Cologne Celtics forge strong links with St. Finbarr's
By John Harrington
When you ask people involved with GAA clubs outside of Ireland how they ended up where they are, you generally get one of two answers – either because of work or love.
For Cologne Celtics Chairperson, Oisín O’Mahony, it’s a bit of both.
He studied Law and German in UCC and after a positive Erasmus experience in the town of Marburg decided he wanted to return to Germany.
So he did in 2015 to work in a school in Dortmund where he met his now fiancé, Ute, and then settled in Germany for good when he moved to Bonn, a short train-journey from Cologne, in 2019.
O’Mahony’s story is typical of many hurlers and Gaelic footballers abroad too in so far as he rediscovered his love of the sports on leaving Ireland.
Having not played himself for the best part of 15 years, he joined the Cologne Celtics club and is now very much one of their driving forces.
Established in 2012, the club has really blossomed in the last three years in particular.
“Yeah, it’s really grown since 2019,” O’Mahony told GAA.ie
“That's when we first fielded a team in Amsterdam. We won our first match in the Stuttgart tournament a couple of months later.
"In the pandemic we picked up a load of lads or people kept coming back afterwards and it really created a good buzz around which was nice. For the last two or three years we've really driven on which is great.
“There’s a nice mix of people involved, as many German as Irish, and we have a lot of other nationalities too.
“We have a lad from India, Arun Dhananjay, who came down thinking we were a soccer club. He was a cricket player so has brilliant hand/eye coordination and runs all day so he picked up hurling really quickly.
“He went away from Cologne at the start of 2021, his visa had run out, but he came back this summer and the first thing he did was he wrote to us and said, 'I'm coming back, is my hurley still safe?’
“Arun is a really great guy and he's now going to be the first Indian Gaelic games referee in Europe.
“We've a lad from Uruguay, a lad from Finland, we had a great guy from Greece, so there's a big mix, a load of different countries involved.”
O’Mahony himself is from Cork City and played with Blackrock GAA club until the age of 15.
One of Blackrock’s greatest rivals are, of course, fellow Cork City club, St. Finbarr’s, so it was perhaps serendipitous that when O’Mahony recently played his first hurling match on home soil since the age of 15 it was against ‘The Barrs’.
The friendly match between Cologne Celtics and St. Finbarr’s came about because Cork and Cologne are twinned cities, and was played on October 3rd, which is German Unity Day, on the Pairc Ui Chaoimh 4G Astro Pitch.
“The idea of the match was originally thought of in late 2019,” says O’Mahony.
“Our former club chairperson, Stephen O'Rourke, had met up with the Cork/Cologne twinning society, a group in Cologne which is led by Lydia Schneider-Benjamin. Lydia was a key figure in that.
“Stephen and Lydia connected with Mick Finn in Cork. Mick was a former Lord Mayor and former chairperson of St. Finbarr's. When this landed on his desk he just completely ran with it and he was absolutely instrumental to it.
“The original plan was to do it in mid-March 2020, and we were almost on the plane. We had to cancel it the day before because of Covid-19 and the lockdowns were announced two days later.
“This year Ciaran Edwards also came on board from St. Finbarr's, he was brilliant in terms of making it happen this time around.
“It has taken two and a half years for it to happen, but, if I'm honest, the wait did us some good because our club has developed a lot more in those two and a half years. I'm not sure we were ready for it in March 2020, but we definitely were in October 2022.”
The match itself against the St. Finbarr’s selection was a competitive one and while in Cork, the Cologne players also made the most of the opportunity to really plug into what makes hurling such a vibrant part of Irish culture.
“They got a great insight,” says O’Mahony. “We also went down to Blackrock to see senior training and have a walk around the club. So, they got an insight into St. Finbarr's and Blackrock and that really showed them what this was all about in Ireland which is huge.
"We also visited the hurley-maker, Denis Ahern. It was a huge success, a really big success, just to see the craftmanship. It was amazing, we had a great time there.”
Gaelic football is usually an easier sell outside of Ireland than hurling is, but the Germans are particularly drawn to hurling and currently Cologne Celtics are more of a hurling and camogie club than a Gaelic football one, though they cater for all codes.
They’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and O’Mahony hopes the coming years will see continued growth.
“We have a few meetings coming up with potential sponsors which is great,” he says.
“In terms of the long-term, we'd love to build a youth section and get local kids involved. Since 2019, we've been building having a men's team, then last year we started building a women's team.
“Now the next idea would be to have a youth section and really have a home ground where we could base ourselves which is very difficult abroad, it's definitely the hardest part of it.”
If you’re interested in getting involved with Cologne Celtics GAA club, you can contact them through their excellent website - https://cologneceltics.com/