Two young men - entrepreneurial in many senses - are pioneering a new concept of social competition in John Locke Park, Callan, which, if successful, will just get bigger and bigger, writes Barrie Henriques.
Peil Abú is a new concept of Gaelic football, but with a different focus. It is being wheeled out with the support, and recommendation, of the GAA and has blossomed in over 32 centres nationwide already.
The word ‘social’ is very much a core issue with Peil Abú.
Paul Morrissey is catering and beverage manager for Campus Services in the vast Waterford Institute of Technology Campus in Ballybeg. He and another young fine man from Callan, Dominic Griffin, are the duo behind this new sporting scheme.
Dom currently works for a Waterford-based electronic card technology company, One Card Solutions. He and Paul worked closely when Dom was the project manager responsible for developing new business and products in WIT Sports Campus. He would also have responsibility for the social media network within the College.
At a recent development meeting of the John Lockes (Callan) club it was decided that a small - small is better! - committee of members would investigate ways and means of offsetting the annual financial demands that will be part of the Callan club going forward for quite a number of years.
The committee members were asked to return with a business plan for their new €1.1 million development. Paul, a dedicated and energetic former goalkeeper with the ’Lockes, enticed his work colleague Dom to come on board, as well as the man-for-all-ideas, Bosco Bryan agus mé féin.
Paul was given a dual mandate; he was faced with originating a working business plan for the 40x30 metre floodlit Astro-Turf outdoor area, as well as the spacious function room in the main part of the development.
Barrie Henriques: As chairman, how do you see the outlines of the remit Paul?
“As you know we have been charged to promote the facilities we have, and to come up with a business plan which will afford the club the best available return from the facilities,” he said. “There will be no getting away from the fact that we are, first and foremost, a GAA club affiliated to the main body of the Association in Croke Park.
“The facilities were built to provide the best the club could stretch to for our own members, our camogie players, our emerging ladies football team and all of our juvenile members from under six years of age. Everyone is aware of the build, and what its outlay has been. The parish has been most responsive towards our petitions, because they are acutely aware of its value to the young population.”
Paul skirted through some of his personal ideas for the Astro-Turf area like tag rugby, Camán Abú, tag soccer and others.
BH: Looking at your lists Paul, it would appear that if we succeeded in getting this Peil Abú up and running we could quite conceivably be the first of a kind in Kilkenny?
“That is a given as we speak,” he said, “but Dom would have a better handle on that issue, as he is more aware of its expansion nationally.”
Over to you Dom!
“Through my work in WIT Sports Campus, I’m acutely aware of the demand for social sports leagues and the need for top class facilities to accommodate these sports,” said Dom. “Callan is very fortunate to have those facilities on its doorstep.
“Recreational soccer leagues have been on the go for many years worldwide. Tag rugby has exploded over the past ten years. Croke Park has obviously recognised a need for a social game of their own, so they have perfected two such games in Peil Abú and Camán Abú.
“I was drafted into a team that worked closely with Croke Park in WIT to develop both games,” he told us. “Given that 90% of those interested in GAA games simply cannot play competitively for reasons of age, time, fitness or a lack of the required skills, this new development of a funs/social exercise is an ideal substitute.
BH: Paul, given the growing interest in the Peil Abú and Camán Abú games, where is the closest centre to Kilkenny would I find and outlet?
“As far as I can see, Waterford is probably closest to us,” he said.
BH: When we talk about Peil Abú Paul, what are we saying?
“Firstly it is endorsed by the GAA,” he said. “It is the name given to recreational football, and is a non-contact type of tag Gaelic football, played on synthetic, enclosed arenas. That is why our facility - enclosed by four 20ft walls - is absolutely ideal for the game.
“The social aspect of the sport is paramount,” he stressed. “It is played by mixed-gender teams of five or six players. It is all action, and there is no necessity for anyone to be a ‘Gooch’ Cooper to play the game. The games will be of two halves of 13 minutes a side, with a short break of four minutes for half-time.”
BH: What about the rules Dom?
“Of course there has to be rules,” he said. “For a start, there will have to be an age limitation in operation. I personally could not see anyone under 18 playing. The point of the entire development is to cater for people who have given up competitive sport, but would still have a requirement to stay active, if on a diminishing scale.
“In Peil Abú we would hope that lads and their girlfriends/wives would still want to be part of the GAA social scene, and would view the Peil Abú as a very acceptable substitute.
“All players will wear tags, as in tag rugby,” he added. “They will be supplied by the John Lockes club. If you get caught in possession when someone takes your tag, you must immediately surrender possession. This introduces a lot of speed into the game.”
BH: What kind of format do you envisage rolling out Paul?
“We would hope that we could attract a league of maybe 12 teams divided into two divisions of six teams,” he said. “Each team would get a minimum of five matches, with the league eventually working to a semi-final and final.”
BH: And the proposed schedule?
“We would speculate at this juncture that we could conceivably get our first games away on Ash Wednesday (March 5),” he said. “It would continue on the Thursday (March 6), and thereafter on every Wednesday and Thursday until we come in with a final on April 16. We would anticipate having a 8pm start every competition night.”
BH: So far Dominic, that speculative schedule looks attractive, but from where I am sitting, other elements would need answering before you could expect people to commit. Issues like officials (referees, disciplinary problems, size of panels etc) beg answers?
“We will have a pool of official referees trained in the rules of the game, and they will do the necessary,” said Dom. “We feel that panels should not exceed ten players, four of whom should be ladies with one of the subs being a lady, where she can replace a lady on the starting team when required.
“A three person disciplinary committee will be put together for the purpose of adjudicating on any break-down in a prescribed code of conduct,” he said. “Whether the teams are six aside or five, the playing rules will not vary.
“The big rule is the non-contact rule,” he stated. “The scoring will be an all goals scenario, with no points allowed. Contact with a member of the opposition will incur an instant free. It will be all action, with passing by hand or foot the accepted norm. The ball cannot be thrown by hand. Frees can be taken from the hand. The ball can be picked directly off the surface.
“Those are the kind of playing rules envisaged, but they could very well be revisited prior to kick-off,” he said. “All competing teams will have the rules given to them.”
BH: Surely people won’t be expected to come along on the first evening and just wing it - do you anticipate any time that a demonstration of the game can be displayed so that people thinking about taking part can come and see what it is all about?
“We are holding at least three demo nights where the games will be played by teams trained to do so,” said Paul. “Hopefully the teams will have lady players in their ranks as well. The demonstrations will be held on three Wednesdays in February (February 12, 19 and 26), so people can come and watch how the game is played. I feel that once they see it for what it is, they will be enamoured by it.”
BH: What kind of gear should people bring with them in the old kit-bag?
“As the game is played on an Astro-Turf pitch with a granulated rubber sub surface, normal football boots with moulded studs are allowed, but ordinary runners will suffice,” said Dom. “The club will provide the bibs for the various teams. The huge state of the art (and secure) dressing-rooms will be provided for men and women, complete with showers.
“All competing teams will be provided with tea and biscuits after games, and if they need, they can take advantage of the viewing deck overlooking the playing arena.
“No effort will be spared in making the experience of all teams a memorable one,” said Dom. “We want to make this work.”
BH: The possibilities for this initiative are more than enticing Paul?
“When Dom rolled it out in Waterford some three years ago it struck home immediately,” he said. “It started with a number of commercial companies around the city taking a keen interest, but over the years it mushroomed into many other levels of interest.
“For instance, I could see an inter-pub league starting,” he suggested. “I could see other clubs in the parish taking part, like the many Macra clubs around the county. What would be wrong with a club GAA competition? Would a street league be out of order?
“When you think about it, there are many possible permutations, all of which would be very feasible.”
BH: Do you think that this idea will impinge on the demands of the club activities?
“I cannot see how it should,” he answered. “With proper controls, a solid business plan and the co-operation of all parties, I can see nothing but good value coming from this plan.
“I feel that the membership will buy into the idea, because they more than anyone realise that to build what we did showed tremendous courage in the first instance, but the bills will now have to be serviced. This is yet another effort to keep our show on the road, and anyway, we are only talking about four hours a week after 9pm.
BH: Speaking of costs Paul, what kind of money are we talking about?
“We are thinking that we would need an affiliation fee of €50 per team, which will defray the cost of trophies and equipment,” he said. “We would then need €20 per night per team for lighting, shower heating, referee’s fee etc. I feel that we will be giving great value to the teams, relative to the kind of charges being levied elsewhere.”
BH: What other facilities will be rolled out in your business plan?
“We have a very impressive multipurpose function room in our main building,” said Paul. “Since our opening, we have been able to offer its use to other clubs, private individuals, and local committees.
“For instance, a very popular use for the room is for children’s birthday parties. We give them use of the Astro-Turf, where we provide Camán Abú hurleys and soft hurling balls. The kids think it is the best idea of all. They start their party, play an hour of hurling or soccer, and come back in for goodies, and finish with a game on the astro.
“We recently hosted an IFA meeting when John Bryan was the main speaker,” he added. “That was hugely successful too. One of our club members, Mick O’Brien, is involved with his own catering company, and his expertise in the provision of hot food is quite unbelievable. Our new furnishings and kitchen certainly make for a great venue for any such function.”
BH: Are there other ideas envisaged coming over the horizon?
“Assuming we get what Dom and myself have outlined operational on a solid footing, then we could consider other elements like the Camán Abú concept,” said Paul. “There is also the Leinster Council-sponsored Pella, which is a derivation of the Peil Abú idea except that scoring involves getting the ball into a circular net suspended from the end walls.
“You wouldn’t know what idea we may pick up along the road,” he smiled, “but this will do for the time being. I must stress though, that the facility will be used by club teams ostensibly and will also be for hire to private individuals who want a bit of enjoyable exercise, at small money”.
A flyer, advertising the potential values of the development has been circulated among all business concerns, schools, and clubs within a ten-mile radius of Callan.
One feels that the John Lockes could be on a winner here.
This column wishes them well.