Cillian O’Gara was a significant part of the development of the Cologne Celtics, both on- and off- the pitch. The man from the “Wee County” joined us in early 2019 and was with us until Summer 2020. Regardless of whether it was in training or matches, he ran himself to the point of exhaustion before miraculously recuperating and running himself to collapse once again. And although Louth has not been a stronghold of the small ball since the days of Cú Chulain, Cillian enthusiastically embraced the sport and became one of our most accomplished performers. He was key to the club’s expansion to Gaelic Football and played a major role in developing our less experienced footballers.
Off-the-pitch, Cillian got stuck into whatever the club had to offer. From Pop-Up Gaeltachts, Erasmus Open Days to All-Ireland Final watchalongs and training groups at Education First in Düsseldorf, Cillian was there. Still regularly in contact with the group, Cillian is always welcome to come back and train, have a few pints or join us for events.
What brought you to Cologne?
I had wanted to live in Germany since I was a teenager. Before I arrived in Cologne, I studied in the Netherlands. While there, a last-minute opportunity to study for a Master’s degree in Bonn came up. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and moved to Cologne in short order.
How would you describe your experience living in Germany?
I’ve lived away from home before in countries like the US and Vietnam, so I was familiar with some of the challenges of moving to a new country, such as finding accommodation, transportation, etc. All in all, I found everything very convenient compared to home: the supermarket was right around the corner, public transport is far superior in Germany compared to Ireland, and I felt free to do just about anything I wanted.
I also made some of my closest friends in Germany, whether from the Master’s programme in Bonn or the Celtics. I’m still in contact with many of them today.
How did you come across the Cologne Celtics GAA Club?
Like most young Irish people moving away from home, I checked on Google to see if there was a GAA club in the area. After seeing the Celtics’ Facebook page, I sent them a quick message to ask where and when they train. A few weeks later, they got back to me, and I attended my first training session with the Celtics in February 2019, in which a grand total of four of us attended!
How did the club develop in your time with us?
It was slow going in the first months, with training attendance struggling to hit double figures. After a while though, numbers picked up, especially with an influx of young Irish students on Erasmus. We got to play a good few games and tournaments, including in Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Darmstadt, which increased interest and training turnout.
There was always a strong female contingent from the time I joined, but this went from strength to strength in the later months of my stay in Cologne. Under Lea Janssen’s leadership, the Celtics participated in the 20X20 initiative aimed at increasing female participation in the Celtics’ camogie and ladies football setup. This would eventually result in the Celtics being able to field a ladies team in 2021 and training sessions having higher numbers of women in attendance than men.
How would you describe the social side of involvement with the Celts?
The Celtics proved to be a vital way to make new friends and become familiar with life in Cologne as we undertook several GAA and non-GAA activities together, including visits to the Weihnachtsmarkt, Pop-Up Gaeltachts or just meeting in the pub for a few pints. I’ve been back in Ireland for over 18 months now but still maintain regular contact with many of the Celts today.
What was your experience of playing Gaelic Games before coming to Germany?
I grew up playing Gaelic football from a young age. I started off playing at the age of 7 back when I lived in Dublin and continued playing when I moved to Drogheda in County Louth when I was 9.
I’ve played for Newtown Blues for most of my life, from underage up to senior level. I have a championship winner’s medal and am hoping for a second one this year!
Which is your preferred sport – hurling or Gaelic Football? Why?
I’ve nothing against hurling, but as a Louthman, I will always prefer Gaelic football. Additionally, in my opinion, football requires a lot more tactical cleverness when it comes to scoring compared to hurling, where scores can be taken from much greater distances.
What are you up to these days?
These days I’m back in Drogheda and working away. I’m hoping to be able to rent a place pretty soon and learn to drive again to get back on my feet after what has been an incredibly difficult 18 months, not just for myself and my family, but indeed the whole world.
Are you back playing Gaelic football at home?
I’ve been back with the Blues and training with the senior team there. It’s been good to get back into the swing of things and play again with lads I’ve known for years and some since childhood.
Will we see you back in a Celts’ jersey?
Never say never! Cologne holds a special place in my heart, and I will look for any possible opportunity to come back and tog out when the occasion calls for it.
How is your German?
Honestly, it’s pretty rusty after being back home for so long. I’d been improving a bit while working at Jameson’s, but without speaking it on a daily basis, it doesn’t take very long before your fluency takes a pretty big hit. I reckon I could get back into it fairly quickly, though, if I ever came back.
Any funny stories about life in Germany you’d like to share?
Yes, I’ve plenty if you come up and ask in person!
Top image: provided by Steffi/penpaperstory