GAA President Liam O’Neill maintains that the club is the very cornerstone of the Association.
Nowhere does this have more resonance than within the portals of An Port Mor which on Sunday will carry the flag for Ulster in the All-Ireland Junior football championship semi-final against Galway and Connacht champions Ballinasloe.
The club, with its headquarters at Blackwatertown on the Armagh-Tyrone border, has already captured county and provincial honours but the journey onto the All-Ireland stage has fired enthusiasm and commitment to such an extent that normal life has been put on hold.
Skipper Shane Nugent, preparing to lead the side out at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan in what will be the biggest match in the club’s history, is acutely aware of what their progress to date means to the entire community.
“The whole area is just totally consumed by football at the minute, it’s the only topic up for discussion,” says Nugent.
“I suppose that is understandable, though. I have heard former president of the GAA Christy Cooney and now Liam O’Neill talk up the clubs and their role in the parish and community and this certainly brings it home to us big-time.”
Having beaten fancied Tyrone champions Brackaville to win the provincial crown, it might have been thought that An Port Mor would go into their All-Ireland semi-final as the bookmakers’ favourites.
But that is far from being the case according to the straight-talking Nugent.
“We have been outsiders in all the championship matches we have played over the past year so it won’t be any bother for us to assume the underdogs tag on Sunday,” points out Nugent.
“We know that Ballinasloe are a team who had attained success at senior level before dropping into the junior sector. They have a proud tradition and they will come out to face us with all guns blazing . We must be ready for them.”
Nugent is one of several experienced players in the An Port Mor side but it’s former Tyrone triple All-Ireland winner Colin Holmes who is the real lynch-pin at midfield. The 34-year-old schoolteacher joined the club a year ago and combines the role of player with being a member of the management team.
“Colin has been a tremendous asset since joining us. He brings authority and physical presence to the middle of the park and we are very grateful for the influence that he wields,” adds Nugent.
If Holmes is the midfield anchor, then Nugent, Christopher Lennon and David Curran are key forwards with Philip Casey and Ciaran McKenna helping to underpin the defence.
Ballinasloe have totted up some impressive scores so far particularly in the Connact final when they beat Roscommon champions Oran by 4-11 to 0-7.
Darragh Burke, Darragh McCormack, Gary Canavan and Paul Whelehan are among their more prominent players.