GAA comedy will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been part of a sports club
The pilot episode goes out on Friday night, but those averse to Gaelic games would be advised not to change the channel out of habit, because despite being set in a GAA club it has very, very little to do with the sport itself.
Anyone who has ever been part of any grassroots sports team – be it football, rugby, cricket – will get the in-jokes.
The showers that are too cold, too hot, or that don’t run at all. The endless lottos to raise club funds. The struggle to get enough bodies together to get a team out.
Just as the recent fall out over stadium funding has shown, local teams and their home turf mean an awful lot to communities in Northern Ireland.
The fictional community of St Mungo’s is what this comedy pilot is all about.
Conor said: “It could be a GAA club, a rugby club, a football club, a young farmers club – it’s the same thing going on in all these places.
“There’s a whole secret world there, that anybody who’s been involved in a sporting club will know about and will identify straight away.
“There were two guys on our set involved with Mossley soccer club, they said, ‘this is our life – the showers, the lotto’.
Alan commented: “It would be our hope that someone sitting in a wee Aussie Rules Club in Ballarat or Geelong will say, that’s like our club.
“I’m not from a GAA background and thousands of people who have seen it in the likes of the Lyric Theatre and the Grand Opera House who aren’t from that background still get it, it’s about a community, it’s about people, it’s not really about the GAA at all.”
Conor said: “We use the GAA as a means to get into the community.”
Grimes and McKee, who are well known for their exploits on stage, and were co-writers of the hit play ‘History Of The Troubles (Accordin’ To My Da!)’, created the fictional St Mungo’s GAA team in 2015.
Alan said: “We’d a friend of Conor’s who was fundraising for his club, he wanted us to come and do a show for his club.
“We said we can’t just come and do a one-off show, then we thought why don’t we write a play about the GAA and we can do it in more than one club. That’s what we did. It took off.”
Conor said: “We toured it through the clubs – that was important, taking it to the people as they say.
“We did a sequel as well called the ‘Umpire Strikes Back’.
“A friend of ours, a producer David Kirwan, came to see the show and he said we should think about trying to adapt it for television.
“That’s how this leg of it came about.
“We’re at pilot stage, we’d love there to be a series.”
The television pilot was filmed in St Joseph’s GAC in Glenavy.
Alan said: “We’re very excited to get this out and on the box and see what people think of it.”
Conor added: “We’ve both worked on television as actors, we’ve presented shows, but this the first time anything like this has happened.”
The pair have gone to lengths to make St Mungo’s appear like a proper club, complete with merchandise bearing the club’s logo.
Alan said: “There’s a jersey, a quarter zip top, rain jackets, hats – all available from the club shop.
“It’s such a handsome jersey, lovely brown, yellow and green colours.
“There’s big merchandising potential there, who wouldn’t want to be seen in one of those?”
Conor said: “Sometimes we’d give a club one and they’d raffle it, but you never see anyone wearing it.”
Alan commented: “The best St Mungo’s can hope for is to become average, they’d be very happy with that. They are statistically the worst team in Ireland. It’s a an underdog story, like the Mighty Ducks.”
Conor used to play Gaelic when he was younger but believes he made the right career choice.
He said: “Until I was 18 I played in Donaghmore. I broke my arm, but secretly I was kind of glad because all I wanted to do was act. You can’t do both, it was one or other.
“I was slightly better at acting than I was at football. My brothers and family are involved in it, they play and manage. I constantly get good stories about what’s going on. We talk about them and decide whether it’s going into the show.”
Alan, who is a Coleraine FC fan, used to pay rugby in his younger days: “I played rugby at Queen’s, I was prop and then hooker. I was really enthusiastic and really quite untalented, but that didn’t matter, as long as there was 15 of us out on the pitch together.”
The GAA comedy comes to screens at a time when a funding rift between GAA and football has been created by a decision from Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to proceed with the redevelopment of Casement Park while holding back funds for football clubs.
On Thursday it appeared she had made a u-turn on the decision.
Alan said: “Hopefully the funding things will pass over, I think there’s a wee bit of electioneering on all sides. At the end of the day the funding is still there.
“We all know the value of sport to our community, let’s hope everybody gets what they need.”
Conor said: “The soccer really needs an injection because it’s really on the up.
“I have a cub who plays with Dungannon Swifts Under 18s – he’s number 63.
“They are a proper academy, your ambition is to get into that first team squad. They’re all really young and really, really good.”
Alan added: “They do have great plans at Coleraine.
“If it’s happening on the pitch and there’s an injection of funds in the background you can do good things.
“The standard of Irish League football in the past few years has got very, very high.”
Of grassroots sports, Alan said: “I’d encourage anyone to get involved in sport, apart from hockey, obviously, we all know the reason why.”
Appearing in the pilot show is well-known NI actor Conleth Hill, who starred in Game Of Thrones.
Alan joked: “If we do any more I’m not sure whether we’ll have him back because he steals the show a bit.
“We got Conleth and Abigail McGibbon as the husband and wife local historian team, they’re a wee treat for people.”
Conor said: “When we did the original [stage] show there’s just the two of us in it. Alan and I played both those parts. As soon as we started writing the script we knew this is Conleth Hill and Abby McGibbon.
“We asked them straight away. They said they’d do it if we got it made.”
Alan said: “We called their bluff by actually getting it made.”
It was along with Conleth Hill and Colin Murphy, that Grimes and McKee first got together as part of a sketch show.
Alan said: “That was back when we knew everything.”
Conor added: “That’s when Alan and I first hooked up, we started writing together. Tim Loane, our friend who was involved in it, said afterwards, ‘you two should do a show by yourselves – there’s something about youse.
“We were cross community, we didn’t even know what that meant.”
Alan said: “If we’d known we’d have got a grant.”
Of the St Mungo’s pilot, Conor said: “The rural aspect hasn’t really been done before for a TV comedy in Northern Ireland. You see a lot of city shows, this is somewhere different, but somewhere everyone will recognise.”
St Mungo’s television pilot: who’s in it and what’s it all about
Barry McGurk (Shaun Blaney) is returning to the rural Northern Ireland village where he grew up, with his English wife Madeleine (Roisin Gallagher) and their two young children in tow. They intend to build their dream house and establish a wind energy business, selling turbines to local farmers.
In the meantime, well-meaning, but inept Chairman (Alan McKee) and Vice Chairman (Conor Grimes) of the local GAA club, St Mungo’s, discuss the problems with the club. They are regularly unable to field a full team, and the sporting authorities are not happy. The club is also in financial difficulties, compounded by a bill presented to them by local plumber, Davy the Drip.
In the course of the episode Madeleine and the kids struggle to stay awake during a lecture in the parish hall from local married historians, Proinsias (Conleth Hill) and Shauna Stevenson (Abigail McGibbon).
Barry is having a much better time at St Mungo’s clubhouse where he’s reminded of his glory days as a Gaelic footballer.
St Mungo’s comes from the makers of ‘Hope Street’.
The half hour pilot is on BBC One Northern Ireland, Friday at 10.35pm, and also on BBC iPlayer.
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