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Clare senior hurler Patrick O'Connor. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare star reflects on happy school days and future goals

Gort Community School held its deferred 25 years of GAA celebration event recently. Ivan Smyth spoke to Clare senior hurler Patrick O’Connor about his fond memories in the school and his hopes for the county side.

GORT Community School recently celebrated the many excellent hurlers and camogie players that have come through the doors of the school, since it opened on September 4, 1995, the day after Clare beat Offaly to be crowned All Ireland champions.

The Transition Year students hosted the event with numerous awards handed out. Also on the night the 25th Anniversary All-Star Hurling and Camogie Teams compromising of past students from the school was announced.

The hurling team saw two Clare men make the cut. Tubber’s Ronan Taaffe was named in goal while Patrick O’Connor was selected at wing back. Aidan Harte, who was part of the St. Joseph’s Tulla management team, was also named on the team. Other notable names included Galway hurlers Shane Cooney, Conor Whelan and the late Niall Donoghue.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Taaffe was Clare’s representative on the Camogie team with the Inagh-Kilnamona clubwoman named at centre back.

Former All Ireland winner Heather Cooney, Andrea Mullins and Shauna Healy, who was up in Dublin last Friday night receiving her third All Star award, were also on the team.

Patrick O’Connor spoke to The Clare Champion on the night. He holds fond memories of his time with Gort CS.

“We won First Year, Second Year, Juniors and then three Connacht titles in a row. While we never got the holy grail of the All Ireland and with the names that are up there on the board, you wonder how we didn’t, they were still great times. We trained really hard and we had great craic. The teachers were brilliant with us. I have hugely positive memories from my time here.”

“We wanted a final appearance so badly but it wasn’t to be. It doesn’t stop the enjoyment we had. When you are meeting up with the lads, it feels like very little time has passed but looking back now it’s been a fair few years. Great memories, great lads and great people involved here.”

The Tubber man is on the comeback trail after suffering an ACL injury in a challenge game against Limerick 12 months ago.

O’Connor feels he is on the “home stretch” as he makes his way back from the long term injury.

“The knee is getting stronger all the time. I’d say I might run out of time for Munster Championship this year but you wouldn’t know what would happen as the summer runs on.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to get back first and foremost for my club and if I’m any help to Brian Lohan then I’ll be putting my hand up straight away. It’s a long term injury and I have to show it the respect it deserves but I’m on the home stretch now.”

After completing his Leaving Cert in the summer of ’09, the success started to come for O’Connor. An U-21 All Ireland medal was bagged that September while he secured another in 2012.

The historic All Ireland success in 2013 captured the hearts and minds of the Clare public while three All Ireland U21 titles in a row between 2012 and 2014 looked set to usher in a new era for Clare hurling.

However, the Clare public endured some tough years with the epic pair of games against Galway in the All Ireland semi final stage in 2018, the closest Clare have come to reaching the holy grail.

“The story of the Clare team that I was on was that we were working off a lower number of players than other teams. We probably had 20 really good players and as is well documented a few of them have fallen away. I think you are beginning to see the likes of Mark Rodgers, Shane Meehan, Patrick Crotty, all those guys help to build up a bit of depth in the squad.”

“It’s been a bit of a lull while the Clare team have been in and around the top four/top six. The team are craving to get back and I know the group really would love a Munster Championship and go on and fight for All Ireland honours then.”

“Look, we have a hugely ambitious group and they have kept the standard really high throughout. They are a great group of lads and I couldn’t speak highly enough of them.”

The night was organised by the school’s Transition Year students as part of the Future Leaders programme, which gives pupils the knowledge and skills to support all roles required in the effective staging of Gaelic Games.

The students hosted GAA blitzes, released podcasts while the GAA club within the school has the same structure as any club across the country with AGMs and elections held to elect people to key positions.

Eoghan Hanley, a French and Irish teacher within the school, is the National Co-Ordinator of the GAA Future Leaders Transition Year Programme.

“The whole idea of this programme is to give students the skills and capacities that they can use in all areas of their lives. If only a small percentage use them in their local GAA clubs, that’s going to be a massive boost to GAA clubs in North Clare and South Galway.”

“We want to give them the skills and then put them in to a position where they have the responsibility to go and organise events like this and empower them to take ownership of it.”

Whitegate’s Colm Madden, who teaches English and History, while working with the Transition Year students on the Future Leaders programme, believes the current crop of pupils can take inspiration from former students’ successes.

“One of the goals of this evening was to commemorate and celebrate the past while also looking forward to the future. Hopefully the great feats of our former hurlers and camogie players will inspire future generations who are in the school at the moment to do great deeds in the jerseys of Gort Community School, their clubs and hopefully in their counties as well.”

Principal Brian Crossen hopes to see Gort Community School continue to build for the future.

“Our school is a community school and we want to play our part in helping our local communities and clubs develop players who not only go on to represent their clubs for many years ahead but more importantly we want to help develop good people.”

“While the main focus of this evening’s ceremony is to remember and celebrate our history, we also hope to inspire for the future.”

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