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Croker can't be beat on school days

NOTHING quite lights up Croke Park like a Allianz Dublin Cumann na mBunscol finals day. The excitement of the bus journey to the great stadium. The rush up the steps at the back of the Cusack Stand.

Faces painted, banners galore, the singing, proud parents, grandparents looking on. The kettle on the boil down at the Muhammad Ali corner. Denis Gorey's sandwiches.

Tom Fitzpatrick in the Control Tower. The dedicated Cumann na mBunscol crew. The ever-willing stewards. The refs. The young happy faces from St Pat's Training College. A two-day festival creating memories that will live forever.

Jerry Grogan is the PRO. He recalls a story that captures the essence of the Croke Park primary finals. "It was a while ago now. My car was out of order. I got a taxi to Croke Park. The primary finals were on," explains Jerry.

"The taxi man asked me what was on there. I told him. And with that he took out a medal in a small cardboard box with a little bit of cotton wool under it.

"It was a Cumann na mBunscol medal. One of the old ones. It was valuable. There was gold in the middle of it. He had won it 40 years previously with City Quay school.

"He said he carries it everywhere. He loves to tell people that he played in Croke Park, but they often don't believe him, so he then shows them the medal to prove it.



"I asked him who was his mentor all those years ago. He replied Seosamh ó Drisceoil. As we arrived into Croke Park at the back of the Canal End, I asked him to wait for a while.

"That particular year, Seosamh was our president. I knew he was on duty at the gate, so I brought him out to the taxi man. The taxi man couldn't believe it. He got out of the car and they had a lovely chat.

"That particular incident brought it home to me the importance of Cumann na mBunscol and the role it plays in people's lives. It made me aware of the work we are doing, and hopefully that many more will continue after us."

Jerry says that Croke Park lies at the heart of it all. "Croke Park has such an aura and a mystique to it. It's really, really special. Every boy and girl wants to play there. It inspires the dreams.

"If you take Croke Park away, the whole thing doesn't fall down. Of course it doesn't, but playing the finals anywhere else is always second best in the hearts and minds of the children."

There's hardly a Dublin footballer or hurler that didn't sample the unique flavour of a Cumann na mBunscol finals day in the big house.

"Jimmy Keaveney will still talk about it. I believe his Herald Cup medal is on a pendant worn by his wife.

"During the Spring Series, Alan Larkin was asked what Croke Park meant to him, and he said it all started with a Cumann na mBunscol final.

"Nearly all of the great Dublin players came through Cumann na mBunscol. This time we had young Cormac Costello and Ciarán Kilkenny presenting trophies.

"They'll talk fondly of their time playing in primary finals. And it whets the appetite to come back again to play for Dublin at minor, U21 and senior level."

The GAA president, Liam O'Neill, was among the enchanted audience. He's a teacher. He knows better than most the importance of such days. And no doubt he'll hope that the gates of paradise will always remain open to the children.