Secretary's Address to Club AGM - 8 January 2011

Aodh Ruadh entered its second century of existence this year. In a club the size of Aodh Ruadh there will always be units prospering while others tread water or struggle. In the following report I'll give a flavour of the main activity in the club in the past year. Taking the club in the round I think we actually had a very encouraging 12 months.

On The Playing Field
Aodh Ruadh's division two existence came to an end in 2010, and not in the manner the club had hoped. After a reasonable league campaign Aodh Ruadh still found themselves mired at the wrong end of the table. The club's destiny was to be decided by a relegation play-off against Fanad Gaels on 31 October. Fanad blitzed Aodh Ruadh from the start and consigned Ballyshannon to a 2011 in division three and intermediate championship football. Aodh Ruadh's last experience of senior championship football for the next year illustrated the season in microcosm. Pitted against the reigning county champions, Saint Eunan's, in the first round Aodh Ruadh delivered two hard competitive performances, but saw little reward for all their endeavour. It was a hard blow for a proud club. Val Murray, Donagh Keon and Benjy Drummond deserve serious recognition for all the hard work they have done with the players this year. Taking any senior football team is not for the faint-hearted and rewards are usually of the intangible variety. Val and Donagh put their hand up and took on the job and deserve nothing but the height of respect for their work. Despite some opinion to the contrary I believe our senior footballers have one key advantage over any other side in division two or division three for that matter. We have skilful players of real quality. If we compare our players against the likes of, say MacCumhaill's who were just edged out of promotion, or Killybegs who went to a county final, I have to say I feel we have the better players, players who have genuine quality. Other clubs are making the most of their modest playing resources, but I feel while if we leverage the players we have we can muster a very formidable team. I feel it is very important Aodh Ruadh approach 2011 and division three in the right frame of mind. If we do that then I have no doubt we will be contesting at the right end of the table and winning a lot more games. It has been very encouraging to see players taking a lead in preparations for the coming season in the past few weeks.

The reserve team had a difficult year, and in that context Jim Kane deserves great credit for persevering. One encouraging aspect was the greater number of minor players who featured for the reserves over the past season, a process driven by minor manager, Barry Ward. It is essential we continue this process if we are to restore the club's senior footballing fortunes in the medium term.

The thirds under Gerald McGloin enjoyed a bit more good fortune. They performed well in the league, finishing third. In the championship they were pitted against Glenfin in the championship. That contest went to a play-off game and extra time where Ballyshannon were edged out on 4-13 to 4-14 score line.

Broadly speaking the club is looking to the future and with players like Peter Boyle and Donagh McIntyre to call on, both members of the Donegal Ulster winning under 21 team and Ronan McGurrin who was involved with the county minor panel, not to mention fine young prospects like Conor Patton, David Dolan and Diarmaid McInerney among others there are good grounds for optimism.

Underage Football.
It has been a very busy year at underage with a number of finals reached, but unfortunately no silverware to show for all our exertions.

As mentioned previously, Barry Ward took our minors this year. It was pleasing to see changes introduced by the Southern Board which mean more minor football. Aodh Ruadh won two and lost two, but the club is making great progress at this grade, particularly in the graduation of minor footballers to the reserve and senior set-up. Evidence of that progress was seen when Ballyshannon went to the Southern Regional championship semi-final, a game they lost to Naomh Conaill, but the side showed great battling spirit in the second half.

Shane Ward and Greg Sweeney were in charge of the club's under 16s for 2010. The team had a fine run through the league finishing joint second, that pitched them into a play-off with Ardara. After a tight game Aodh Ruadh were edged out by a point. The side showed their quality to go to the southern divisional championship final also. They met Kilcar in that decider and in another tightly contested and somewhat controversial game Ballyshannon found themselves on the wrong side of a one point score line once again.

The under 15 Óg sport team put in an excellent showing at the county finals, however they were pipped by the host club, Buncrana in the final.

Once again Aodh Ruadh were very competitive at under 14. Niall McCready's charges made the Southern Divisional final against Killybegs, and were very unlucky to lose out by a one point margin. The team also made the divisional championship final, this time facing Dungloe, however it was heartbreak again as Ballyshannon came out on the wrong side of a close result.

Colman Kerr's and Sylvester Maguire's under 13s narrowly missed out on the Southern Regional final, while their under 12s were pitched into the Go Games experiment. While Aodh Ruadh embraced the concept with an open mind, it's fair to say it wasn't an unqualified success and it is hoped that under 12 football will be on a more solid footing in 2011. At under 10 Peter Gallagher's sides had a busy year with blitzes across the division and large numbers showing a great appetite for the game at this level. Our under 6 and under 8 teams continue to do great work in introducing our youngest members to the game under the management of Gerald McGloin, Martin McGlynn, Ken Monaghan and David O'Donnell. Simon Gillespie has been lost to the New York board, and this is a considerable blow in terms of coaching and coaching strategy. Hopefully we can overcome this loss by redoubling our efforts at underage.

Ladies Football
Our young intermediate footballers have made a considerable amount of progress over the past few years and were in strong contention for both league and championship honours. We took on Malin in the intermediate championship final at Red Hugh's, Killygordon. The girls have had their share of championship disappointment in recent years and they were in no form to let history repeat itself. They demolished Malin with a powerful display of football to take the Intermediate title in emphatic fashion. And six weeks later they did the double by claiming the league with a 5-11 to 2-6 win over Naomh Conaill. It has been a fabulous year for the ladies and their success has been a real beacon of hope and optimism in the club. Congratulations to everyone involved in a truly memorable year.

That upbeat note carried through to our underage ladies football. At minor level the club was proud to have Dearbhaile McNeill, Tara Khan and Anna Rafferty feature for the Ulster championship winning county minors. The club also fielded teams at under 14, under 12 and under 10. The under 14s had a fine year, going to the county semi-final where they were unlucky to lose to MacCumhaill's, but with the likes of Maeve Liston already a fixture on the county team, there is a bright future for this panel. Also at under 14, the club successfully hosted Monagea of Limerick as part of the All-Ireland Féile. The under 12s played under the Go Games system. They travelled to three blitzes and showed a great degree of promise. One of the highlights of the under 10s year was the visit of a team from Rockland, New York city, under the auspices of Ballyshannon exile, Pat McGovern. Another highlight of the underage year was the trip to see Donegal's All-Ireland Intermediate final victory at Croke Park. The club took 33 children down to Dublin for a day that will live long in the memory.

Hurling
Our adult hurlers dropped down to junior championship this year. With this new focus the lads applied themselves and gained their reward with a comprehensive 6-7 to 2-1 win over MacCumhaill's in the final. Thomas Schillaci Gallagher, Liam O'Donnell and Kevin Loughlin put in a lot with the team this year and their efforts deserve recognition. The senior hurling AGM saw the decision to forego a senior hurling team next year. Geographically we are at a decided disadvantage, but that simply reinforces the need for dedication and commitment from our senior hurling team. While it is disappointing that senior hurling is to fall into abeyance for a period, hopefully the next time we put out a senior team it will be one capable of being a major force on the county scene, thanks to the work being done at underage. At underage there was even more silverware collected, as grassroots hurling in the club continues to go from strength to strength.

The under 16s were under the polished stewardship of Kevin Loughlin with the assistance of Stephen Sheerin and Pat Faherty. The highlight for this group of hurlers was winning the under 16B county title. Four players from this team also made the county under 16 squad which won the All Ireland C title.

Pride of place goes to the all-conquering under 14s. They did what Kilkenny failed to do, and won the five in row. They began in 2006 with the dream of winning the Donegal Féile and in 2010 they achieved that objective by defeating Buncrana in the final. The team got the perfect fillip ahead of their trip to the All-Ireland Féile in Clare when they won the Ulster Féile against Gort na Mona of Antrim in Armagh city. Once they got to Clare they delivered a level of hurling never before seen from a Donegal team on such an exalted stage. They topped their section with three wins and went into an All-Ireland semi-final against Crusheen/Tubber of Clare. Aodh Ruadh went out of the tournament after a titanic struggle with the Banner side, but they went out with their heads held high. The whole experience was one that will be long treasured by the club and everyone who was part of it. In addition to the Féile odyssey the under 14s also went on to claim the Donegal League and Championship double for the second year in a row and added the Fermanagh League for full value. In addition six Aodh Ruadh players also featured on the county under 14 team. Enormous credit is due to the team management of Peter Horan, John Rooney and Jonathon Browne.

A different configuration of that management team also took charge of the under 12s. That quality leadership saw the side win the Fermanagh League for the second year in a row and capture the Aodh O Dálaigh trophy. Already six of these under 12 players have made the Donegal Development Squad and played in Croke Park.

The under 10 hurlers were under the tutelage of Kevin McDermott and Michael Ayers and they have shown steady improvement across the year. They had a busy programme of blitzes and challenge games, both in Donegal and in neighbouring counties.

Eddie Lynch, Chris Kelly and Denis Daly were in charge of our under 8s this year. Already this team shows immense appetite and determination to learn the skills of the game, a quality reflected in their performances at the numerous blitzes throughout the year.

In August our young hurlers made their annual pilgrimage to the All-Ireland semi-final, where, apart from seeing Tipperary defeat Waterford, they witnessed Aodh Ruadh's Brendan Gillespie participating in the half time game. The underage year concluded with the visit of Waterford manager and Clare legend Davy Fitzgerald to the club. Davy presented a bumper haul of medals to our junior hurlers and took a two hour training session the following morning. Anyone who was there would agree it was some way to end an incredible year.

Off the pitch
In the past year we saw our club man, Tom Daly, honoured at Stormont in February as he took his leave after a very fruitful period as President of the Ulster Council. We wish him well now as he bids for the highest post in the GAA, he continues to bring great honour upon this club. As usual Father Tierney Park successfully hosted a Donegal National League match, happily the homesters trounced Laois. That was just one of the large number of inter-county fixtures that took place in Ballyshannon across the year. Indeed, the exceptional flexibility allowed us by the recently opened Páirc Aoidh Ruaidh has permitted the club to host an extraordinary number of games and training sessions over the past year. In February we welcomed Armagh strength and conditioning coach Tommy Stevenson and he brought a great deal of new thinking to the club in his short visit. March saw our annual Hurlathon, now one of the club's best fundraisers. The club also had its usual prominent presence in the town's Saint Patrick's day parade. In May we threw ourselves into the Lá na gClub celebrations with gusto and Ballyshannon came out in great numbers for a fabulous family event. Indeed we were one of only nine clubs in the county that properly celebrated Lá na gClub. April opened with the annual Ladies Duck Race at McKenna's brook, a great afternoon's craic as always. In July we had our 18th annual GAA summer camp with numbers as high as ever, including a flying visit from An Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan TD. In August we hosted the VW camper vans of the Eireball Run as they took a break on their week long charity fund-raising tour of the country. In September Aodh Ruadh travelled to the Kilmacud sevens where they ran ultimate semi-finalists, Caherlistrane to within a point. Elsewhere, club man Terence McShea continues to rise through the ranks of the Ladies referees, taking charge of a number of high profile games over the past season.

Operationally one of the big successes this was the massive increase in registration numbers and revenue. Credit for that outcome must go to Marita Maguire. She put in a blinding effort this year. Part of the problem was turning around an ingrained culture where some feel that being asked to pay membership is some sort of impertinent imposition. This made Marita's job significantly more difficult than it needed to be. My perspective on the matter is simple. If you are a player you simply must register. Not doing so makes you an illegal player and needlessly jeopardises any success your team may have as we will be vulnerable to objections from rival clubs. You are not covered by the GAA insurance scheme and so you are exposing the club to the unacceptable risks in terms of claims. Probably the worst charge is that you are trying to making a cod out of your team mates who pay their membership promptly and in full. In the long run I feel any player will get a hell of a lot of value from Aodh Ruadh for their €50.

Problems with membership have not been confined to players. We invested in a mailshot at the start of the year detailing the new arrangements for registration, namely the revised fees, the fact that the details would be entered in a centralised GAA system and, most importantly, the fact that the deadline for 2010 membership was 31st March. This was also explained exhaustively and repeatedly in the club notes. Whilst we got a good response to the mailshot, Marita again found herself explaining to people that membership could not be taken for 2010 after 31st March. This was not a rule made up by Marita to annoy people. This is a stipulation from GAA headquarters. As an executive we fully understand that this year was a bedding-in period for the new system and there was bound to hiccups along the way. As far as possible this year we tried to be flexible in the implementation of GAA registration rules. As we move into 2011 I hope there is a greater understanding of the registration requirements around the club and consequently I anticipate that our Assistant Secretary treated with a great deal more respect and her role not made any more difficult than it needs to be.

Some of you will be familiar with Cairde Aoidh Ruaidh. This is a structured giving scheme started by the club to try and put some kind of a floor under our finances. Our initial target is 100 members each donating €4.85 per week, which would cover our county board fees and our term loan commitments. The scheme also attracts tax benefits which mean that we can also receive money from government, depending on the donator's tax category. Currently we have around 60 members signed up to the scheme. If anyone has the means to do so and have not already done so, I would strongly appeal to them to sign up to Cairde Aoidh Ruaidh. It is a critical component for stabilising the clubs finances. A significant part of the club's problems can be attributed to the debt we carry. It is a serious problem and we have to face up to it. Until we do so, the club's capacity to develop in many spheres is severely impaired. I shouldn't pass on from Cairde without saluting the work done by Sean O'Mahoney and Sylvester Maguire in bringing in a significant number of members to the scheme. Sean in particular has played a stormer for us. Many who only know him from seeing him up at games wouldn't know it, but he has really been a rock for the club this year.

To conclude I want to thank Mary Grimes for her work as treasurer this year. Amazing to say, the figures are the easy part. Mary spends much of her time fending off debtors and if it wasn't for Mary's Kissinger-style diplomacy, and I use that description advisedly, we would be in much greater financial difficulties than we already are. In my opinion she is a key asset to the club. Mary acknowledges that she isn't a fund-raising treasurer, but, in my opinion, that should not be her role. We are a club and we should all be in on the fund-raising act. To that end we formed a finance committee to try and co-ordinate our funding activities. Most of the work of the committee this year focused on Cairde Aoidh Ruaidh. Membership of that committee is open to all in the club, but attendance at meetings have been awful. That isn't surprising given the financial mountain we contemplate, it's not for the faint-hearted. The skeleton attendance at finance committee meetings has meant activity has, of necessity, been very focused and limited. If we are to make headway in resolving our financial issues, we need greater participation from more people in that committee. I also want to thank Betty McIntyre for her assistance this year. Occupying the chair is a thankless and onerous position, but Betty has taken it on with gusto and has been an assured presence in the role. As the first female chair in the history of Aodh Ruadh she was breaking the mould and she has ploughed endless hours into the club, many of them unseen and unacknowledged. Often the work was unglamorous, but essential for the well-being of the club. She deserves enormous credit for her work this year.

I'll wrap up by thanking everyone who contributed to the club in any capacity this year.

Mise le meas,

Eoin O hAodha
Runai

Last modified: Monday, 10 January 2011 at 11:14pm