Ciaran Barr: GPA, Casement Park, School days and the key to success

By Kevin Herron

In the second part of my interview with Ciaran Barr – the Antrim All-star discusses his new role in the GPA, thoughts on Casement Park, recalls his school experience at St. Mary’s CBGS and offers his insight to what is the key to success.

Barr recently took on the role of finance and operations head in the GPA and offered an insight into the key aims of the organisation that looks after the welfare of senior inter-county players.

“I’ve been involved in the GAA all my life to this point – either playing or coaching” Barr reflects.

“Currently I coach the minor camogie team in Raheny- my daughter plays, she’s 17 and still plays which is great. I help coach the junior adult in Raheny and two years ago I was involved in the senior footballers in St. Vincent’s and I’ve been involved in various other teams over the years. When I lived in Seoul, I got involved in Seoul Gaels and helped coach there- I think it’s something that gets into your blood and it’s just something you do”.

Ciaran with Mary Morrisey at the Antrim 25 year reunion which the former captain organised in the Croke Park Hotel in 2014

“This job came up with the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) so I’m going to be the finance and operations head. What is it? It’s an organisation that represents the intercounty players, adult males – just the senior male intercounty players and they deal with three things: welfare, development and representation. The GPA is the voice of those intercounty players”.

“Ireland has modernised and as people become more aware of other sports and cultures like Australian Rules or American Football or whatever and get used to players being treated in a certain way- that has to filter through your culture, especially if certain players have gone on and played in another sport like professional rugby in Ireland has a big crossover with Gaelic games and Australian Rules obviously has as well. You’ve had a professionalisation of the preparation of Gaelic players’, but they aren’t professional athletes, so ultimately the GPA came out of that pressure and that has accelerated in the last few years”.

“The GPA wants to have; what’s called a sustainable amateurism- but it’s got to be sustainable. A player can’t be at a loss for having played Gaelic games- whether it’s in their welfare or whether it’s in their development. If they are at a deficit because of the fact that they play Gaelic games- that’s not the place, we want to be because they are fantastic games. We want people to continue to play them and also to aspire to being an inter-county player. Once they get there, we want them to be able to sustain that lifestyle of an inter-county player because that’s the role model”.

Members of the Antrim hurling team who reached the 1989 All Ireland Hurling final are seen here at their reunion get together in the Croke Park Hotel on the eve of this year’s final. Back row, L-R, Dr Alasdair McDonnell (team doctor), Dominic McMullan, Brian Donnelly, Declan McKillop, Sean Paul McKillop, Michael O’Grady (team coach), Donal Armstrong, Dominic McKinley, Frankie Quinn (Antrim secretary), Terence McNaughton, PJ O’Mullan. Front, L-R, Paul McKillen, Gary O’Kane, Fergus McNaughton (Hurling Board Chairman), Anne Marie McNaughton (widow of the late Danny McNaughton), Ciaran Barr (team captain and event organiser), Anne McNaughton (widow of the late James McNaughton), Dessie Donnelly, Olcan McFetridge. Pic by John McIlwaine

“That’s what every kid that becomes a GAA player and goes to a mini-league on a Saturday morning and their mum and dad might never have played Gaelic game’s, but they’ve seen it and head about and want to be at Croke Park and Casement when it’s built. That aspiration and those players are the biggest attraction that we have- therefore we need to take care of them and make sure they aren’t suffering in anyway; a deficit in any sense because they’re playing Gaelic games and that’s what the GPA is about”.

The formation of a new power sharing Institution at Stormont has reignited hope that the stalled Casement Park project may finally build momentum.

Barr believes that there are both tangible and intangible benefits to the project and wants it to be something that everyone can aspire to become apart of.

“There is a tangible benefit- which is in terms of a stadium that can host concerts, events and be a hub for lots of economic activity, that’s a really good thing for west Belfast and Belfast in general” believes Barr.

“If you look at the economics of big cities- stadium form a part of that fabric whether you like it or not. I know that can be controversial because if it’s being built beside your house- you don’t want it. But the fabric and the economics and the infrastructure of a city usually has a number of stadium in relation to that infrastructure and that’s got an economic benefit”.

“I think for the GAA- it’s got an intangible benefit and the intangible benefit is, like the way Croke Park is – it becomes a brand and an attraction in itself. It becomes an aspiration for people to say: I want to play there, I want to play in my counties ground, I want to play in a stadium that looks fantastic and a field that is amazing. Is that true or not? I’ll tell you from having played at the old Casement – it was a fantastic field; it had a brilliant atmosphere and was a great pitch”.

“I’ve played in Croke Park and it’s just an amazing feeling and a great thing to aspire to do, I’ve played in Thurles and Pairc Ui Chaoimh and the same thing- they are amazing fields but they are more than a pitch. It becomes something that people; A- experience themselves when they’re watching and it’s a fantastic experience to watch and you need to make that experience really good. Then for the players that get there and the kids that watch the players on that field- that experience becomes something that they want to have and aspire to”.

“Whether they get there or not is sort of irrelevant – it’s giving them that sense of being part of it and wanting to be connected to it means that they’ll stay in the GAA for the rest of their lives. That’s the huge intangible benefit that an iconic stadium can have- which is Pairc Ui Chaoimh, which is Semple Thurles and which is Casement Park- hopefully”.

Barr was educated at St. Mary’s CBGS on the Glen Road – a school famed for producing many a hurling stars that have went onto lift the Danske Bank Mageean Cup and represent Antrim.

He describes the Christian Brothers project as a piece of ‘social engineering’ and admits he didn’t lift a hurl until he attended the Glen Road site- pinpointing the work of Br O’Mahoney, Br O’Reilly at St. Mary’s and Joe Quinn at Rossa.

Ciaran and Lynn and their three daughters

“At a serious level it’s clear what the Christain Brothers did – what the Christian Brothers did was a piece of social engineering” said Barr.

“They set-up a grammar school in west Belfast in the 70s in the middle of the troubles, they’d already had that in the pipeline from the 60s and they knew that there was inequality in Northern Ireland and inequality in west Belfast and therefore – to build a grammar school which was probably the best school; in terms of facilities in Northern Ireland- it may well still be but at that time it was head and shoulders above everything else – it was a bit like building Casement Park. It created an atmosphere and an aspiration that you were being treated really well, you were being treated as someone who had an intellect and you were going to go to University. That changed a huge amount of people’s lives- including mine. That piece of social engineering has had a massive ripple effect”.

“In terms of sports- my first three hurling coaches: Joe Quinn in Rossa and Br O’Mahoney and Br O’Reilly, I went to St Finian’s and it was all football in St Finian’s – there was no hurling. The first time I touched hurl was when I got to St. Mary’s CBGS and it was a Cork man and a Tipp man in Br O’Mahoney and Br O’Reilly and Joe Quinn in Rossa. They were my first three coaches, St. Mary’s had that ethos and that DNA and culture of hurling and it was being taught by fellas who knew what they were doing. Hopefully it comes back to the levels that it was in my day and prior to me”.

To Barr there are three-components to success but is adamant that there are many different levels, flavours and faces to it.

“Success has many levels” Barr acknowledges.

“Success has many flavours and many faces – success for one person could be running 5k and a success for somebody else could be playing or winning an all-Ireland. It all relates to the amount of potential that you have and whether you have maximised that potential and you’ve pushed yourself. It’s irrelevant whether you’re a star athlete or whether you’re academically brilliant, its relevant in that you’re pushing yourself and making the most of the talent that you’ve been given”.

“There’s three things I would say- one in perseverance- that you try and continue to try, the second thing I would say is consistency – I often joke with my players when I’m coaching them, I say that you’re here on time, you’ve shown up on time and always remember; decisions are made by those who show up. That’s consistency- be there, be there regularly and be there all the time. Lastly, talent – maximise your talent, everybody has a talent for something. It can be playing, admin, intellectual or it can be artistic – maximise the talent that you have. Perseverance, consistency and talent is the key to success”.

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