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Remarks at a Reception for the 2013 All-Ireland Clare Hurling

Áras an Uachtaráin, 23rd February 2014

Mar thús ba mhaith liom fíorchaoin fáilte a chur romhaibh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu.

I am delighted to welcome you all to this reception in Áras an Uachtaráin today to honour the Clare Senior Hurling team on their fantastic achievement of winning the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2013. Your victory over Cork will surely be remembered as a modern classic in All-Ireland Final history. The fact that it required a replay to decide the winners of this contest is a testament to your opponents’ skill. I feel it only right and proper at this point to disclose that I was not an impartial spectator at last year’s All Ireland Hurling finals: having spent many childhood years in Newmarket-on-Fergus, my allegiance lay firmly with the Banner County.

Along with millions of Irish people at home and abroad I had the privilege of witnessing this team delight and enthral lovers of our national sport in an amazing spectacle of sheer brilliance and nerve wracking excitement. What we the spectators do not see however are the early mornings and evenings over months spent in arduous training whatever the weather or the pressures of balancing work, family and sport. What drives you is love of hurling, pride in club and county and an ambition to give your best so that your team may achieve greatness.

Beside you and behind you from your earliest days are the people who willed you on to excellence. They taught you how to catch a ball and wield a hurley; they stood on sidelines cheering you; they analysed games so that you could do better next time; they marked the pitches you played on, ferried you to matches, cleaned your kit, fed you, organised training and they travelled the length and breadth of the country to see you play. While you as players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch on match days, there are many others who play their part as well. I would like to acknowledge your manager Davy Fitzgerald, your trainers and backroom team, your families, partners and friends for the important role they play in the team’s success. Each individual depends on those closest to them, personally and in sport, to help them through their preparations, and we extend our appreciation to all of them for their contribution to the strength of this team.

For me, the GAA embodies passion, love of parish and county, sharing and teamwork, friendships, exhilaration, pride, joy and heartbreak in equal measure, fun and great memories but it also means civic growth, education, leadership, respect, self-discipline, volunteerism and fundraising, generosity of spirit, goodwill, commitment, ambition and vision. Your organisation has helped us understand and define our Irishness and how it continues to appeal and be relevant to all the generations of our people, in a world so often transformed, since the first days in 1884.

The reach of the GAA is not just national and local, it is international. It is to the great credit of the Association and its values that wherever more than two Irish ex-pats find each other, a GAA club usually follows. Its values of camaraderie and engagement and fun export well and find expression in the most unlikely of places – from Dubai, to Singapore, to San Francisco, to Boston, London to name but a few of the places where the roughly 400 GAA clubs overseas can be found. These are little windows for the rest of the world to see the best of Irishness engaged in play and community.

To finish, I would like to mention the Social Initiative which was launched by my predecessor, Mary McAleese. I hope you will embrace this initiative in the spirit in which it was conceived and bring the Social Initiative to life in your own clubs and communities. The use of the GAA’s network of clubs as a vehicle to engage with older men and encourage them to take part in social activities they can enjoy is a most valuable endeavour.

May I thank you all for coming to the Áras today; I hope you all enjoy your time here.

Mar fhocal scoir is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil libh as ucht teacht anseo inniú agus tá súil agam go mbaineann sibh taitneamh as an lá.