a decent man who ticks most of the boxes above. Never did he flinch or court favour from anybody, or even apologise for that matter for his involvement in so many efforts in his own parish.
Billie O’Keeffe is a true son of the Mooncoin parish, having been born there, lived, married (to Noreen), reared a family of two boys and two girls, ran a profitable business and is still an enormously active member of the community.
Involved in the parish
Even though Billy O’Keeffe would be raddled with the GAA trademark, nonetheless, he has been, like many others in the GAA, assiduously involved with a wide number of extra curricular parish activities, but more about those anon.
To the GAA we march, because from experiences around, it is an obvious observation that the people who invariably get involved with most developments in a parish are the people whose sporting allegiances are cloaked by the GAA ethos.
In Mooncoin, when Billy O’Keeffe was but a gossun, whilst hurling was the only game being played, there was no such thing as an under-age competition, or for that matter, an under-age sub-committee.
“We played on the road, or in any bit of a field we could find,” Billy explained of his first experience of sport. “We invariably played with an ould sponge ball, or even a bit of a tin can, but we enjoyed every moment of it. The Summer days were not long enough by half. But it was there that we learned our hurling trade.
“I played in the under-14 championship and as there was no under-16 championships, my next competitive involvement was in a three-time minor campaign when we won titles in 1958 and ’60, losing the 1959 one. We won 1961 and ’62 as well when Joe Dunphy captained the Kilkenny minors to successive All-Ireland wins.
“I was over-age for the last two, but I won a Leinster minor medal in 1959. Kilkenny actually put eight consecutive provincial titles together between 1955 and ’62.”
Billy progressed to the Mooncoin senior team. He lined out at corner-forward on the last team from the parish that won the Kilkenny crown.
“We had a very fine team then and we were thrilled to beat one of the greatest teams ever to win the title, Bennettsbridge in the final” he observed with a long-distance smile.
We are talking around the mid-sixties era. Would he remember much of that famous final in 1965?
“Strangely no, or maybe the answer is no because I barely got a puck at the ball,” came the reply. “I was always playing at corner-forward. In every game up to the final I managed to get a few scores, but in the final I drew a blank. Mind you I was being marked by Martin Treacy, and ‘tis often we would return to those times when we would meet.
“We are great friends, but sure who couldn’t be friendly with Martin, or Jim or any of the rest of the Treacys’. They were very honest, fair, decent men who played an honest game without resorting to any kind of questionable conduct.”
But if Bennettsbridge were such a renowned the country over hurling outfit, did it not say something for the Mooncoin men who took them on and beat them in a Kilkenny senior final?
“It surely did really,” he said. “We too had a great team with one of the greatest hurlers ever to pull on the black and amber, Claus Dunne performing handstands for us at wing-forward. Then we had the mighty Ned Doyle leading the attack, and what a player he was. We had Lynch (Jim), the marvellously skilful Joe Dunphy, Watty McDonald and Johnny Howley.
“We had Martin Howley and Johnny Walsh at eight and nine and we had Mickie Conway and TommyWalsh in the forwards as well. Ah yeh, we must have been good to beat that ‘Bridge team.”
I presume that the training regime was very much in line with the long-held tradition of running?
“Fr John Joe Reidy, a brother of 1947 star, Liam, trained us,” he continued. “The thing that I remember was the joy all over the place at reaching the final. Inside and outside of the team and management, everyone was walking on fresh air. There was a good pep in everybodys step. We certainly did not get remotely close to any of the present-day scientific methods of training.
“We had no gyms, saunas or steam rooms. Fr Reidy had us doing laps of the field as our only form of training. We hadn’t showers, but we had dressing-rooms. That was a welcome development in Mooncoin. But the joy and happiness it brought around the place was superb. Mooncoin hadn’t won the title for 29 years.”
Billy collected a senior football title in 1974, and as a result of an on-going knee injury, he decided to hang ‘em up.
Turning to the administration side of the club, Billy O’Keeffe was all things to all men practically at all times. He was a selector when Thomastown were defeated in the intermediate county final in 1990.
With him at the helm were the lamented, late Noel Doyle and Tom O’Hanlon. He was also on board when the club won a junior hurling and football double in 2001 and 2002. He was vice-chairman of the club for many years.
He served as a vice-chairman of the County Football Board for a number of years when one of the most genuine GAA person that has ever walked God’s Holy Ground, Kieran Meally was chairman.
Billy’s club deservedly honoured him with a Clubman of the Year Award at a terrific function in 1996. Recently he was again honoured by his club with the distinction of honorary vice-President.
“I wonder are they trying to politely tell me to shove over or what,” Billy said as he roared laughing. “Maybe they are telling me to sit to one side and shut up. But I was greatly honoured by my peers with that nomination.”
Respect for people
He has a near paranoid respect for the people who are giving of their time to the under-age developments in the club.
“We were one of the first clubs to address the under-age structure, or the lack of them,” he informed. “It helps of course that so many of our former and present players have taken such a strong interest in coaching and managing youngsters. Ned Quinn was one who was close to the idea some years ago. It is not surprising that he is being credited with the creation of the much envied Development System in Kilkenny, which is so obviously an integral element of the production line of tremendous talent for all of county teams.
“I was thrilled to be at the recent county under-21 Roinn A final against Erin’s Own. It did my heart good to watch the commitment, style and passion of our team. I can honestly say that the performance of the Mooncoin team has never been bettered by any Mooncoin team in my living memory.”
But there was more, much more, but we had to digress.
Billy, ’tis only two pages I need for my editor, not a full book.
“Jays I better stay going then Barrie,” he laughed. “No point in having a monkey if you have to eat the nuts yourself.”
He busied himself with community efforts like meals on wheels, community alert, the CYMS club, the children’s playground project,
“I need to stay active,” he said. “I like doing things for people. I like making life a bit easier for people if I can. I’m no do gooder, but I live by the principle that if I can’t do you a good turn, I certainly won’t do you a bad one.
“I started with the CYMS. We had nearly 100 members in that. We had a tremendous billiards team there, but again, most of them were GAA people. Lads like Claus Dunne, Denis Kinsella, Mick Conway, John Conway, Gerry Aylward and myself won the very prestigious billiards Diocesan Tournament one time.
“We played all over the place in Callan, Borris-in-Ossery, Kilkenny. I remember we played against the great Larry Drennan, who represented Ireland (still does), Dr John Mitchell and Toddy Quinn. They were outstanding cueists,” said the grandfather of nine.
His involvement with the Community Alert project has diverted him towards the provision of Social Alarms for the elderly. His input into that idea is purely administrative insofar that he procures grant funding.
Nearly 100 Mooncoin residents avail of this so meaningful and necessary piece of equipment. He is hugely active in the Mooncoin Day Centre, where the senior citizens (I call them Silver Surfers) of the parish enjoy each others company at a central point; where there is music, a bit of dancing, craic, refreshments, bingo, quizzes and so on.
He is a busy man is our gracious interviewee.
“Recently we managed to acquire the services, free gratis, of two local qualified reflexologists. They are doing tremendous work for the group,” he assured.
The Meals on Wheels project is organised through the Day Centre, and everybody has their duties to perform on a rote basis, once every 10 weeks.
Billy O’Keeffe is an avowed Mooncoin thoroughbred. He takes great pride in whatever is achieved in his home place, because as he would point out, “community is everything here. Whatever is achieved, there is a reflected aura of feel good about the place and it tends to blanket all in the place in its glory.”
If a team wins, it is always Mooncoin wins. If Eoin Doyle wins a race with any of his horses, it is a Mooncoin horse that wins. If a greyhound wins a stake somewhere, it is a Mooncoin dog that wins it. Everything is prefaced by the nomen, Mooncoin.
Billy O’Keeffe has been so much a part of what has been good about Mooncoin. He has never been known to refuse a helping hand or a bit of encouragement when necessary.
Whilst quick to disassociate himself from the post of major mover in any of the above organisations, he is more than willing to acknowledge that in all of them, the GAA presence is very evident.
And we haven’t even mentioned the post funeral catering that is synonymous with so many of the Mooncoin and Carrigeen people involved with everything else down in that Suirside republic.
Junior North versus South game is back
A FEW years ago an annual challenge was organised between the best of the North and South junior hurling players. Other than pride in your own area, there was little to play for, or less at stake.
Still the challenge afforded the selected players the opportunity to compete in some kind of representative competition.
On Friday night the best of the junior hurlers that competed in the South championship in 2010 will play a similar selection from the North.
The South champions were the John Lockes (Callan) players, while Barrow Rangers (Paulstown) were the North champs. The game will be played under lights at the Piltown GAA complex, starting at 8pm.
The clash is being sponsored by J.J. Kavanagh and Sons, and one hopes that a good evening’s entertainment will be had by all. To add a little lustre to the occasion, a sponsored reception for all will be held in the complex lounge.
The two Divisional Champions will furnish the captains’ of the sides.
The South selectors will be Pat Hoban (manager, Mullinavat), Jim Kearns (Shamrocks), John Stapleton (John Lockes), Paul Long (Kilmacow) and David Kirby (Piltown).
The manager of the North selection will be P.J. Kenny from Lisdowney. At the time of going to press there was no white smoke regarding the teams selected.