Wednesday, 27 November 2013

And the gates closed gently

Early last Saturday morning I headed off to Oranmore to drop off my young man to the Colga under 8 training. I've been continuously impressed by the organisation of the managers of this team and last Saturday was no different. Cones laid out, balls ready, enthusiasm levels on a high as the little men hopped out of their cars full of life and ready for the most important date of their week...clutching their red and white shirts and pulling up their slightly too big red socks...fretting because their shin pads just would not stay their young eyes they were taking the first steps towards premiership ambitions.
And, as I looked around, I could see the cars pulling up....doors opening, not just one but 2, 3, 4 or five little people hopping out as they joined the under 5's, 6's, 7's and 8's girls and boys forming around their coaches and shouting with excitement. Fantastic. Each of the coaches and managers should be immensely proud of the work they are doing at this age group - without doubt setting the foundations for the future.

I left Oranmore and headed off to Kilcornan. It was close to 11am when I arrived and the place was packed. The under 11 league had just kicked off and two of Colga's teams were enjoying their first league experience. At the same time, on the pitch beside, Colga and Athenry were having a right battle in the under 13 league. And beside that game, on the training pitches, the clubs under 12 and 17s teams were busy at training. It was brilliant to be able to glance across our beautiful facility and see it crowded with activity.

What struck me wasn't just the football. I took a moment and looked the entrance, two of the club's longest serving members were shovelling stones and filling the pot-holes. Happily greeeting people as they entered but also intent on ensuring the entrance of the club was in pristine shape. Proud of their club, proud of their role, no one asked them to do it, it was just needed. And it makes a massive difference.
I took a glance left. A recent icon of the club, James, and the Little Red Wagon was surrounded by people. Cups of tea, sandwiches arriving, chats being had....Once again discussing the important things in life...a community in the woods. It struck me....players having just finished talking about achievements and horrendous decisions and ultimate league positions, parents arriving speculating on outcomes, referees in need of refreshments, and a place to meet, to reconvene, to talk about a sport we love......

Later that day, I was the last to leave. Trainings completed, matches won and lost, thirsts quenched with cups of tea, and visiting appetities eased by parential kindness. Before I turned to leave, I thought of all of the people who had made this possible. Those who had the belief...those who knew this field would host dreams and heartbreaks but who wanted to provide a home. I reflected. Today wasn't possible because of anything that I did. So many more have proceeded and driven. They have built a place to meet...somewhere the child counts time to get to each weekend.....somewhere a boy and girl feel the ability to aspire....somewhere the young adult feel they can connect....somewhere we all feel we can have a chat....we can take our kids to play....a place to call home amongst the woods.
Colga and Kilcornan may not yet have defined ourselves amongst the places of folklore where every player wants to play.... but we are on our way....and then, hands through the bars, I looked around this beautiful field, and I closed the gates gently.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Any Given Saturday.....

The title of the movie was Any Given Sunday, starring Al Pacino and the American Football team, the Miami Sharks, but for me, it was all about last Saturday.
For anyone that wonders about the worth of a local, community based football club, you only had to be at Colga's grounds in Kilcornan last Saturday. Over the course of the day, from 9am until dusk, I'm guessing that close to a hundred players, coaches, parents, and the all important "I'm dragged to the match" siblings were at the pitches. Two great competitions were being played out in addition to training for our underage teams. What happened during the day really struck me.
I arrived up at the pitch around one o'clock. I was fresh from helping at a training session with under 7 Colga academy team, and, whilst inspired by their enthusiasm and energy, I was in dire need of a cup of tea. I was a little early to the pitch, 2pm kick off, but I was eagerly looking to the 3rd round of the FAI Irish up for my under 12 team. Of all the competitions we play in, this is by far my favourite - the chance to pit your worth against teams from all over the county, the provence, and, potentially, the island.
When I arrived, our under 14 team had just kicked off the 2nd round of the Connacht Cup (another great competion) against Hibs. There was a good crowd of parents supporting but at this early stage the atmosphere was relatively calm.
Shortly after, a group of cars arrived, and I greeted the secretary of St. Peters, from Athlone, who were our opponents for the under 12 cup match. The secretary was delighted, for 2 reasons, 1st, they found the ground, no easy feat, and 2nd, felt it was fantastic their team was getting the opportunity to play an away game in such beautiful surroundings....helped no doubt by the fact her team had won the previous round of this competition 11-0. It was great to see the cars pull up, park, and watch the players and parents hop out, look around, and enjoy the occassion. I got St. Peter's sorted just as my own lads were arriving for the match.
The next 30mins or so went as normal. Tog out and warm up and get ready. But, we couldn't help keep an eye on the under 14 connacht cup match which was unveiling beside us. Hibs 1-0 up until the very last minute...and then, almost beyond hope, Colga got an equaliser. Extra time.
At this stage, the under 12 match was due to kick off on the other pitch. So, off we went. You could not help being distracted....Under 14's....Colga score, 2-1, 10mins left...under 12's, Colga score 1-0 up....under 14's Hibs equalise, 2-2...under 12 Colga score 2-0...and then, under 14, Colga score 3-2, under 12 score 3-0, final whistle under 14, Colga win, through, 3-2, half time under 12, Colga winning 3-0. It was fantastic...parents, players, refs, coaches, supporting, playing, but all involved in 2 amazing matches side by side. And the noise...whistles, shouts, cries, wind, roars, laughs.........
As it turned out, the under 12 game ended 4-0 and my team managed to get through.
So, we walked off, Colga under 12's victorious, St. Peter's feeling very sad, but we all shared a cup of tea and a sandwich. The players, the coaches, the ref, the secretary, the parents, the siblings, and we chatted and spoke about football and all of the really important things in life........
What a day - what really struck me was the number of children, players, adults, and supporters all at the same place, involved in different activities, but all part of the same occasion. It signified the importance of "our" club and why involvement is so important.
It may not be like this on "any given Sunday"....or Saturday...but it certainly was last weekend.