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Thu 28-Jun-2001 20:29
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Back of the Nally
Square Dáil (No.1): Eamon Ó Cuív
June sunshine covers Inis Mor in buttery gold. Seagulls bellow above as Galway West TD Eamon O Cuiv sits, navy suited on Kilronan Pier…
Listening to the indigestion of the sea and surveying the island landscape, the grandson of former President and Taoiseach Eamon De Valera, takes a well earned break from meeting with Aran's Pier Development Committee. Meeting islanders has brought him great satisfaction and friendship throughout his time in office. They greet him with welcome smiles and messages of support. But just recently, their messages have been about
Eamon O Cuiv, the Minister's son. The Galway minor footballer has lined out against Leitrim and Roscommon in this year's Minor Championship already. To see O Cuiv's face light up when he talks about his son's involvement with the team, is to understand the warm feeling towards Gaelic sports that exists throughout the country.
'That was one of the greatest thrills of my life, when I saw my son playing for the county. They are into the Connacht Final and I would like to send every good wish to them for Sunday's game against Mayo'. No doubt he will be there at Doctor Hyde Park, to watch his son's curtain raiser and the Senior Final.
'I have attended games all my life. From a very young age I have always followed Dublin and I remember attending league matches in Croke Park with no more than a handful of people present. I also follow my adopted county of Galway and attend as many of their matches as I can.'
O Cuiv's background in GAA comes from his childhood. 'My parents encouraged us to take part in sport. I played Gaelic Football but with no great success. But I think I have fostered the love of the game my parents gave me, onto my children.' A point he will touch on later. He continues,' I think that the GAA is very central to the majority of people in Ireland today and is a common bond amongst Irish people both at home and abroad'.
His extensive travelling around Europe and the rest of the world highlights his previous point. 'I constantly find that Gaelic Games can act as an icebreaker when I meet Irish people all over the world. The first thing most people ask is what county you are from and if they have any interest in football or hurling, the conversation often turns to sports. Pointing out that he can 'remember discussions about football and hurling in such far flung places as Japan, Korea and Bahrain'. Focusing on the global aspect, the Minister of State was very interested to note that on a visit to Japan, 'the Irish living in Asia actually have an Asian Championship every year'.
Rather than standing by impassively, O Cuiv is himself involved with a club at present. He acts as Vice-President to the Cumann Naomh Padhairc, An Fhairche (Clonbur). Clonbur Senior Footballers are residents of the county's Second Division. They number Pat Lambe in their ranks. He is an occasional member of the Galway Senior Panel. One of the great characters of the Clonbur club, who is still pulling on the side's jersey well into his forties, is Stephen Joyce. 'He is a marvellous player from the parish. Both on and off the field, his commitment is incredible. He has had and still has a wonderful playing career. The GAA will always remember him as a great servant to the game'.
In the discussion of evaluating players, I ask O Cuiv, who would be his greatest player and manager of years gone by? Predictably, the player is a Dublin footballer. 'If you talk about former players who could fit into the modern game, Kevin Moran would be amongst them. I have always been a great admirer of him. The manager, well, to weigh up my dual-county status, I'll go for John O' Mahony as my favourite current manager. He has what it takes to manage inter-county very effectively, I would admire his skills greatly.'
With mention of John O'Mahony, his thoughts turn to Saturday's eagerly awaited All-Ireland Qualifier with Wicklow. I ask if he would like to see any other Championship changes, in relation to this year's new format? 'I think the system has increased the excitement of the Championship throughout the entire country. In relation to playing rules, they are very suitable at present and I feel that we should not constantly tamper with them. Football and hurling are of exceptional skill and movement and from a spectator's point of view, have all the necessary ingredients. This is also proven by the large attendance figures at matches.'
I enquire as to whether the Minister of State would see a possibility for GAA to branch out further across the globe? 'I feel that with more Irish people living world wide, television and the constant demand for sports channels to find new and exciting sports, the GAA have a golden opportunity to promote and expand.'
While he is mindful of the potential of the GAA outside of this county, O Cuiv always has time for his local club, as Vice-President and football fan. 'I attend a huge amount of games each year. Mainly games featuring Clonbur. I have three boys and a girl involved with football so I try to attend as many as possible of the matches they play in and I have made it my business to arrange my diary, as far as possible, around these games. As mentioned before, I always try to get to Galway's inter-county games. And when I am in Dublin, I always try to get to Croke Park for any major game and I also go to a number of Dublin games.'
His love for Dublin football not only comes for his living in the Capital but also a family connection that is in existence. 'I would have to say that one of the biggest influences on my interest in Gaelic Games was my mother's first cousin Don Cotter, who was Registrar and subsequently Chairman of the Dublin County Board. As young people, he brought my siblings and myself to big games in Croke Park, where we were lifted over the stile and were able to share a seat. This really inculcated an interest in Gaelic Games for us all'. However, his love for Dublin football subsequently disappears when I quiz him on his predictions for this year's All - Ireland winners. 'Honestly, I would love a double for Galway. But a safer bet might be Kerry for the football and Kilkenny for the hurling.'
As the Committee members reassemble for the continuation of talks with the Minister of State, I ask him to sum up what, in his own opinion, does the GAA truly mean to the people of Ireland? 'With particular reference to my own post as Minister for Rural Development, I can appreciate fully that the GAA is very much a part of the fabric of our society. Time and again, I have commented on the importance of the GAA in binding communities together in Ireland. One of the most significant factors in relation to the GAA is the parish loyalty involved,' He explains, 'This means that people who go away to work or study, tend to continue playing with their local club, thus bringing life to rural areas that have been suffering decline.' As he prepares to rejoin the islanders, he says, 'In connection with the GAA bringing life to rural areas, I see my objective, in the long term, as making sure these areas grow and are rejuvenated.'
And with that, Eamon O Cuiv departs from the sunshine. A familiar face and welcome smile.
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