25 Sept 2022

10 things you'll remember if you ever played underage GAA

10 things you'll remember if you ever played underage GAA

Whether you played underage GAA in the 80s or 90s, or are still playing today, you will relate to at least a few of these memories from the simpler days of the past. There were no earpieces, iPad stats or team bonding - but there was mighty craic had!

There was never an umpire...

One sideline supporter from each team was rounded up by the referee to be an umpire and absolute pandemonium ensued. Most games consisted of a series of glances and pleas from both sets of players to the referee, who was miles off the play, as the two cowboys behind the goals bickered in their roles as totally 'unbiased' officials - it was lucky there wasn't more blows thrown!

The jerseys were massive...

Before the days of skintight, clima-cool gear, whether you were a 15-stone senior or a 4ft tall under-12 corner-back, you got landed with the same jersey. They were invariably the senior jerseys, often still damp from the sweat of the lad who had worn it when it was thrown at you in the dressing room. 'Mary can't be washing them every day, boys!' There was many a good school friend lost, never to be seen again, after pulling on a jersey belonging to the Junior B full-forward.

Sure, they're over age!

After shipping a heavy defeat to a bitter rival, shade would be thrown on the opposition over the fact that this lad was togging out in midfield for the under-14s. Rules may not have been as strict in our day and the odd moustache-sporting recruit, home from college for the weekend, could be drafted in for the shield final - at least that's what we told ourselves when he scored 2-9 from play and made burgers out of our backline. 

The referee was never right....

Some referees were lucky to come away with their lives unscathed after underage GAA matches. No matter what decision they made, it was always an outrage for one of the teams. An U-12 lower league game on a wintry Monday evening is not the stage most referees dream of displaying their abilities as officials, and the performance levels might have dipped on occasion. Balls that hit the fecking clubhouse were called as points, blatant fouls brushed aside, and steps.......STEPS REF, for Jayzus sake! 

The bus driver got lost, a lot...

Rural Offaly without Google Maps was an unforgiving landscape. The lack of road signs (and roads) in some parts made the job of underage GAA bus driver a perilous escapade. In the confusion, a mixture of guesswork and blind luck got the bus to most venues around the county. But there were exceptions...

Togging out on the bus..

When the poor bus driver had been driven to his wit's end in his attempts to find the pitch, and it was accepted that we were in fact lost and going to be late, the ultimate test of endurance ensued. Putting on a football sock whilst a bus hits every pothole in the county, and also being wedged between the seats of the overfilled mini-bus. It was a feat we all had to accomplish at one time or another. 

Lemonade and crisps...

Win, lose or draw, invariably a box containing packets of Tayto and bottles of 'Score' or 'Cadet' arrived in the dressing room to make everything alright. There was enough for everyone on the team, but there was always that one lad who stocked up the gear bag and has a lifetime supply of crisps and tiny bottles of lemonade to this day.

The captain's trip to the opposition dressing room...

Traditions are paramount in the GAA, and even if you were a shy 12-year-old with a face full of crisps, one sock, and no jersey on, you were dragged into the opposition dressing room to give a rousing speech to your opponents. 'Thanks for coming and putting in such effort,' was usually the bones of the oratory masterclass, but a few 'hip-hip-hoorays' for the losers were brought out on county final days.

The fight for the back of the bus...

Avoided like the plague in adulthood, the back of the bus in an underage GAA team was the hub of the social scene. Usually the back seat consisted of the stronger players on the team and the messers of the group - usually they were the same people. At the back, you were constantly dared to gesture to drivers behind, while constantly being chastised by a manager who was up to his eyes trying to tell the bus driver what turn to take.

Begging the bus driver to stop at the shop...

The bus driver was both the victim and hero of underage football. Stressed out of his mind trying to find the pitch on the way over, only to be badgered to stop at the shop on the way back. He had spent the duration of the match reading the paper because he couldn't be bothered watching you play, and then we expected him to wait while 30 lads hurtled into a shop, striking dread into the lone worker behind the counter. 

Above all, playing underage GAA was a blessing because not one of us knew what a bloody sweeper was! 


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