Liam O Loineacháin, newly elected chairman of the Munster Council of the GAA

Outgoing Chairman Gerry O’Sullivan offering Liam his congratulations.
George Daly Munster Convention

It was a very proud moment for the parish of Mountcollins and Tournafulla when Liam O Loineacháin, born in Caherlevoy, Mountcollins and living in Tournafulla for over forty years, was elected chairman of the Munster Council of the GAA at a meeting at the Devon Inn on Friday night. For the past three years he served as vice-chairman and enjoyed his place on the council. I asked him what the new role would involve. “Being chair-person means you’re auto-matically on management where a lot of decisions are taken, and on Central Council where delegates from each county make major decisions within the GAA” he explained. “Central Council is the ruling body of the GAA between congresses where motions are proposed, seconded and passed and written in to the rule book.” That sounded very impressive to me. Knowing Billy all my life, I’d no problem asking him, tongue in cheek, if he was ready for all his new role entailed. He laughed. “I was secretary of the Mountcollins GAA club from 1974 to 1976. I was vice-chairperson in Tour-nafulla for seven years, chairperson in Tournafulla for 12 years, PRO for ten, I served on the West Bord for seven years, I was vice-chairperson of the County Bord for two years and chairperson for five years.” That is a very impressive history with the GAA. “Everything is a learning process,” he added. “One can never say they know it all, no matter what age you are, there’s something new to be learned every day. If I can do a good job for the next three years, I’ll be very happy.” I asked him if he had any plans in place for his new role. One of his top priorities is the development of small rural clubs. Down along the west coast, West Clare, South and West Kerry, West Limerick, West Cork, parts of South Cork and in other counties, clubs are struggling to field teams. “As you know, rural Ire-land struggles with popu-lation numbers because it has been the policy of successive governments to move people into larger areas of population. I intend to put a committee in place to examine every-thing to do with rural clubs as regards adult members, underage members, catchment areas, school population, and examine the possibility of playing with reduced numbers if rural areas are to keep teams. Other areas are doing this. We have to do this to keep our identity,” he told me. “There are 23 adult clubs in West Limerick, only five can field a team on their own. The whole idea is to get a chance to wear your own jersey and the only way I can see of doing that is with reduced numbers.” A good committee will come up with the data, and a solution can, hopefully, be found. A number of years ago Limerick moved from divisional Bord nÓgs in the county making fixtures to clusters of teams of equal status. This was a much more balanced and fairer way of doing things.
He also intends to look at reasons why there is little involvement in GAA in some urban areas. “We have to look at why this is,” he said. “But the most important thing is that clubs in Munster keep their adult status, whether it’s Intermediate, Junior A or Junior B level, at least there’s a club team that local communities can support.” Billy spoke about the first GAA meeting he attended, at the age of fourteen, in Mountcollins. “Willie Quirke, parish clerk, was the treasurer, Aeneas Daheen Lenihan was secretary, Willie (Cud Jack) Brosnan was the chairman. God rest their souls. When Willie was asked if there was money in the kitty, he told the meeting that there was one pound, eleven shillings and eleven pence. Many years later when he became secretary of the same club in 1974, Willie Brosnan was still the chairman. The GAA had a stronghold in every small parish in the country. Billy fondly remembers games of Gaelic football in his youth, when Mountcollins regularly played Brosna, the neighbouring team, on Sundays. “There was never a referee, we’d play for about an hour until a row would break out. Then each side would go to their assigned corner of the field until a negotiator from each team would be appointed, peace would be restored, and we’d play again for another hour,” he laughed. On the serious note of football in general, Billy says there isn’t an even playing field. “Limerick and Waterford are weak, Clare and Tipperary are a little better, but still a long way shy of Cork and Kerry. This year the former chairman Jerry O’Sullivan and Kieran Liddy, CEO, have put Clare, Limerick and Waterford in a group of their own at Minor level. Then you have teams of equal status playing each other. I predict that within the next couple of years we will see a second tier nationally in football, for some teams that are in Division Three and Four. The psychology of players is important, if they think they have a chance of winning of course it’s going to influence their attitude towards games.”
Billy told me about the first hurling match he attended. Dromcollogher and Knockaderry were playing in Tour. “We came in a horse and trap, the whole family of us. My father, God rest him, par-ked up in Patsy Scanlon’s and we walked down the path and over the village. The game was played in a corner of Pats Ward’s field.” He fell in love with the game of hurling that day. He became principal of Glengort National School in 1975. At that time the underage structure in Tournafulla was in need of assistance, though Tour GAA was enjoying success at adult level. Previously, in 1973, Larry Begley, principal of Mountcollins National School, and Billy attended a West Board meeting where they asked to set up a primary schools’ competition in West Limerick. It started with seven teams and grew to 37. They also played cam-ogie and ladies’ football.
During his inaugural speech on Friday night, Billy, who has been involved with teams in Tournafulla for forty years, spoke about the importance of the GAA in every corner of the country, and the role it plays not just on the playing field but in the social fabric of every community across the nation. He spoke of his plans for his role, and his hopes that he would make a difference in enriching the organisation and all it stands for. He also spoke about the importance of the sub-committee of coaching and games “It’s where our games begin, from nursery to youth and to adult level,” he said. He described it as the “engine room” of the Association. “Games development is at the heart of the GAA.” He spoke highly of staff involved in this and expressed his hope that the work would continue to ensure the sustainability of all clubs. He spoke about the importance of introducing games at a very young age, and the element of fun that they involve. Pat Daly in Croke Park introduced a school programme called The Five Star Centre last year and Billy was full of praise for this initiative. “It introduces children to games at primary school and is currently being piloted in Meath and Dublin and other parts of the country. It’s popular with teachers and pupils because it’s a fun physical education programme. Ireland without the GAA is unimaginable. It has created a unique place at the heart of Irish life at home and abroad,” he said with great conviction. He holds a strong belief that the organisation is all-inclusive socially and that the wider community can be involved in club activity in many ways. “Clubhouses are being used as meeting places for older people and as activity centres for the very young, and that’s as it should be,” he stated. “Using clubhouses as meeting places for young and old, players and past players, the whole community is the social aspect of the GAA, because even when rural villages no longer have shops and post offices, there’s almost certainly a GAA club. This is a vital aspect of the organisation. With post boxes at the end of laneways and passages, there are people who may be in isolation for several days. We must reach out to all those people, bring them to our venues for a chat and a cup of tea. This is the plan for the new clubhouse in Tournafulla and I’d like to see it happening all over the country.” He spoke of Scór, established in 1969 as the cultural wing of the GAA, and the important role that the competition plays in communities, and his hope that it would increase in strength in the future. He thanked all his supporters and said he was very grateful for the support of his immediate family, his wife Lil and his two sons Liam and Eoin. “They’ve always been very supportive of me, and Lil acted as secretary for many years!”
John Cregan, chairman of the County Board, told me; “This is a wonderful occasion for us in West Limerick, and it was an honour for me to propose one of our own for this position. I know he’ll be well up for the task, and that he’ll do a wonderful job on our behalf and on behalf of all the other counties throughout Muns-ter” Jerry O’Sullivan, out-going Chairperson had this to say. “Listen, I wish Liam the very best of luck. He’s a great GAA man, a great friend to have and I know he’s a great Limerick man as well. It’s a very proud night for himself and his family, his club and his county. There’s no better man to take on the job of Cathaoirleach Comhairle na Mumhan. Best of luck Liam.”
Billy’s speech, delivered with heart-felt emotion and humility in both English and his beloved Irish, finished to a rapturous applause from all his supporters, family and friends. And it was indeed fitting that his first official social occasion as chair-man was the Tournafulla/Mountcollins GAA Social the following night, also at the Devon Innl. Amid much back slapping and hand shaking, he was presented with a hurley, engraved with the names of each of the All-Ireland winning Limerick players and management teams. It was another great night for Limerick, where the Tournafulla/Mountcollins GAA Junior A county champions, the Junior B West champions and the Minor Camogie 9-a-side were all presented with their well- deserved medals, and knowing that one of their own was the newly elected Chairman of the Munster Council was the icing on the cake.
“It was wonderful to get recognition from my own club, it’s where I started and it’s where I’ll finish up,” Billy said. He may be chairman of the Munster Council, but he’ll always be closely involved with his own club, especially in the role of fundraising. “Forty years ago, in Tournafulla, when we purchased the GAA pitch, with the help of so many who have since gone to their eternal reward, it was a field of rushes. Looking down at the same field now is a proud moment for all of us, and the development is continuing. My hope is that it will serve the whole of the community”
It’s only fitting that the final words should come from Lil, Billy’s wife. I asked her how she felt about his new role, and suggested that behind every good man, there’s an even better woman. She laughed and said that she was delighted for him. She comes from a family steeped in GAA tradition and follows the games closely. “I wish him all the best” she said. “I’m delighted that he has something that he’s passionate about because I believe everybody should have”
There’s no denying the passion Billy has for the GAA and all it stands for. He’s been an advocate of the organisation all his life and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. The people of Mountcollins and Tournafulla are justifiably proud of Billy and we wish him every good luck in the next three years in his new position, and indeed in whatever life has in store for him in the years ahead. Go neirí an tádh leat, a chara.