By Ger McCarthy
(Published in the Southern Star – December 2016).
Darth Vader’s (aka the Southern Star Sports Editor) demand for my personal sporting moment of 2016 proved a far more difficult task then I first envisaged. This is because the past twelve months have been jam-packed with multiple highlight reel moments, both at home and abroad.
On the international front, the O’Donovan brothers stunning European and Olympic rowing successes, Robbie Brady’s late winner against Italy at the Euro’s, Irish rugby finally ending their New Zealand hoodoo, Conor McGregor being Conor McGregor, the Chicago Cubs winning a first World Series since 1908, the Denver Broncos defence mangling Cam Newton to win SuperBowl 50 and Leicester City stunning the football world to claim the Premier League.
Closer to home, the outpouring of emotion witnessed in Páirc Uí Rinn when Carbery Rangers claimed a first ever Cork SFC title, Bandon GAA’s football and hurling juggernaut showing no sign of slowing up, the West Cork Schoolboys League making a name for itself at both the Galway and Kennedy Cups or the West Cork GAA ladies playing the best brand of football I’ve witnessed in a long time made 2016 an extra-special sporting year.
Yet amid all those amazing highlights, it is a personal sporting moment much closer to home that wins out.
Since early September, I and a bunch of fellow coaching enthusiasts have been responsible for looking after the Clonakilty AFC Under7 football team. Every Saturday morning (they deserve a mention) Barry O’Donovan, Maurice Moore, Noel Jordan, Declan Rice, Paul O’Driscoll and I have been putting between 25 and 30 young footballers through their paces in the Clonakilty Community Hall.
These are the first of many tentative steps in what, hopefully, will be a lifetime spent enjoying all sports, not just football for this particular group of youngsters.
They are an unbelievably nice, funny, well-behaved and confident bunch of young fellas, a pleasure to coach. I’ll level with you though; because they are 7-year-olds, there are times you want to pull your hair out but overall, the Saturday morning training sessions are the most rewarding and fastest 60 minutes of the week for all involved.
Unfortunately, it won’t be long before demands are made of these tiny footballers across a wider spectrum of sports like rugby, GAA etc. It won’t be long before these kids become young adults and their time is spent in gyms and taking part in far too many training sessions.
For now though, the Clonakilty AFC Under7’s are free to simply enjoy themselves, play a bit of football and laugh out loud in a safe and friendly environment.
My son, Fionn, is part of the squad and the day he put on a football kit with his beloved Ronaldo emblazoned across the back of the jersey to attend his first training session is my standout sporting moment of the year.
Why? Because it reminded his father – in a sporting world full of dopers, cheaters, whingers and begrudgers – that a child’s innocence and delight at simply having an opportunity to play football is more important than anything else.