GAA don't have monopoly on selfless volunteerism

THE BOOT ROOM Brendan Crossan

THE GAA is one of the greatest sporting, cultural organisations in the world today. The GAA has a vision, great stadiums and excellent infrastructure that trickles down into every nook and cranny of the country.

The GAA raises the esteem of the nation. It gives people in urban and rural communities an identity, a purpose and sense of belonging. The volunteerism in clubs up and down the country can only be admired.

But, of course, the GAA is not the only sporting organisation where volunteerism flourishes. Two years ago this month our club Newington FC caused the mother of all upsets in the Irish Cup by beating Glentoran 1-0 at The Oval. Even though the Glens were struggling for form at the time, the Premier League boys were still expected to wipe the floor with big Eamonn McCarthy's Newington team.

As the first half drew to a close, striker Neil Quinn poked home the only goal of the game. The several hundred Newington supporters went wild on the crumbling concrete steps of the old east Belfast ground.

The junior club from north Belfast somehow managed to hold onto their lead for the rest of the nerve-shredding cup clash.

When the final whistle came, it sounded like the finest orchestra. It was the best day in the club's history bar none.

This was glory in its purist form. In a bid to raise some much-needed funds, the club put together a 32-page full colour booklet to commemorate their historic win.

On the day, Glentoran's weekly wage bill would have been around £3,000 or £4,000. Newington's was zero. There are no brown envelopes passed under the table. Nobody gets paid at the club. In fact, the players pay £5 per week to play for Newington to cover the club's overheads.

That night the players were treated to a steak dinner and a few pints for their giant-killing act. The manager pays for his own mobile phone bill even though 90 per cent of his calls are related to the running of the club.

Club sponsor Seamus McCann is one of the most generous souls on this earth.

He puts on a bus for the team for away games and regularly meets the club's perennial deficits.

Rab attends fixtures and disciplinary meetings, he prepares the changing room before games and does above and beyond what's asked of him. And there is ubiquitous 'Hynesy' who is always there by Rab's side, lending a hand and mopping up the changing room floor after games. Colin brings the oranges and refreshments for the team.

The manager's kids man the shop for half-time tea and soft drinks. His mother-in-law, bless her, washes the kits.

Burnsy, our club chairman, runs after footballs every Saturday and mans the gates. And nobody gets past Brian on the turnstiles.

And if you happen to turn up to watch a Newington game your pocket will at least be £10 lighter upon leaving the ground.

When one Last Man Standing finishes, another starts up.

Another tenner for the cause.

The club is built on volunteerism and goodwill. Newington's success on the football field over the last 30 years or more has given the small working-class area of north Belfast an identity.

The club's successive league and cup wins have raised the collective esteem of one of the most socially deprived areas of the north.

In sporting and social terms, the role of Newington FC in north Belfast cannot be over-estimated. The same can be said for a host of other teams in the area. The Newington story is not unique. There are hundreds of football clubs that depend on volunteerism to survive.

When Joe Brolly belittled Derry footballer Eoin Bradley (below) in print last week for choosing to play for Irish Premier League club Coleraine until the end of the season, which effectively ruled him out of the county's NFL Division One campaign, he poked fun at local soccer.

Readers were left with the impression that Irish football was morally repugnant and that there was nothing like the GAA.

What was 'Skinner' thinking? The fool.

Brolly goaded Bradley by saying everybody was laughing at him and the Irish League as well.

In Brolly's world view, Bradley should feel morally obliged to play for Derry and Glenullin and would be best leaving Coleraine and soccer well alone.

Talk about trying to give a man a guilt trip.

How dare a Gael like 'Skinner' involve himself in the God-awful Garrison Game.

How dare he play a sport and get paid, while the rest of us true Gaels turn a blind eye to the under-the-table payments that make a mockery of the GAA's amateur ethos.

The idea that no right-thinking Gaelic footballer should be playing semi-professional soccer is an outmoded, nationalistic, mono-cultural and sadly truncated view of the world. In other words, what we're talking about here is an inherent GAA snobbery.

While the GAA is a truly great organisation, it is wrong for some to assume that every other sport in Ireland lacks its volunteer spirit.

Without people giving up their free time for Newington our club would not exist.

Even the God-awful Irish League wouldn't survive without its volunteers, fundraisers and ticket-sellers.

It's churlish to snigger at the soccer communities that follow the likes of Coleraine, Cliftonville, Ballinamallard United or Warrenpoint Town because their volunteerism is as good as anyone else's.

For Eoin Bradley to have to endure a public stoning like he did last week was just plain bad manners.

The only good thing to come out of Brolly's scathing comments was the graceful and dignified response from

Eoin Bradley.

* THE MIGHTY QUINN: Neil Quinn celebrates scoring for former Amateur League side Newington in their shock Irish Cup win over Glentoran in 2012. The north Belfast side hit the headlines with their giantkilling act two years ago, but it is the good will of hardworking volunteers who ensure the day-to-day running of the club, mirroring the ethos the GAA is famed for


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