A great initiative caught my eye on Facebook at the end of last year. Less than a month after the GAA announced the Allianz National League football and Hurling fixtures, a newly founded business, T32 Tyrone Tours, ran by the McElduff family from Carrickmore, advertised a superb match-day package that would take Tryone fans to and from Tyrone’s Round 1 fixture against Kerry, in Killarney. The package also included an overnight stay in the Killarney Court Hotel.

Seeing the offer, I immediately booked my place for what promised to be a unique GAA experience. I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm, and on the 26th January, two coaches from Lynch’s Coach Hire – dubbed “The East Coach”, for Dungannon and Ballygawley pick-ups, and “The West Coach” for Castlederg and Omagh pick-ups – carried one hundred eager Tyrone fans from all over the county, as we set off for the long but exciting journey down to the Kingdom of Kerry.

As we progressed down the road the two coaches were eventually united in Adare, Co Limerick, as we made our final stop before Kerry. As the buses were beginning to leave, everyone on board each bus was presented with a mini Gaelic football, thanks to Kieran Kennedy of O’Neill’s, and a woolly beanie, thanks to Ciaran Murphy of Murphy’s Gaelic Gloves.

After finally arriving in Kerry we made a short trip to the impressive new facilities of the Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence. Upon our trip to Kerry’s version of Garvaghey, we were given g a guided tour and very warm welcome from Kerry GAA chairman Tim Murphy, who explained what finally having the adequate facilities meant to his native county, and told us all about the resources and work put into making the project happen and how they hoped that it would provide beneficial outcomes for their county teams in the future. Of course, this lead to a few light hearted jokes from the Tyrone faithful. We wished Kerry good luck in the Munster championship and nothing else. The impressive facilities included State of the art changing rooms, football pitches, Video analysis room, canteen and finally a wide open Gym. We could only look on in admiration.

Having arrived at a wet Killarney later that Saturday evening we checked into the Killarney Court Hotel and were reminded that T32 had organised a chat show starring GAA legends Peter Canavan and Seamus Moynihan, and Damien Harvey of Team-Talk Magazine. In a packed room we were treated to an hour of chat about the upcoming match, how the guests thought the season would fare out, and no shortage of comical stories. I was able to provide some live coversgae of the discussion on Facebook live, and it proved as popular with fans back at home as it did for those in the room. A great way to end our first evening in Kilarney.

The next morning match day had finally arrived. After breakfast and checking out of the hotel some of us were advised to make the 10 minute walk to Fitzgerald Stadium, due to traffic congestion. After completing the walk some of the T32 Gaels temporarily went their own separate ways throughout the stadium to locate themselves a seat for the game. I located a spot in the terraces stand where I had the pleasure to be in the company of Omagh native Steven Quinn who resides in Cork. The match unfortunately proved to be like the Killarney weather that day and that was a dampener as the Red Hands were defeated 0-11 0-7 by Kerry, including a stand out performance from Kerry’s centre half forward Sean O’Shea who scored a key side line point to all but secure an opening fixture victory for Peter Keane’s side.

After the disappointing result the T32 Gaels made returned to their respected East and West coaches where they set off separately on their long journeys back up to Tyrone. Despite the match and result witnessed the overall enjoyment and positive atmosphere of the Tyrone fans including myself were certainly not dampened by the fabulous planning and organising throughout the trip which gathered many memories to cherish.

Once again I would like to take this opportunity to thank coach leaders Barry and Niamh McElduff on organising a fantastic trip therefore providing us with the best hospitable treatment throughout. They are a fantastic tour group which I’d definitely recommend to anyone interested in participating in upcoming events. Special thanks also to the bus drivers of Lynch’s Coaches for the safe transport from start to finish.