The University of Lincoln Gaelic Football Club

As the last of the early generations look set to die out, I’d like you to accompany me on a reminiscent ride through the history of the club which has made Lincoln my home for the last five years.

I am currently the only member remaining who represented the University in the club’s very first year. Way back when Gaelic Football wasn’t even a club; it was a ‘society’, trying hard to attract regular numbers to justify Athletic Union funding.

I remember walking around the Engine Shed, signing up for Football, Rugby etc, collecting loads of free crap along the way. I wasn’t seeking out a Gaelic Football stall; after all, there hadn’t been one mentioned in the Prospectus – or in any of the University Sports Centre literature. In fact, Gaelic Football found me. Fate apparently, had made me pick my Ireland football shirt from my floordrobe that morning. After applying for the majority of the mainstream sports downstairs, I decided to have a quick walk around the upstairs niches. After signing up for Dodgeball (as you do), I turned to make my way to a venue that was serving alcohol at that time in the morning, when, quite aggressively if I recall, I was grabbed by the shirt from behind and dragged into a dark corner. In that corner, which I hadn’t noticed on my rounds of the smaller clubs and societies upstairs earlier, stood a table with two jerseys and a laptop on it, and too very hungover men behind it. The pair, resemblant of Laurel and Hardy in physique, had spotted my jersey and assumed I’d be interested. I was.

Meeting at Scream (now Harvester thanks to those meddling kids), approximately 20 lads began jogging along the canal to West Common. Paul MacMahon’s ego lead, and I was keen to show my enthusiasm by keeping pace. Narrel Rosemin had suffered a stitch before he reached the Barge restaurant (although it was probably his ligaments) and fell behind.

Arriving, those that managed to complete the one mile run took part in one of the most bodged, unorganised and ill-equipped training sessions I’d ever taken part in – although it wasn’t to be the most ridiculous session that year. It is beyond me how anybody showed up for the second session. But I did. And that year made witness to a group of lads and I train with no cones, bibs, Gaelic footballs (we used those £3 Donnay jobbies from Sports Direct) and little hope of success. A particular highlight was shirts vs. skins in the December snow and hail storms. Those were fun arguments. It was plain to see that the dedication was there and, February that year, Lincoln was represented at the British Nationals for the very first time.

Being able to remember this makes me feel old. Papa Smurf old. We’re talking Uncle Bulgaria old here; The wise one that dishes out advice that nobody necessarily pays any attention to.

The following September, Gaelic Football was officially a ‘club’ and as such, worthy of University funding. From there, the University of Lincoln Gaelic Football Club would go from strength to strength – but it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing.

Five years on and, to an extent, the club faces the same problems now as it did then. In short, the size of our club is limited by the size of our University. But we knew this from the start. Eight-thousand or so strong at capacity, the University of Lincoln was never capable of attracting the quantity of experienced and/or potential footballers to field or maintain a strong 20-man squad week in, week out. The club has had its moments; with talent from Monaghan in recent years strengthening Lincoln’s side, but sooner or later, everyone graduates. Or drops out.

Either or, it sets the club back at where it is now: Square One.

Now by that, in no way do I mean to take away from the efforts of individuals, nor am I damning the lads who will continue to represent Lincoln at Gaelic Football in 2011/’12. At best, it could be interpreted as a warning from the Uncle Bulgaria who has seen it all before.

On the contrary, I have much confidence in the select few who will be running next years team. The effort and dedication shown this year has equated to, by far, the best job any committee over the last 5 years has made of running the club. But the fluctuations in quality on the pitch stem from the same source of fluctuations off the pitch. Just as it is difficult to recruit talented athletes, it is just as, if not more difficult to find organised ones. After all, many students come to University for a laugh, and so extra-curricular responsibilities are the last thing on their minds.

In my opinion, the last few seasons have seen a balanced blend of both. It is also my opinion that next semester’s balance will tip ever-so-slightly in favour of responsibility. Which is great, but it’s trophies that every member wants – not a pat on the back for ensuring high training attendances.

But, more so than trophies, the focus of each year’s team should be enjoyment. Trophies won at the expense of fun along the way aren’t worth winning at all. Lincoln has never struggled in this particular department (having fun, not winning trophies – we haven’t actually done that).

Over the years, Lincoln GFC has provided me with some of my most memorable socials, nights out and all-day sessions. A basic rule of thumb for a Gaelic social was and still is, ‘if there’s alcohol in it, chug’; and most lads duly do. Often, too much (if such a thing is possible?).

Making these nights even more special and each one, over the years, slightly different from the last, has been the characters that the club has recruited. A good piss up can only be enhanced by a certain individual willing to put his sobriety on the line for the good of his team mates. Generally, these characters act like complete idiots when sloshed, and provide a target to poke fun at on the night out and, sometimes, on the pitch the next morning.

Certain seasons have seen a lack of such characters, and the club and its nights out have been all the poorer for it. No amount of organisation or planning can fill the void of someone who spontaneously buys shots or instinctively commences the beloved ‘Penny Game’. I hope that the characters a.k.a. piss heads a.k.a. Tom Cole remain involved in the club’s socials next season, and are accompanied by a few new ones.

And I’m sure, when these new members do arrive, you’ll give them a warm welcome in the form of an Initiation!

Instilling fear in Gaelic Football players since 2006, Lincoln GFC’s initiations have delivered some of these most ridiculous drunken antics the University has ever seen.

In my day (deliberately phraseology to emphasise age… honest), the Gaelic team liked to distance itself from the Initiations of the likes of the University Football and Rugby teams. Rather than a festival of humiliation, a Gaelic initiation was just another excuse for a piss up – as many things are on a Gaelic team. Avoided were the stupid costumes and challenges designed to embarrass freshers who didn’t necessarily deserve or need any. Especially avoided were initiation antics of the Univeristy Hockey club – who’s freshers walked one by one into a darkened room to receive a generously layered finger of deep heat up the pipe. Many sexual assault charges later, they got what they deserved (the seniors, not the freshers – bless em’). Instead of outlandish buggery, Lincoln GFC has always focussed on just getting everyone – seniors included -very drunk. This year’s initiation saw the club’s first real ‘punishment’ for the freshers. Having to dress up as sexy secretaries is a far cry from a burning hole, but nevertheless, a break from tradition I felt. I guess traditions fade when few remain to carry them on.

In my first year, the Gaelic ‘society’ was brand new. There were no newbies, and no seniors to humiliate them. Then, the initiation largely involved moving from pub to pub, drinking an inhuman amount of booze – all the while, taped at the arm and leg to someone just as pissed, if not more. Wray & Nephew featured, and several pints of Guinness were necked.

I was taped to Narrel that night, and it was a good laugh. This is one feature of initiation that has survived throughout the seasons. Races have taken part around Walkabout furniture and Lincoln University’s finest architecture. It’s harmless fun, and, most importantly, a great way to bring everyone together – quite literally.

Some of the larger University clubs have forgotten this along the way, and Initiation has become something to be feared, rather than looked forward to. I can safely say that all of Lincoln GFC’s members – past and present – have enjoyed their Initiations. It has always been a cracking night out. People fall over and are laughed at – this can only be a good thing.

The excitement of kicking off the start of the season with Initiation can only be paralleled by how we finish it – Nationals.

It has been, since the team first began in 2006, the focal point of every season. All the hard work in training and in league matches counts towards preparation for the club’s annual February tournament.

I came to Lincoln in 2006. It’s 2011 now and I still haven’t left. I definitely think the club played a major part in my decision to stick around for another year. And another… All the hype and emphasis the Athletic’s Union generate and places on  the importance of joining a society to enhance the University experience is true. I’ve graduated and it’s still enhancing mine. Without the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve shared with them, Lincoln wouldn’t have been the home it has been over the last half-decade.

Last year, I resigned to throwing in the towel and calling time on my Lincoln GFC ‘career’. However, I couldn’t tear myself away. One year down the line and I’m thinking the same thing. But somehow, after committing another year to the Big City which is, I’ll see you all at training in September.

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About Mike O'Keeffe

I live and breath racing. Especially, F1. Here you'll find an ocassional word or two on the ins and outs, the highs and lows and the controversies of motorsport's pinnacle.
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