Seamus J. King
The tenth presentation of the Sean Gael Awards will take place in the Dome, Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon, November 18. It will occur without much fanfare, lacking any major hype and attracting modest publicity.
But, for the recipients, it will be a very special occasion, a recognition of a lifetime service to the GAA and, for many of them, a belated honour for work done on behalf of the association, much of it unrecognised and, in most cases, poorly rewarded.
The idea of honouring older members of the GAA originated with the late and great, John Moloney, who became aware of how many people, who had given a lifetime of service to the GAA, received scant recognition for their efforts. The idea of honouring such people had been working very well in Wexford for years and why not in Tipperary.
The thinking behind the idea was that members of the association, who had reached the age of seventy years, would be honoured in some way by the county board for their lifetime of service.
John was given the go ahead by the county board and he picked his committee to identify the recipients and organise the presentation. It included John himself, who became chairman of the committee, plus Seamus King, Seamus McCarthy and Pat Moroney from the West division, Michael O’Meara from the South, who became the very efficient secretary of the group, John Costigan from the Mid and Noel Morris from the North.
John Moloney remained chairman until his sudden death in October 2006, when he was succeeded by John Costigan. Since then the committee has six members.
The committee decided to hold the presentations in Brú Ború, Cashel because of the centrality of the venue. It also had the advantage of an excellent tiered auditorium, which was ideal for presentations. However, in the course of time this excellent venue began to reveal one major limitation for older people, accessibility: the steps down from the car park could be a bit trying for people in their seventies and the committee looked around for an alternative. Semple Stadium had been developed in the meantime and the development included the magnificent Dome, which became the new venue for the presentations in 2009. It has been a very popular venue since.
One of the decisions made by the committee at an early stage was to have a distinguished person as guest to make the presentations. This decision was based on the need to give the event an element of prestige as well as recognising the extent of the contribution made to the GAA by the recipients.
The first guest speaker was the former president of the GAA Joe McDonagh, and former Munster Council chairman, Jimmy O’Gorman, will present this year’s awards.
The format of the presentation was decided very early on. The event used to have a 6 pm start but now takes place on a Sunday afternoon. The recipients and their family and friends gather together about 3.30 for tea and sandwiches and a get-to-know-you reception. The formalities commence at 4.30 with a number of speeches followed by the presentations which are preceded by a citation on each recipient. The proceedings conclude with a speech by one of the participants.
Since the first presentation in 2003 the list of recipients has included a mixture of famous names as well as players and administrators not well-known outside their clubs. From the beginning the committee decided to recognise 10 people per division. This figure was reduced to 8 in 2008.
The list of recipients in 2003 included such well-knowns as George Pyke of Clonmel Commercials, Dick Cummins of Fethard, Seamus O’Riain of Moneygall, Tony Reddan of Lorrha, Jim O’Donoghue of Arravale Rovers, Monsignor Christopher Lee of Cashel, Mickey Byrne of Thurles Sarsfields and Bob Stakelum of Holycross-Ballycahill. It also included numerous ordinary members of the association, who had given a great part of their lives to keeping clubs going throughout the county and were getting their first recognition on a county stage.
This formula has worked well and has continued in the meantime. Recipients of the honour greatly appreciate the recognition and make their best efforts to be present on the day. Part of the greatness of the occasion is that it brings together as equals, men and women who won the highest honours and achieved the greatest fame in the association as well as more lowly members whose achievements are indeed modest. For all of these people supported the G.A.A. and gave it a lifetime of service in their own particular way. Each person’s contribution was important for the health and success of the G.A.A.
The local newspapers have been very generous with their coverage of the Sean Gael Awards. They give advance publicity of who the recipients are going to be and also coverage of the presentation ceremony. The GAA Yearbook also faithfully records each year’s recipients. It is only right and fitting that this should be as all the recipients are worthy of such recognition for a lifetime of service to the Gaelic Athletic Association.