The achievement of Rosemount GAA in defeating Fingallians of Dublin in the Leinster IFC is a shining example for any other small rural club in the GAA.
There is one national school in the village of Rosemount in County Westmeath, with less than 60 schoolchildren. Rosemount GAA club has about 200 members. That's according to chairman of the club Colm Boland, speaking to Balls.ie after his club beat Fingallians of Dublin in the Leinster Intermediate Football Championship semi-final by 1-13 to 1-11 on Saturday afternoon.
Fingallians is a club with over 1200 members, over 50 teams and describes itself as the "largest sporting club in north Dublin". It even has an athletics club coming under the same umbrella as the GAA club. If we're judging by social media, the Fingallians Facebook page has 6500 likes while Rosemount's has just over 700. That's about nine times more.
How did David manage to defeat Goliath?
Well, Dublin star Paul Flynn wasn't playing for Fingallians, which was a start. But it's still a fairly staggering achievement.
It may be because (according to Boland) there's "no hurling, no soccer, no rugby in the area" and because somehow the club only loses "about three minor players every year" - a seemingly remarkable thing in this age of common youth emigration and when more numbers than ever are attending third level education (and thus perhaps tempted to learn the joys of Harcourt Street on a Monday or Thursday night).
Rosemount's senior side is no exception in this regard according to captain Enda Boland, who says that the (generally youthful) squad is "spread all around the country" at colleges in "Galway, Athlone, Carlow...a few lads up in Dublin as well".
Yet their commitment to the club remains unwavering.
— Prof. Fergal O'Brien (@fjobrien) November 12, 2016
It's a well-trodden tale, the story of the inter-county player trekking from all over the country to attend county training. The long car journeys, the dashing from work to training to arrive back home late before having to get up again for work the following morning. But the reality now is that most serious club teams require the same commitment. Boland Jr says that he will travel from his PhD studies in Galway to train on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday with Rosemount in addition to weekly gym work that he completes by himself:
It's a lot, but that's the same with any club team. If you're any good you're going to be putting in the effort. You're going to put in the hours - or you're not going to get anywhere.
With the recent formation of the Club Players' Association, more attention is set to be paid to the needs of the club player in the GAA. In particular the spotlight is being shone on condensed club fixture lists in the wake of the inter-county season, with young (as well as dual) players the most at risk of burnout. For example, Rosemount have an under-21 championship game on Friday - and after winning their opening Leinster senior clash last Saturday several of the panel had to play in the under-21 championship the next day. But the elder Boland wouldn't have it any other way - "they're the days you want" - and refers to the "professional" attitude of the players, who he expects will be waking up to the joys of ice baths first thing in the morning after Saturday's match.
— Gerry Murray (@geamurray) November 12, 2016
As for the Rosemount captain, he admits that the nature of the current schedule can be slightly taxing for the club player, whose calendar often hinges on the fate of the county side. In June and July, Rosemount "might have played the odd league game, but there was no championship games" due to Westmeath reaching the Leinster final. When asked whether it was hard to maintain intense training without the prospect of a competitive game in the near future, he answers in the affirmative:
Ah it is, because you don't know when the (next) game is going to be. I know you want Westmeath to do well but it is hard to keep going...it is hard to keep going when there's no matches on the horizon and you're training for the sake of training.
But in the end, he keeps coming back for the love of the club and those he plays with. And this is why, whatever demands are placed on them, the GAA club player will always persist.
Lads love it. Lads love football. We all get on fierce well with each other. We all go out together, we're just good friends. It brings you back, you just enjoy playing with the lads...driving home from Galway, it's not a big chore when you're winning and you're playing well, you have a good team, training's good and lads are showing up. Everything just falls into place.
Community. Bringing people from an area together. It's what the GAA was about when it was formed and, when it boils down to it, what it will always be about.
I think the club is special. In my head anyway. Because they're the guys you grew up with, they're your best mates. Westmeath, we mightn't ever win anything but the club is special. I think everybody would say that. After the county final, that was ridiculous, such a long time coming. The whole parish showed up.
When the Rosemount gaels speak to Balls.ie, they aren't en route to Coppers - there's a final to play - but the one pub in the village, where the older Boland says "there'll be a good crowd waiting for us."
Win or lose, no doubt there always is.
(Picture credit: Rosemount GAA)