Rural and GAA group stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with injured teen

The extraordinary generosity of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) throughout rural communities has been the “driving force” behind a special grassroots fundraiser that has helped families cope with difficult circumstances over the last two decades.

Since the turn of the millennium, the All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge – run entirely on a voluntary basis – has raised hundreds of thousands of euro to assist families or worthy charities with a strong connection to the GAA.

The beneficiaries can be a family dealing with various life challenges including: struggles with a serious illness; a debilitating injury; or the loss of a loved one. Other charities and groups have also been selected for their commitment to providing vital community supports.

The premier golf competition has built up support among several GAA luminaries over the last 19 years including: legendary Irish hurler Eddie Keher, who played as a centre-forward for the Kilkenny during the 1960s and ’70s; former All-Star Dublin footballer Barney Rock; current Waterford senior hurling manager Derek McGrath; plus, the nation’s favourite sports broadcaster Marty Morrissey.

Ireland South MEP, and former president of the GAA, Sean Kelly has also played a vital role in supporting the fundraiser – which is sponsored by KN Group, a leading provider in telecommunications, transport infrastructure and power sectors countrywide.

Organisers, sponsors and patrons of the All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge award the 2016 winners of the competition

Brave Ian

Last year’s fundraiser was held in aid of the Michaela Harte Foundation; this year it will be held in support of 16-year-old Kerry student and skilled club footballer, Ian O’Connell.

The St. Brendan’s College Killarney student sustained serious damage to his neck and spine in a bike accident last summer.

The sports-loving young man – who played football, hurling, soccer and rugby with Spa GAA club, Dr. Crokes and Cetlic soccer club in Killarney – faces up to two years of treatment and rehabilitation to help regain feeling and movement in his limbs.

He is currently paralysed from the shoulders down.

Speaking to AgriLand, organiser Liam Daniels said they have already made a commitment to Ian’s family to provide them with a state-of-the-art wheelchair accessible car.

“Every year we unashamedly stick with supporting a GAA family in need. We want the community to know that we stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

Regardless of the tangible asset that we are able to provide; we want to give them a signal of hope and to reassure them that they are not alone.

“This is our most ambitious project to date and we’re aiming to raise over €30,000 to really deliver what is needed for Ian and his family,” he said.

For the first time since the foundation of the fundraiser, the event will journey away from its home base in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to the Nuremore Hotel and Country Golf Club in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan.

The event, synonymous with its staging between the All-Ireland senior finals, will take place on August 24 and 25.

“Teams representing GAA clubs from all across the country will take part in the competition on courses at the Nuremore Hotel and Concra Wood Golf and Country Club.

“Loads of the lads involved have All-Ireland medals dating back through the years. We’re also hoping that a couple of well-known Kerry footballers will be in attendance.

Inaugural Annette Courtney Ahern Cup

“This year we will also launch our inaugural ladies competition – The Annette Courtney Ahern Cup – in remembrance of Annette who our community tragically lost last year. She was a towering figure in the community and a huge supporter of the fundraiser.

“Although the lads teams are virtually booked out at this stage; there are a number of spots available on the ladies sides.”

Golfers pictured taking part in last year’s All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford

Reflecting on the success of the fundraiser; Liam says it’s a testament to the deep connection between the GAA and rural Ireland.

“The basic strand of the GAA is rural communities – that’s what the GAA was founded on and that’s what this fundraiser was founded on in 2000,” he said adding that “every penny generated goes to the cause”.

‘Friendship and fellowship’

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly – who previously taught at St. Brendan’s where Ian is a fifth year student – said it is an “honour” to be involved in the fundraiser.

Hopefully Ian will recovery from his injury; but it will be a long process. He will need an accessible car and new mobility around his home and we will do everything we can to raise as much funds as possible.

“This event illustrates the wonderful friendship and fellowship felt among all GAA fraternity – no matter what club you come from. The generosity of rural Ireland is second to none,” he said.

If you would like to make a donation, offer a prize for auction on the night, or get in touch with the organisers, you can find out more at the All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge Facebook page, visit www.gaagolf.com or follow Twitter updates @GolfGAA.

Donations can also be made directly at the Ian O’Connell gofundme page.