125 GALA BANQUET
WHAT AN EVENING… NIGHT… AND MORNING…
Unreal, amazing, stunning, fantastic, unbelievable, the best, unbeatable – just some of the superlatives used to describe the 125 Gala Banquet. All of them true, yet inadequate to convey the glitz, the glammer, the sensational atmosphere and camaraderie that abounded the INEC on Saturday/Sunday 5th – 6th of February.
A lush red carpet met us halfway from the car. On entering the INEC, you knew, straight away, that this was going to be one of those special nights - a night to be remembered; to be talked about; to keep us company on lonely nights. This was a night we’d be telling our grandchildren about. The first thing that hit you was the style … and the girls were all dressed up too!!! Guys, that I never before saw out of tracksuits or jeans, were turned out by the Mammy in 007 style. Tux, dickie-bow, shoes with a military-style spit-’n’-polish shine (and not just Harry O’Neill, either) and shirts with high, starched, fly-collars that could cut a man’s throat, if he wasn’t careful. It took some time to identify a few of these bucks.
The ladies surpassed what one might expect to see in Hollywood on Oscar night. Dresses of all shades and shapes – high-up where they should have been low and low-down where they should have been high. But no-one was complaining. The Crown Jewels were taken out of secure storage for the occasion. Had to be careful – Oceans 11 could be around. Again, recognition could have taxed the best detective. Most had acquired a tan over the preceding few days … and they hadn’t ventured abroad to get it, either. Hair of various styles and colours, adorned with an array of sprays, glitter and appendages, which framed faces, that were familiar … but the hinterland was less familiar territory. One thing was for sure, though. Everyone present - man, woman and beast - were there to let their hair down for the evening.
Tall men on stilts greeted us as we entered, enveloped in a buzz that was to last into the wee hours, daybreak and beyond. White curtains, tantalisingly shielded the main arena. What delights lay behind? Never mind. Escort the good lady up the stairs to be greeted with a glass of hot mulled wine. While the heart and soul had already been warmed to a glow, with greetings, compliments and hop-balls from various Clubmates, friends and acquaintances, the body was some ways behind on the temperature front. The mulled wine soon brought heart, body and soul into a harmonious state.
‘Twas time to mingle. Smiles, handshakes, kisses for the more adventurous … and the girls joined in too!!! In the mingling, you crossed paths with the top brass. Uachtarán Christy Cooney, Sean Walsh from the Munster Council and Jerome Conway, County Board Chairman with a cohort of his officers. Bishop Bill Murphy was there, as was Killarney Mayor, Donal O’Grady, bedecked in his chain of office – the girls envied his bling.
Soon, Der Bros brought us to order. Presentations for the Senior Team and other worthy winners, e.g. Club Person of the year, Supporter of the year, Junior, Ladies Hurler, Young Player, etc. Uachtarán Cooney was on hand to present and the paparazzi were close by to capture the moment for posterity. Again, Hollywood came to mind.
All of a sudden, the tempo changed. We were transported from Hollywood to the drumbeat of a Brazilian Samba Festival, or whatever they are called. The drumbeat reverberated all round the presentation area and hips began to sway. Was it too much to hope for a swathe of Brazilian beauties to parade into our midst? Wake up boy and stop dreaming!!! But we were moving, a long train, down to the dining area. Remember those secret-keeping, white curtains? All was now revealed.
WOW. The INEC transformed into a Crokes emporium. Table after table, with starch-white clothes and centre-pieces that climbed skywards, romantically entwined with faint blue low-lights and wrapped in a mesh of our beloved black and amber. The back-fall of the stage held a gigantic-sized version of our special 125 logo, accompanied by our longer serving and most-revered Club Crest, on either side. Lights fanned back and forth across the floor. We were back in Hollywood. The initial impact was breath-taking. This was massive, yet intimate; out of this world, yet familiar; high impact, yet - what else would you expect from the Crokes?
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was at the rostrum. I hadn’t noticed him earlier. Fear iontach, leis an guth íocónach - flúirseach leis an Gaelin. An fear sin, atá scéalta pearsanta aige ar gach imreóir peil is iománíocht. Fear speisialta agus tá sé inár measc ar an oíche gleoite seo. Is Crocaigh é anocht. His introductions and stories between the many courses lent to the ambiance of the evening. He recounts stories, told to him during the meal by our own Uachtarán, John Moynihan; stories told of bygone and recent glories, characters and incidents; stories told with pride and passion; stories that are Crokes through and through. Although the company at my own table was of the highest order, I couldn’t help but be envious of muintir bord Ó Muircheartaigh agus Ó Muineacháin.
Uachtarán Chuman Luathchleas Gael Christy Cooney and our own Chairman Vince Casey are paraded into a standing ovation, lead by a lone piper in full regalia. What an entrance!!!
The meal; this could be the Achilles heal of the evening. How could over 600 people be fed, in keeping with the Everest-high standards that had already been set? Grace from Bishop Bill and here comes the grub. Oops, they did it again. What a blast of flavour and quality food. It was sumptuous and hot – a glorious feast, fit for kings and queens and tonight Crokes were King of the Castle. On stage, the Trant sisters provided a beautiful arrangement of music to compliment the fare being presented course after delicious course. What talented girls they are. The finale was a candle-lit parade of the service staff, bearing gifts for every table. Was there really that number serving us? There had to be, to be so fast and fluent, so pleasant and courteous, so on the ball and professional.
The presentation of their County medals to the Senior Team had to be one of the night’s highlights. One by one Mícheál called out their names. One by one they came to collect their prized medal. One by one they were cheered and clapped by an audience, who appreciated their efforts, sacrifices and dedication to the black and amber cause. When all were finally congregated, there was one final round of cheers and applause and a standing ovation for a team of players and management, who had taken us on an adventure that will live in our memories for a long time. Thanks lads. It was a privilege to follow ye and more adventures lie ahead.
Another parade!!! It couldn’t be more food!!! Of course, the 125 Birthday Cake, paraded in by two chefs. Uachtrán Moynihan and Patron Murt O’Shea were called upon to cut the cake. Only one knife… how was this going to work? Then, like a bashful young couple, cutting their wedding cake, John, with Murt’s hand over his, cut through the cake. Job done – opposite sides of the table. A mighty cheer lifted the rafters. Here’s to another 125. God, where will we all be? Where they don’t sell fish and chips.
The eloquence of the Trants finished and they were applauded off stage. Then … was that Michael Noonan … and Bertie … and An Taoiseach himself? Ah no. It was that funniest of men Alan Shortt. He had us falling off our seats with laughter for over a half an hour. I can’t breach copyright and repeat his stories. All I’ll say is two things. One, there was a lot of truth in what he said, even if it was said in jest – and two, I’ll never view Vince Casey with his Laser Card in the same light again, especially if he’s looking for cash-back. I didn’t think he was one for lap-dancing. It’s always the quiet ones!!!! You had to be there.
Unbelievably, there was more. Fastest fingers in the world and world champion box player, Liam O’Connor took to the stage. Another fantastic performance; how much more could there be? Liam’s son Oisin, on bodhrán and daughter, Saoirse, who danced wonderfully, accompanied Dad very professionally – another talented family. Then, we were treated to Riverdance performers tapping out a beat from an ancient time; a beat, different than before, which stirs something deep inside us; a beat that in some way is a very compatible with that which we are celebrating - something that emanated from a dreamer, dangerous dreamers. Then, Patrick O’Sullivan was pulled out on the floor and gave attendees a lesson in dancing. Nimble Feet or Twinkle Toes, whichever you choose, Patrick was the man.
The midnight hour rang and the dancing had just begun – and what a band!!! The music was varied, with jives, waltzes, two-steps, jazz, rock, but always great. The floor was thronged from the off and was never far from full, the whole night through. There were many movers and shakers. But the dance-performance of the night had to be Stephen Brosnan’s. He had all the girls in the palm of his hand. Go Stevooo. A close second place was taken by Vice-President Bridie O’Shea and her son Seanie, who cut a dashing couple, as they glided across the floor. “Remember when I first thought you to waltz, Seanie… 1, 2, 3 … 1, 2, 3 …”
The band was finishing up. A glance at the watch – two o’clock already? Where had the last seven hours gone? Botty was on the mic and putting his unique stamp on the evening. More music - more dancing. We should have put in some stamina training for this night. Another two hours slip by, very easily. Then the ’92 boys congregate for one of their anthems. Is that Bob Marley with them? Can’t be? It isn’t. But Connie Murphy, with Sean Clarke and Liam Hartnett on backing, along with the rest of the ’92 choir, blast out a rousing version of “No Woman, No Cry” – the performance of the night. Connie follows up with a rousing battle-cry to the current panel to re-group and start the journey that will lead us all back to Croke Park. Back to Croke Park, as surely as day follows night.
As surely as day follows night, indeed; we would find out very soon. It was knocking on half four and day will soon be dawning. Some were beginning to slip away, including me. However, the hard-core were bent on extracting every drop of celebration out of the night. More music and banter until around seven-thirty. Rumour has it that a number of people in formal dress were seen parading through town at various times through Sunday – only rumours.
Spectacular, unrepeatable, superb, marvellous… Well done Der, Patrick and everyone involved in the 125 Committee. It was a perfect night, full of surprises, the best food, the best entertainment, the best music, the best of everything… but, most importantly, the best of company. The most memorable part of the whole event was the easy inter-mingling between the different groups; the sense of unity between all present; the odd pat on the back, smile, greeting; the fun; the eagerness to ensure that everyone was enjoying the night – no problems there. This was the real essence of our celebration. It had all started with 19 Dangerous Dreamers. The dream has been passed on, from generation to generation, since. The dream lives on and new dreams are being cultivated. Crocaigh Abú
WHAT AN EVENING… NIGHT… AND MORNING…
A Hurler on the Ditch