John Travers - a man for all seasons

Ballyshannon man inducted into Aodh Ruadh Hall of Fame

John Travers - a man for all seasons

John Travers is presented with his award by Club President Owen Roe O'Neill

Peter Campbell sport@donegaldemocrat @dgldemocrat

If you want a good argument, then John Travers is your man. Never short of an opinion, the Ballyshannon man has been getting his point of view on the record on many aspects of life throughout his career.

In his 67th year, John is now retired from teaching, but his attachment to the GAA and Drama remains steadfast. On Saturday night, he was inducted into the Aodh Ruadh Hall of Fame, a worthy recipient after over 40 years of constant involvement, mainly at administration level.

John would be the first to point out that his football career was overshadowed by a golden era of talented players in St. Joseph's.

After attending De La Salle school, he was back there as a teacher, having spent four years at UCD. Then, two years later as a 24-year-old, in 1974, he was elected chairman of the Aodh Ruadh club.

A year later, he took on the role of secretary, which he held for nine year. Later still he was to serve two three-year terms as club chairman and from 1974 he has been the club delegate to County Board.

John is not someone to procrastinate, having strong views but also willing to have a discussion; you can only imagine that dinner time in the Travers family would never be boring!

His introduction to the administration at Aodh Ruadh in the mid-1970s coincided with a big turning point in the fortunes of the Erne town club.

"There was the old guard there Sean Slevin, John 'Dodger' McDermott, Jim Gallagher. There was a move to get younger people involved. I had started teaching two years previously in De La Salle alongside the likes of Michael McGowan, Tom Cullen and Gerry Breslin, so it was just natural to get involved," said John, who painted a picture of a much different Ballyshannon with plenty of employment with ESB, Health Board, a large number of Gardaí, Customs and other local employers.

"The regionalisation of tourism and health boards created employment and so young people, for the first time, could come back and work locally," said John.

"It was at an AGM in the Rock Hall that I was proposed and seconded. Little did I know that 40 years later I would be still involved."

It was the beginning of a new era for the GAA club in Ballyshannon as other young people became involved such as Tom Daly and PJ Buggy. "PJ introduced Bord na nOg and we had the great advantage that we had a nursery in De La Salle which was complimented by the club.

"It was Jackie McDermott who started them off, winning an U-12 championship in the mid-1970s. I saw a picture of that team, a school team, in the Democrat and that team with players like Martin Williamson, Tommy McDermott, Matt Gallagher, Brian Tuohy. That team went six years without being beaten in any competition in the county. It was the foundation of the later successes.

"They were involved in the U-21 team that won the All-Ireland in 1982. They were so good that other clubs had to come up to meet their standard. Ardara and Donegal Town and St. Eunan's (did that) and we stopped dominating. We won four minors in-a-row ('79 to '82) but 1986 was our first senior championship.

"There were some fantastic tussles with Ardara, Kilcar, St. Eunan's and Four Masters. While we were better than them, we didn't always win," said John, who felt that the raising of standards had been a major factor in county success which followed, much like St. Joseph's had done leading up to Donegal winning their first Ulster senior titles in 1972 and 1974.

John's introduction to administration in the club coincided with the end of the St. Joseph's era and while Bundoran went on to win a senior championship in 1979, it took Ballyshannon some time to get to the top at senior level.

"We persisted with a youth policy and in the end it worked. It took a while and it was frustrating," said John.

NEW ERA

"PJ Buggy changed things locally by starting Bord na nOg and also bringing in others like Michael McLoone. The whole structure was organised," said John, who said the club began to organise underage tournaments and went on club trips with other clubs, like Ballymun Kickhams, visiting here.

"I remember Colm McAlarney being down coaching and part and parcel of the trips was that they would do coaching sessions. Players were exposed to higher horizons. Bringing people to Croke Park and this, coupled with success on the playing field, made a huge difference.

"Coaches made a huge difference but the general organisation was much improved," said John, who underlined the little things that the likes of PJ Buggy insisted on, players having proper gear, and showers and dressing rooms were available.

"The Park Committee have done great work in regard to the facilities that are available," said John, who complimented all the volunteers who put in hours at bingo, etc., in that part of the club

"There is a lot of silent work done in maintaining those facilities," he said.

CLUB LOW

The Aodh Ruadh club experienced a lull at the start of the new millennium when over a period of up to ten years they had few players involved at county underage level. John feels there were a number of factors, not least the amalgamation of the three secondary schools in Ballyshannon into one big school, Colaiste Cholmcille.

He also feels that the loss of employment was also a factor. "From the GAA's point of view, the loss of De La Salle was a major loss, but then education isn't just about sport," said John, who said he remembered the club being in every county final in one year. It was a golden period, but then you must remember Ballyshannon didn't win a senior county title from 1951 to 1986.

"You must also remember that other clubs have got equally well organised, if not better organised. You saw the golden era that Killybegs had; they were fantastic but haven't been as successful in recent years. Glenties are the team of the moment in the south that everybody has to beat," said John, who added that he is very hopeful for the future looking at the likes of Peter Boyle, Nathan Boyle, Shane McGrath, Oisin Rooney, Eamonn McGrath, etc., coming along, we have a fantastic bunch of senior players.

“The U-21 final last year against Gaoth Dobhair was the best game of football I had seen in a while. Gaoth Dobhair were a little stronger and deserved the win, but it was a great game.

"Last year Kilcar and Aodh Ruadh were by far the top scorers in the league. They played an attractive brand of football. Unfortunately we are a little short of physically mature players. We could be outmuscled in Division Two. If we can manage to survive and keep that bunch of players together," said John, who said it may not be as easy to emigrate to America now under Donald Trump!

FIRST GAA MEMORY

"My first memory of the GAA was the Bakery Cup," said John, who remembered how the captains picked the teams and when it came down to the last few, waiting to be picked.

"The teams were taken round the town on a lorry and if you won you went into John Merrifields, who used to be the barber's above Pearse O'Neills and holding the cup out the window," said John, who added that the Cup was still in great condition and the competition had survived to this day.

Underage football didn't start until you were 14. There was very little emphasis on coaching. Even later in De La Salle, there were just leagues and it was all about playing. There was very little sophistication and as Jackie McDermott said, it was 'all about the wee white thing'.

"In De La Salle they would take the arm off you for the ball. If the seniors' ball was lost or went into the field, they would take the ball from the wee ones. If you didn't play football you were kept in for study, so obviously played football.

"My first Bakery Cup memory would probably have been 1960. My brother, Eamon's team were beaten in the final by Frank Cleary from Belleek."

Football wasn't nearly as organised and fields weren't great. "You would have sheep grazing on Fr. Tierney Park to keep the grass down and you would go to places where cattle had to be taken off the field. You would take the risk of falling in the wrong place and getting a rude surprise.

"That is one of the things that have changed greatly over the years, the quality of fields that you have all over the country.

"I remember Donegal training in the Fr. Tierney Park in 1972 or 1974 and the grass was six inches long. There were very little club football being played then. Most of the competitions tended to be local competitions," said John, who said football was confined to divisional competitions and Town Leagues, as well as summer tournaments.

"You didn't have to get permission that time to play a Town League. There was very little red tape. I remember Jimmy Cleary from Enniskillen (I think he was on the Northern Ireland World Cup panel) playing for Maggies in the Town League. Dessie Gallagher was working in Maggies and he assembled a super team. There was half of the Fermanagh senior team playing for Maggies," said John, who added that there was an extra spice between the northern players and the garda team. "But after the games, they all mixed."

SOCIAL MEDIA

John is very happy to embrace the changes that have taken place, not just in the GAA, but in society generally.

"The social media is a great positive in spreading good news and positivity. The negative side is of the criticism of individuals, which is completely unacceptable," said John, who said the Aodh Ruadh club site and Facebook site is absolutely fantastic, and brings news instantly to Ballyshannon people all over the world.

"It makes the world a very small place," said John, who said he Skypes his son, Michael, in Korea every Monday afternoon, and he said he finds it hard to have a topic of conversation, because Michael knows everything that's going on at home.

"On balance, it has been a very positive thing," said John.

In terms of Donegal football, John feels that Donegal are in a much better position now than they were in 2009 or 2010. "You have several crops of underage players who were successful coming through. Tyrone went away and spent five or six years coming back and they are back as strong as ever. You have to have the patience to be positive.

"There are a lot of very useful players to go into the senior panel. It's not the end of the world to get beaten in the early rounds (of the championship). You can still go through nowadays."

As someone who represented the club at county level for over 40 years, John has seen many changes at that level.

"I remember they used to rotate between Glenties and Ballybofey and some of the meetings were in Irish. The meetings are generally over now before 11 o'clock with officer reports available before meetings.

"But in terms of volume of work, I don't know how Sean Dunnion (chairman) and these boys do it. The number of meetings involved such as sub-committees, executive, Co. Board meetings and around things like the Centre of Excellence," he said.

John's memories of training was "three laps of the park and backs and forwards and a few pints afterwards and a fag at half-time," but feels it is frightening to see what is happening now with players being issued with a code of conduct and signing contracts.

As regards the recent formation of the Club Players' Association, he has a strong view.

"I think the GAA made a mistake. When they recognised the GPA (Gaelic Players' Association) they should have insisted that it would have been a players' association of all players.

"Now the club players are kicking back with their own association. Once an organisation is set up, it can take on a life of its own. Down the road I think the GAA would be wise to have just one Players' Association. You could have sub-committees for county and club players. A county player may have issues that a club player wouldn't, but a lot of the issues would be common to all," said John.

"There is no excuse to have a two-tier system. I would welcome the Club Players' Association, but it would be better to move towards the creation on a pro-active basis, to have one body."

While regarded as a strong GAA man, he feels that there are areas which the Association could learn from other sports.

"I would think that the fixation with building stadia is a weakness. There is a huge amount of resources going into building, especially for the Rugby World Cup, they'll benefit from it. AC Milan and Inter Milan play in the one stadium," said John, who feels the GAA can learn from that.

"The GAA predominantly raise the money for this themselves while other sporting bodies go and use the facilities provided by the State and local authorities," said John, who feels the money would be better used in providing coaches for schools, etc.

"There has to come a point when you say we have enough. There is the cost of maintaining them. You see a place like MacCumhaill Park which is a great venue, but then every so often health and safety come in and say you need this, that or the other."

Another area which he feels is not efficient is the Association's ability to alter rules.

"The way we change our rules is cumbersome. To me the rugby refereeing, the sin bin and the citing of players afterwards and the use of video evidence (is way to go)," said John, who feels that GAA should learn from rugby in the way they administer their sport.

Indeed, John said it is sometimes soul destroying in the GAA trying to get any change through the layers of administration.

However, he feels that progress is being made, pointing to the running of club fixtures in Donegal in 2016, which was excellent. "That's what players want, games being played as they are planned."

With so much experience, John Travers, still has much to give to Aodh Ruadh and the GAA in general. He is one person who could help with any argument.