St. Colmcilles GAA Club, Pairc Ui Rís, Piltown, Bettystown, Co Meath info@cilles.com 0877441731

Our latest edition of ‘The 5 Minute Read’ offers a glimpse into the background of Ray ‘The Royals’ Finlay. We speak to him about his formative years, his history with the GAA, family, friends and St Colmcilles GAA Club. We also re-test the idea that it might be possible to read this in five minutes but feel it may be difficult to change the name of the piece at this stage!

Portrait of a GAA Man Ray Finlay St Colmcilles GAA Meath

If any of our readers don’t know Ray (seriously) this piece will give you a little more insight into an individual who has given much to our beloved club. The entire Finlay family are part of St Colmcilles whether playing at various age levels or volunteering for different roles. Ray himself has been a member of the executive committee, was PRO for 3 years (remaining on the PRO committee), currently coaches the U12 boys (his youngest sons team), plays with our Junior D team and used to coach the current U16 team which his eldest son is part of. He also sounds like Robbie Keane’s granda. Ray addresses the ‘blow-in’ discussion within the GAA at the end of the article and as an antidote to his numerous mentions of Dublin we wedged a photograph in there of his eldest son playing proudly for Meath!!

 

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you come from Ray.

So, I’m Ray Finlay, husband to Nicole and father to Christian, Derry & Penny. Youngest of six sons, we have one sister and we are children of Tom (Chapelizod) and Kathleen (Ballyfermot). I’m originally from Ballyfermot in Dublin, lived then in Palmerstown and made the trek to Laytown over 19 years ago!

2) Describe your sporting background.

As you can imagine, with 5 older brothers and a sister who were coached in athletics and soccer by our Dad, sports was never far away. In Ballyer (said in a Dublin accent) I only played sport in Primary school which happened to be Gaelic Football. We were coached by a mad Kerryman by the name of Mr. Kinnelly.

I played a bit of soccer with Palmerstown Rangers when I was about 11/12 and only started playing Gaelic football for a club when I was introduced at 15 to a gentleman by the name of Phil Cahill, also from Kerry. To this day that man has had a positive impact on many of our lives in that club and he is still going strong, pure GAA man and someone you always enjoy speaking and spending time with. My favourite teams back then would have been the all-conquering Liverpool sides of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I loved the 5 nations as it was back then. Watching Ciaran Fitzgerald captain the Irish team to the Triple Crown was just brilliant to have seen.

I recall that other drive for 5 that went on back in the early 80’s until Seamus Darby sorted it all out and then the Dubs in ’83. Joe McNally’s step over for the 4th goal against Cork (in Cork) in the All Ireland semi-final replay was just class, who knew then I would end up marking ‘Smokin’ Joe’ in the 90’s at club level.

I also had a keen interest in athletics. I loved to watch Eamonn Coughlan, the master of the boards in the Wannamaker mile, his victory in the World championships in Helsinki is something that has lived long in my memory.

3) Did you ever yearn to play other sports but never get around to it?

I would have loved a crack at Rugby, but back then there were no Rugby clubs locally. I did manage to get to play some American Football though back in the mid to late 80’s. We would have played in the Phoenix Park from time to time. Denver Bronco’s would have been my team back then. I also played a lot of Basketball but again, more around the school outdoor courts as opposed to any clubs, there simply weren’t any around.

4) Do you have sporting role models?

Not so many role models now but there are a few who I find inspirational. Leaving all loyalties aside, I do feel what Jim Gavin has done for Dublin football is simply stunning. How I would love to sit and speak with him about how he works on the players mind-sets. Gavin’s modus operandi is very akin to that of Joe Schmidt, another figure I find intriguing. Again his methodical preparation, similar to Gavin’s and I would also see similar traits with Jürgen Klopp.

I love how these and others too are able to work with so many different personalities and pull them all together in the one direction for the sake of the team ultimately. They are passionate about what they do, on the verge of obsessive I would say, but look at the results…..

Growing up it would have been more of the players than managers; Kenny Dalglish, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Ian Rush, Graeme Souness, Barney Rock, Ciaran Duff, John O’Leary, Moss Keane…..all greats, all leaders of men, brilliant to see.

But overarching all of these sporting legends, and someone who is not just inspirational to me, but has developed into a role model for me without me even realising till I was asked this question and that guy is simply my Dad, Tom.

It’s in my latter years that this has really come home to me, since becoming a father myself I suppose but I look back at what he did over the years, nothing that anyone would know of but he was an athletics coach, soccer coach, ran 2 marathons in his 50’s. He has always kept himself fit, very disciplined. To put that into perspective, last November he completed the Remembrance 5k in the Phoenix Park, nothing too taxing you might read but he is 89 and is clinically blind. He along with my sister look after my ailing Mam at home too. And it is not just me he inspires, Mary my sister will take on completing her 2nd marathon this year, she is one year shy of 60! (Sorry Mary, she is another inspirational story in her own right)

I am sure Jack Black will be delighted to see the longevity of participation in sports in my family!!

5) Previous to St Colmcilles, who did you play for at home?

My first GAA club was St. Patricks of Palmerstown in Dublin. I think I was about 15 when I joined as I said under the stewardship of the great Phil Cahill. That lead into Minor and U21 and I often played Minor, u21 and Junior football matches in the same weekend. There was no such thing as player burn-out or welfare back then!

We won all around us at minor and u21 but never got that championship medal. Division One leagues especially at u21 with Noel Fagan at the helm, were great to win back then. I then got the call up to Senior football with the club, playing alongside the likes of Sean Cahill, a good friend and an All-Ireland winner with Dublin in ’95 and is Phil Cahill’s son. I went on to Captain the Seniors also for a couple of years which was a huge personal honour for me. It filled me with pride in that jersey.

When I moved to Laytown, playing with Pats became difficult and my last game would be in 2002 at a 7s tournament final in Toronto where we were pipped by the hosts, St. Mikes. I am sure Mr. Haigney knows them well. That match finished and so did my final opportunity of silverware as an adult in a Pats Jersey. But I had forged firm strong friendships for life there.

With Nicole being from Balbriggan and having battled against O’Dwyers on many occasions, I joined them in 2005. It was a strange jersey to wear at first but when you’re accepted into O’Dwyers, it was a privilege to play for them. A great crew all round there and I have stayed friends with many since. Collum Wilson who’s Dad Georgie was part of Heffo’s army in the 70’s, Damo Prout, Sean Keenan, and Pauraic O’Connor amongst many more. Lining out with a childhood hero of mine in John O’Leary was also a great fillip for me. I got to play in some local battles with Skerries, which for me brought rivalry to a new level but it was great. I finished with O’Dwyers in about 2007 as pressures with work and with Derry just being born and I thought that would be it for competitive football….

6) Have you received any honours in sport?

I have no accolades to speak of from Sports. We won a lot of leagues and cups as Minor and u21, but that success never continued into the adult game for me. I’ve completed a marathon, finished Gaelforce West 3 times, cycled to Ventry in Kerry from Dublin in 2013, done a few other 100k cycles, 10k runs etc. I suppose it is something I get from my Da, just keeping fit and active. It is important to, I feel. Great for the mind. Great for clearing the junk out of the attic!

7) When did you arrive at St Colmcilles and how have St Colmcilles changed over time. 

If there is anyone to blame for me being involved with Cilles it is Claire Murphy, Ronan’s wife! She met Nicole and let her know about Sunday mornings for boy’s football. That was about 2009 so Christian would have been about 5 at the time.

Back then, there wouldn’t have been near the numbers we witness now at the Academy. The goals were mainly two poles into the ground. But I met some energetic, ‘passionate about the game people’ back then in Ronan Murphy, Charlie McCarron, Niamh Hethrington and Jude McNabb.

With Keith Loughman as the Juvenile chair we got Jude’s brainchild of the schools programme up and running. By the end of it, every child in the 5 primary schools was being bussed to Piltown, coached in Football and eventually enticed to coming back to the Academy and joining the club. It is a programme that now feeds the Academy with about an average of over 200 children each Sunday morning.

That is the biggest single change for me and is hugely positive. Long may it last.

8) Do you think you have ever positively affected another player through guidance or work ethic.

Wow, what a question. You’d need to ask other people, I just get on with it.

When I consider the great bunch of u12 lads I am involved with currently, some of the current u15 crop and the current u16 squad that I coached in the past, you would like to think you may have helped them in some small way on their journey….what is for certain, is the hugely positive way that all of those lads have affected me. To see them with a love of our sport, a gra for the club they are growing up with, being dedicated and supporting one another on and off the pitch, forging strong bonds with each other, these are just some of the small things that make it worthwhile for me. All the awards and medals pale compared to lifelong friendships made through our sport. That’s why for me the GAA is different. It is more than just a sport…..

9) Have you been positively affected by another player whether with Cilles or another team?

There is no single individual that I ever had that ‘Road to Damascus’ moment that changed my life. I usually like to be my own man and find my own way. I’ve picked up loads of tips and best practices over the years from a plethora of people, books and of late Podcasts. I try lots of things, get a lot wrong, but how else do you learn?

I tend to get drawn to people with a passion for what they do. Look at Cilles for instance; Ronan Murphy, a wealth of knowledge for coaching underage teams. Jude McNabb and his successful Schools programme. Niall Ronan and his back story, even Jack Black…they all have that positive energy about them in their own right.

The lads I am involved with in coaching the u12’s; Dec Connell, Johnny O’Rourke, Ciaran Nash, Anthony Lannon, Mike Pettibone, Lisa Gallagher and Paul Byrne too, they all bring something different, but that positive energy is a common denominator. Alan Kelly is also involved with us and the energy, passion and can do attitude that lad has in simply infectious. You can’t but be drawn to these people. That then hopefully spills over the edges into the lads we coach and helps them develop with the club, that they understand what a GAA club is all about. It is actually for life.

Of late, if I was to name a player that I always enjoy training with or playing alongside from Cilles it’s Brendan McGill. He is a model on how to look after yourself from a physical perspective, he played loads in soccer including playing professionally and then turns up in Piltown with his boots and kicks ball like we are back on the streets with our jackets as goalposts. I hate fecking marking him!!

Others with positive impacts and that energy would be Keith Loughman for his sheer dedication to the cause, Mark Gallagher also, Des Morgan who does unreal work for us in the club, but you may not even notice and that man has a lot on his plate outside the club! Joe Stafford is an ex club man and is someone I would always use as a sounding board, straight as a die is our Joe, whether you like it or not, an admirable trait! I could go on; Kieran Maloney, David Wade in the hurling. Cliona Smith and when she was there Tara McHugh in the ladies, brilliant women to have involved. Ciara Lalor and how she has brought the PRO side of the club to a different level.

There are tons more involved and they don’t give their time because they have to, they do it because they want to. There is a big difference. Those sort of people affect me in a positive way and I am always interested in surrounding myself with that type of folk.

 

10) How do you feel about how the men’s sport has evolved over the years?

Looking at Football in general, our sport has progressed fantastically well. There have been vast improvements in diet, fitness, wellbeing, recovery, equipment, facilities, player welfare…they are light years from when I played and having to shovel horse shite off the pitch before we played!

How the game is played has been difficult over a number of years. We are all too aware of the negativity of defensive football. Loyalties aside again, I do feel what Dublin have done in dismantling that form of play can only be seen as a positive. There is a template there now to work from. Other counties are seeing that and are now changing. It is raising the fitness levels of the players to a professional standard also. There is a natural evolution happening now in football and I see this year in particular, the long range point taking is on the increase and I do love to see that.

It will take a few more years to completely eradicate it from the game though, and that will only happen when lazy coaches who take what is in fashion at the time and try to emulate it are gone will it be gone too. I like the Kerry attitude of Hammer the Hammer, play your best players in their most effective positions if you can.

With Meath, I am delighted to see them back in to division 1 next year. Please do not confuse that statement with me changing allegiances!! It is great for the lads involved from Cilles and that feeds back into the younger teams coming up behind James, Ben and Graham. I would be selfish that way in seeing what happens at County level and how it will impact on our club positively and promotion certainly will. Meath need to be back there not just for the county but because football needs a different voice, a different style up there.

Meath remaining in the top tier is imperative for our club. Knowing the blue wave coming behind at the underage levels in Meath from our club, with 3 minors playing, 6 @ u16 and 9 at u15, we as a club need Meath remaining there. This will hopefully allow this generation to play at that top level, imagine what that will do for our fortunes on the pitch in 3-5 years?

So for me, football now is in good hands as the evolution begins to move away from the defensive muck.

(Christian playing for Meath Development Team 2019)

11) What hasn’t changed at all, what can our club or clubs in general do to change positively for girls / boys in the sport

Looking at this question, I was thinking of the negatives of Association but you know what, I get a pain in me arse with that sort of talk so here is what I see that hasn’t changed at all and am glad it hasn’t;

  • The sheer satisfaction of a well-timed shoulder
  • The boost that a booming block gives to a team
  • The majesty of a high ball being fielded
  • Sambos on the way to a match
  • Butterflies before a game
  • The crackling energy of the crowd around Croke Park or anywhere, before a big match
  • The pre match team talk
  • Love and dislike of the Dubs in the same measure
  • The match Post Mortem
  • Belief, desire, energy and passions our games give
  • Tears of joy and of heartbreak
  • Lives bettered
  • There is always next year……

Regarding clubs doing more for positivity for men/boys…..I think we do an awful lot of the right stuff at underage and not just for the male side of the club. We are a united club after all. Not everyone does but certainly I feel in the main we do a great amount of work in that regard. As I mentioned earlier, Des Morgan as the Child Welfare Officer is always on the front foot in that regards, and that is what is needed in order for our children to feel safe and worthy.

Our games are for all players regardless of colour, creed or ability. We should not discriminate against a child who may not have the full complement of skills at an early age, but that child should be our gauge as coaches to reflect our progress. The medals etc at underage are a nice side effect, but I have seen the so called weaker lads at underage, progress on to play senior for their clubs. Those players if they stick with it, always have had to fight for their positions and that fight stays with them to adult football. That is an edge they will always have over others.

We also as a club do a huge amount of work from the mental health side of things. Alan Kelly’s work on Movember is testament to that albeit concerned mainly with the male side of the club. It affords an opportunity for men to talk. It normalises the subject of mental health. By normalising it, the next generation should have a bit more nous about them with how they feel and why they are feeling that way and to feel empowered to take action on it if required.

 

12a) You are currently playing with the Colmcilles Junior D team, speak about that briefly. Who are they, whats the idea of getting the lads back together etc?

Who are they? The biggest shower of grumpy old men, reigniting old dreams, taking a chance to finish some unfinished business, it is a joy to be part of…………but it’s more than that!

So I look at it in 3 ways; 1) The players journey, 2) The teams journey and 3) The benefit for the club

The Players journey.

Every one of us who took on playing again last year has or have their own reasons for doing so. Mine was the opportunity to lace the boots and play competitively again, just to see if I could. I felt I could so I gave it a whirl and was delighted to get on the pitch in all of our matches as corner back and I loved every second of it! It was also to take an opportunity in order for my own kids to actually see their auld boy playing football. So many lads get that opportunity, I never felt it would arise for me so when it did, I leapt at the chance. You can ask them what their impressions were!

The Teams Journey

This is where bonding comes in, I knew hardly any of the lads. Legends all in their day with the club, and a fair sprinkling of blow ins just to spice it up. As anyone who has played football, especially at adult level, once you play championship football together win lose or draw, there is a bond. This team is full of great players and fair play to Neil Cooney and Jack Black for their efforts in managing the team. There are medals there for the team, but if I win one or not, again I fall back to the friendships forged through sport will outlast the awards.

The benefit to the club

Simply put, with the wave of lads coming through at underage we need that third team in order for these boys turning into men have somewhere to play football competitively. You blood them in minor and u21, throw them into the D’s, progress to the B’s and then on to captaining their senior side, a familiar path to me.

19) Why should people join St Colmcilles or volunteer to help them?

So…..volunteering, where do I start? …the Collins Dictionary states that If you volunteer to do something, you offer to do it without being forced to do it.

It’s about giving. The most precious thing we all have is time. By giving time to the club, applying yourself and seeing a task through you benefit from a great sense of worth and purpose.

It could be anything from Car Park attending on the Academy Sunday’s, to graphic design, helping the PRO team?

I’ve served on the Executive, was PRO for 3 years, coached in the Academy since 2009. I finished coaching the current u16’s 2 years ago in order to concentrate in coaching our current u12s.

I’ve helped raise funds for 2 different Feile teams and travelled a huge amount with the lads playing underage football.

I’ve danced in Strictly and acted in the Oskars. Helped Alan Kelly and the u12 coaches in getting the Movember movement going.

I play football on and off with the Gaelic for Dads and Lads and try to do my best in playing with the Junior D’s.

Why? Because the craic is 90! The people in the main are genuine salt of the earth folk. They are positive people from all walks of life with a love for the game. All of the above I have done in order to better the club but I can honestly say through each of the varying areas I am or have been involved in, I have learned a huge amount. I would urge people not to wait to be asked but to take the lead and raise your hand! There is one person who has recently gotten involved with the club in the past couple of years and surprised me by doing so and that is Nicole, my better half. Without her understanding and support over the years I would not have been able to do half of what I have done with the club and I must thank her for that. With our 3 children now involved in playing it is great to have our family part of the Cilles family.

 What do you say to yourself to motivate yourself?

You would not be able to print what I say to myself to get myself going!!

I suppose when people ask me why I ran a marathon, cycled to Kerry or even went back playing Junior D, I answer them with ‘Because I can!’

There will be long enough time where I won’t be able to so, get on with it.

 

Words: Ray Finlay

Photos: Brian Mulligan

 

Finally, A note to blow-in’s

Through the process of this 5 minute chat it became apparent to me that I have been a ‘blow-in’ basically all of my life. When I played with Pats, I was a blow-in from Ballyfermot, when I played with O’Dwyers, I was a blow-in from the Southside and now with Colmcilles I am ‘that blow-in from Dublin’. There has been one common denominator though and that has been the GAA.
The blow-in moniker sits well with me, I have no issues with it at all. In fact I love the banter especially being a young Dub that I am!
For me, I have always been drawn only to the GAA club and there are reasons for that; Like minded people, the community spirit in a club and being part of something bigger. But there is also how a GAA club makes you feel. For me, the memories of my home club are happy ones, as are those with O’Dwyers.
I think because of the feelings/memories from my youth and the comfort of knowing the good that generally goes on within a GAA Club, you can only wish for your children to be part of that same warmth. This is what has happened for myself and Nicole and our children. As a club, Cilles opens it’s door to all who wish to participate in our games and that is in colour, creed and gender which is great to be part of.
St Colmcilles was well established before we arrived (funnily enough the club was formed the same year I was born!) As a club it has its own history and now due to population growth, the club has exploded, in a good way I feel. For instance; if you look toward the next generation currently playing underage for the Club. If I just take my own son and his progression with his u15 pals, 9 of them are now on the Meath development squad, all of whom are children of blow-ins. More important for me than that, is that all of this second generation are growing up being part of not just a good club but a great one. I am in no way saying that blow-ins are better than what was there before, far from it, however I am saying that these lads and lassies are now part of what is here, part of representing us all as a club and community, together. They are the new natives. Their history will be with this club and it is going to be exciting over the next few years to see where our club journey brings us all.
Until the next wave of blow-ins arrive! It’s how the GAA exists and evolves, locals establish a club, blow ins are attracted and join….all over the world!
Long may that cycle last….long live the blow-in!!  😀

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