It might still be some time before action is seen at Pairc Micheal O’Hehir in Cratloe, or any other GAA ground for that matter, but that has not prevented the South East Clare club from looking to continue their progression.
Over the last 15 or so years, the club has grown both on and off the pitch and now is established as one of the top contenders in both the Clare senior hurling and football championships each year.
The first major stepping stone on that journey of the last few years was their Senior B hurling success in 2006, and just three years later the Canon Hamilton trophy was secured for the first time with victory over Clonlara. It returned to the parish in 2014 when Crusheen were vanquished, but their last two final appearances in 2018 (Ballyea) and 2019 (Sixmilebridge) ended in defeat.
In the same year their hurling side were making history with a first senior title, the seeds of their first senior football success were being planted as the intermediate and U-21 titles were claimed. Four years later, the Colm Collins led side claimed Jack Daly for the first time with victory over Doonbeg, and they retained it the following year to complete a historic double for the club as both senior trophies were taken back to the parish.
The crop of players that backboned that success went on to become household names in Gaelic games as they played key roles in Clare’s intercounty glory at the time. It culminated in Croke Park in 2013 as the Collins brothers, Liam Markham, Conor McGrath, Conor Ryan and Cathal McInerney helping the Banner to secure the Liam McCarthy Cup.
One of the men credited with playing a key role in developing that group of players is the now retired principal of Cratloe National School, Jody O’Connor. The West Limerick native arrived in Cratloe to take up the position in 1986, and jokes that his wife, a Kilkee woman, dragged him over the border to live in Clare as soon as the opportunity arose.
He is proud of the strides the club has made and feels the GAA in Cratloe is more than just a sporting organisation.
“It is a very healthy sign of the club that there are plans for more development. Cratloe GAA Club espouses the vision of the GAA in being that volunteer led community organisation and welcomes anyone looking to play Gaelic games. There is no finer sight to see than having nearly 100 children training at the field and their parents there with them, but to accommodate those numbers you have to keep developing. The GAA club is like the village green in Cratloe. It is in a very central location and from a safety point of view it is in off the road. Activities are somewhat curtailed at the moment but if you go down there most mornings you will meet elderly people walking around the walkways. From the elderly in the community right down to the youngster, it really accommodates everyone and it is that focal point in the area. Coming from my own background in the primary school, the link between the school and the GAA club helps people to get to know each other. For people moving into the area, it is a natural port of call for people to get to know their community and the children getting to know each other” he said.
The Kileedy native spent 25 years at the helm of St John’s, and has fond memories of taking the pupils training before the pitch was developed at its current site.
“When I started in the school, we used to train in a place called the Hollow. It was a case of park the car and jump in over the wall to train. There were great people like Jim Enright and John Ryan who saw the need to develop our own pitch. They bought what is now the location for the GAA pitch and it was developed and opened around 1990. It really is a wonderful amenity and then the development of the sports hall was a brilliant addition as it meant there was somewhere to go if the weather went against you” he noted.
Over the years, Cratloe has seen an increase in population and in particular an increase in the amount of GAA orientated families who have moved into the area. One of those is current Clare senior football manager Colm Collins, with the Kilmihil native helping to guide the club through its most successful period in the code. There were plenty more too with the likes of fellow Kilmihil man Martin Murphy and Tipperary native Joe McGrath, among others, all being central figures in the clubs achievements.
O’Connor outlined that the increase in numbers of younger parishioners meant the foundations for success were there to be built on.
“When I came to the school there were around 150 pupils and that has nearly doubled since. It helps when you have a big population in the local school. It is up to the club then to provide the services and facilities for the youngsters to get them in and get them playing. A lot of my friends find it tough to keep it going in smaller rural schools so we are lucky in Cratloe to have those numbers and that has been a huge help. Allied to that, a good few GAA families from other parishes that moved in really put their shoulders to the wheel and they have helped out greatly in the development in the club. Cratloe were always very proud of their contribution and when I came first there were stories of the likes of Pa Quinn winning Railway Cup medals and of course what Jackie O’Gorman had done for Clare. When you get the numbers like we got them with the current crop it helps but we were lucky to get a bunch of players who were of a really high quality and a great group of lads who worked together and gelled together and were clearly very talented” he noted.
Cratloe club chairman Kevin Browne outlined that the initiative is one that is being driven by the players through the clubs social media channels in the main.
“Like all other clubs we were struggling for finances coming toward the end of 2020. We don’t have a club lotto but we usually run a club draw which was more a door to door collection. That was quite successful over the last few years but given the Covid restrictions we could not run it last year. We dipped into reserves somewhat and we had an extended year in the sense that we reached the county football final, and along with that we maintained the spend that we would have had on our pitch to keep it up to standard. I approached a few of the senior players in late November with the idea of coming back with a golf classic or something like that. They came back with a novel idea of an online win a car fundraiser which I was not expecting. They put a huge amount of work into it and it was hard to turn that down” he said.
With the players taking on that level of responsibility, Browne stated that it is hugely encouraging to see.
“It is super. We have a group of players who have matured over time and know how much the club gives back to them. They give a huge amount too but they do get it back from the club also. The resources don’t come from the air so there has to be some sort of a fundraiser so it is has been fantastic. The lads have really grasped it and crucially it is on that online forum where things need to be at the moment” he noted.
All funds raised will be going straight back into the club as they look toward the future and it something Browne feels will have a tangible impact on their plans for the coming years.
“That is what it is all about. As a club chairman, you are trying to get that balance of planning for the future along with giving underage players and coaches the best possible resources and facilities. The S&C stuff is now really taking hold at the underage scene so you have to spend a bit of money there. You want to give the senior players the best S&C, physio, management and all that as possible so there is a spend everywhere along with keeping your facilities up to standard and building for the future, so that is what we are trying to do really” he explained.