THE last two years have been a testing time for GAA clubs across the country, but in adversity, the very best of community spirit has shone through.
Back in 2019, Greencastle Wolfe Tones were reformed with the men’s senior team set to compete in the South Antrim leagues for the 2020 campaign.
Their first outing against Sarsfield’s in April 2020 never happened as sports facilities were locked as the country entered into the first Covid-19 lockdown.
While all their best-laid plans were put on the backburner, the club found other ways to bring people together, albeit mostly through online channels at first.
Wolfe Tones were still in their infancy, but they helped the local foodbank at Bawnmore during the pandemic and had fundraisers to further assure the foodbank had adequate resources to provide for those in need.
Fast forward to 2021 and the club was ready and raring to go and could barely keep up with demands such was the desire for players of all ages to return to action.
This led to the formation of the club’s ladies’ team, a unit of the popular ‘Gaelic 4 Mothers and Others’ at first before becoming a fully-fledged team as the summer progressed.
The ladies’ team are now sponsored by Belfast Media Group and plan to join the Antrim leagues for next season.
Club PRO Tiernan Millar feels the lockdowns helped reinvigorated the demand for Gaelic Games in the area.
“It has been massive since April. I think everyone was sick of looking at themselves on computers over lockdown,” said Millar.
“We got the men’s team back up and running and the juveniles took off in April. “We’d maybe 60 kids down on the first weekend.
“We always had a plan to start up a women’s team. I had been in contact with the Antrim LGFA and we got all the info we need to launch a ‘Gaelic 4 Mothers and Others’ programme.
“We weren’t sure how many would be interested, but we’d 25 at our first session and grew to about 40.
“From that, they asked could they have something more competitive and they played a challenge game against Ardoyne. From that, we launched our ladies’ team and it has completely transformed the club.
“It has almost developed like a cult-like status around the area – every kid know wants to be running around in Wolfe Tones gear.”
While the ladies’ team are set to join the Antrim leagues for next season, such plans may be put on hold for the time being for the men’s senior side, however.
Under the guidance of former Antrim panellist Enda McAtamney, Wolfe Tones made their belated return to competitive action in the South Antrim leagues earlier this term.
While they fared well in the South Antrim league, it was a big step up in class for the Antrim Junior Football Championship this summer and finished their Group One campaign without a point.
Millar believes Wolfe Tones will take another season in the South Antrim league before applying for the all-county league.
“For our first year in senior football, it didn’t go too badly,” stated Millar.
“We had a few wins in the South Antrim league. We didn’t manage to win any games in the Antrim Junior Football Championship, but that is a big step up for us.
“We haven’t spoken about entering the all-county leagues yet. I’d say we’ll probably spend another year in the South Antrim league before moving into the all-county league. We’d 50 men registered at the start of the season, but we barely fielded in our final Championship game – we had maybe three or four subs.
“We’ve been extremely unlucky this year with injuries, we’ve had broken bones all over the place – you’d nearly think they were cursed!”
As with any GAA club, the key to long-term sustainability in with the underage teams.
Juvenile structures were placed at the very centre of the club’s development plan from the off.
Having started out with three underage teams at U6, U8 and U10, the club are now catering for U12s and will hope to add to their age grades in the coming seasons.
Ultimately, the goal is to field teams at all ages grade in order to facilitate the development of successful senior teams – both men’s and ladies’ football.
The rebirth of Wolfe Tones has been far from straight-forward. Yet, through the toughest of times, the club have already demonstrated a resilience which will, no doubt, ensure success for the Gaels of Greencastle.