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‘It provided inspiration’: Neighbouring GAA clubs meet on the field following paddleboard rescue

The Bearna and Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA clubs met in championship on Friday night after helping with the search for the missing paddle boarders.

Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

LAST FRIDAY NIGHT in Pearse Stadium they were in opposition in the club football arena.

But the previous day they had been joined together, working in unison on the Galway coast as part of the extensive search for two missing paddle boarders.

The championship meeting of the senior sides of Bearna and Salthill-Knocknacarra had been a dominant theme for both clubs last week until a matter of greater urgency occurred.

Ellen Glynn (17) and Sara Feeney (23) were located clinging to a lobster pot near Inis Óirr on Thursday. The previous night they had been swept out to sea after leaving Furbo beach, a couple of kilometres from the Bearna GAA club grounds.

Friday night saw Bearna win out 0-13 to 0-11 in the battle for local sporting supremacy but it was the news that filtered through the previous day that the cousins had been found safely, which sparked greater rejoicing.

“We had all been looking forward to the game Friday night but then we woke on Thursday morning to what we felt at the time was devastating news,” says Bearna chairman John Connolly.

“When I woke up Thursday, I’d a message that the previous night the girls had gone paddle boarding and hadn’t returned. I got the message from Caoimhe Friel, her father is the club President. She would be a neighbour of the girls.

“Caoimhe, in fairness to her, she’d a significant part in the rescue effort, she contacted a lot of community groups and a lot of people within our GAA club to see could we mobilise people to join the search on Thursday morning.”

The call went out and was met with a swift response, the family background means they are embedded in the GAA club.

“Their family have a really long association with our club, right back to their grandparents time who were one of our founding members. Their grandfather played for the club and their grandmother, her brothers would have played for the club.

“At the time unfortunately we didn’t have a ladies team but the mother of one of the girls was a founding member of our ladies club and played for years.

“We put out the call to as many as we could, which we were delighted to do, and we sent out the message on our central Whats App group and all our social media channels and we got a fantastic response.”

Bearna were not alone in putting in an immediate and widespread effort.

“When we joined the search party on Thursday morning, it did register with me there was many people from the Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA club too with Salthill tops on,” says Connolly.

“And a lot of other clubs and sporting organisations as well. That didn’t surprise me. It just goes to show you that neighbouring clubs and when one club needed the help of the other, they were there, even though we were going to take them on the following night.

“Where the girls live at the moment is where the two clubs meet. They would have neighbours and friends involved with Salthill. One of the girls fathers’ would have strong Salthill connections.

“A lot of these stories unfortunately don’t have such happy endings. That had to be on everyone’s mind that morning as we were searching. As the morning we went on, I think it’s fair to say that hopes did being to fade.

“To get the news that the girls had been found safely was really uplifting for the club and community.”

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When they all returned to their homes, spirits buoyed by the good news, their minds began to settle and shift towards the following night’s club match.

It did feel surreal to try to switch into game mode again, preparing for the heat of a championship meeting.

“It was strange, no doubt about it,” admits Connolly.

“It does bring it back to you the relevance of sport in the greater scheme of things, it’s not a life or death matter.

“But again the story of the two girls themselves, how they persevered, how they were so determined, that definitely buoyed our entire community and club and the players. I think everyone in the country was buoyed by the story.

“And there’s no doubt about it, it provided inspiration for our players as they headed in to play the match on Friday night.”

In a year where the seismic impact of Covid-19 has been felt in all walks of life, it has been welcome to get back on the playing fields recently after activity was shut down for several months.

Bearna’s senior footballers are in a good place now, top after victories in their two games to date in Group 1. The final series of matches will be contested with a fierce intensity, driven by the proximity of the four clubs involved.

a-general-view-of-pearse-stadium Pearse Stadium hosted Friday's game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Bearna, Salthill-Knocknacarra, St Michael’s and An Spidéal are all tightly bunched together on the western side of Galway city, a half hour drive would take in a visit to all four club grounds.

“We’ve had a good start but margins are very tight,” says Connolly.

“It’s going well so far but the next time we’re playing another neighbouring club St Michael’s and we have never beaten St Michael’s from what I can recall in senior championship.

“We drew with both Salthill and Michael’s last year, and Spiddal beat us. So going back to the fine margins, we were on the wrong side of them last year, we’ve happened to be on the right side so far this year. Our biggest challenge is our next one because it has a knockout sense to it in that both teams can go through.

“But look the news that the girls had been found safely last Thursday was a boost for everyone here.

“If Carlsberg did weekends for our GAA club, that was it. The success really on the field was bettered by the success off the field. There’s no doubt about it.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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