Ah, the Cumann na mBunscol – a rite of passage for primary school children for generations.
They’ve given us many memories over the years, and even one or two controversies.
The hurling and camogie finals begin today in O’Moore Park and 19 finals will be played over the course of three days.
So as the finals commence, we count down our 20 fondest memories of the Cumann na mBunscol.
1 – You prayed for an away game because it meant more time out of school. Away games down the other end of the county meant a lot of more hours out of classroom and the possibility of stopping in the shop on the way home.
2 – There was always one mother you hated car-sharing with because she never brought you to the shop after matches. The mother who refused to pull in to the shop was the mother to be avoided. Not going to the shop and seeing your friends with their Chipsticks and Luzocade was nothing less than a Greek tragedy.
3 – Teams always got changed in an empty classroom or bathroom. God help whoever had to walk into the Lynx or Impulse fumes after that.
4 – The pitch was usually an empty field filled with stones at the back of the school.
5 – You always heard the story of the school that pulled up to matches all loaded into the back of a tractor.
6 – There was always the imminent fear of the teachers putting matches after school time to see ‘who was really interested in playing’ and who was doing it for the doss. The ominous warning about matches being put back to after school time if you were acting up in class.
7 – Being in second class on Cumann na mBunscol final week and spending it trying to create the best banner to outdo your rival school.
8 – Also being in second class in smaller schools and actually playing on the team as a nifty corner forward coming up against players four years older than you.
9 – The sheer novelty of some of the fixtures. Where else could you have Camross v Emo or Ballyadams v Killadooley? In HURLING.
10 – The militant female teachers. They look all sweetness and light as they warm up their teams but as soon as the ball is thrown in, they turn into demons. Roaring and shouting, jumping and leaping around the place, giving orders from the middle of the field. These women aren’t to be messed with.
11 – The programme for the finals. A real collector’s item. Not only do they contain all the team details but player profiles as well. They generally contain some absolute gems. “John’s favourite position is corner-back or full-forward. He doesn’t like vegetables and hopes to be a silage contractor or a full time hurler when he grows up.”
12 – The Cumman na mBunscol finals were one of the biggest days out of the year. The hype was unreal. Seeing all of your school make their way to O’Moore Park that afternoon to see you play gave you an immense sense of pride like no other.
13 – Drinking Mi-Wadi from the trophy and feeling like a true champion. Pouring Mi-Wadi into the cup after the final and celebrating was one of the rites of passage for any victor.
14 – Main Street Portlaoise was always filled to the brim with other primary schools. O’Loughlin’s, Egan’s and Newslink could be seen entertaining what could only be described hundreds of sugar-filled pre-teens singing: “We are the champions”.
15 – There was always eager anticipation to see the newspapers coming out the week after the finals. The Leinster Express and Laois Nationalist were bought out by every proud mother, grandmother and relative who wanted to see the match record of how many points little Timmy or Mary scored – only to sometimes discover they got the name wrong in the report.
16 – The utter contempt the small rural schools have towards the larger schools who take over half the stand with their troops of supporters.
17 – The staunch GAA clubmen treat the Cumann na mBunscol with disdain at times. You’ll often here cries of “that teacher hasn’t a clue what he’s doing” or “ah that lad is only on the team because he’s good in school, he wouldn’t get near the club team”. Similarly the teachers bemoan what they’re doing in the club.
18 – The noise. Hundreds of primary school children screaming at once is not pleasant at the best of times but add in drums, fog horns and whistles and you will almost certainly leave O’Moore Park with a thumping headache.
19 – The victory speeches which are done entirely in Irish are met with several eye rolls from the losers. It’s bad enough losing but to have to listen to them show off their superior knowledge of Gaeilge as well really rubs it in.
20 – Football in the autumn; hurling or camogie in the spring. Boys matches on a Tuesday; girls on a Thursday. You could set your watch by it. Enjoy every minute. They’re the best days of your life.
SEE ALSO – All this week’s Laois GAA fixtures