Billy Keane: Little Anna just wants to kick a ball for Mourneabbey
Seven-year-old Mourneabbey footballer Anna Browne suffers from cerebral palsy. Anna needs an operation, and it will cost a lot.
Anna is a dote and is such a lovely, happy kid. So much so, that her mother Evelyn told of how "one of the neighbours from my old home place in the north side of Cork city said, 'Evelyn, love, could you get the loan of a sad-looking child for the fund-raising photos?'".
Anna is girlie and sporty at the same time. Every time Anna kicks a ball, she falls over. Every time Anna dances, she falls over. But Anna gets up every time and starts again. The pain never goes away. But neither does her family.
It was lunchtime when I got to Anna's home in the hills above Mallow. We had a lovely feed of bagels and bacon. The house is lively, to put it mildly. Anna's 13-year-old brother James is upset because he is missing a football game that evening for his club Clyda Rovers.
James has just had his appendix out. He plays Lego with Anna and helps out. James is a goalkeeper and he has broken bones on seven separate occasions and is waiting on a bone density scan. The Brownes are brave.
Ten-year-old Emma is Anna's sister. Sisters have this way of fixing each other's problems. Emma does every single exercise with Anna. It takes about half an hour to get Anna out of bed for school. Evelyn asked me to mention the support given to Anna by Gaelscoil Thomáis Dáibhís in Mallow.
The sisters slipped away to do their own fundraising last week, during the Easter holidays.
Their sign read: "Nature store all money goes to Anna's dream to dance please support! Follow on Facebook and Instagram."
The nature store was stocked with stones picked off the road. The sisters went door to door selling the stones. Evelyn knew nothing about it until they came home with e16.
"I didn't know whether to hug them or kill them. In the end, I went for the hug," she said.
Anna's dad, Roy, is at work in Cork city. He takes care of the family when he comes home in the evening while Evelyn works away at the fundraising. Roy's days are long. They are very much a team.
Sean, who is studying for his Junior Cert, is the perfect big brother. He's a calm lad and plays hurling and football for Clyda.
Anna's cerebral palsy comes with eyesight complications. Anna is very intelligent, as was obvious when I spoke to her. She speaks so beautifully. But Anna has learning difficulties due to her sight problems.
"Anna has to go to school in a buggy, even though she is seven. The HSE promised a wheelchair," Evelyn explained.
Dr TJ Park is a world-renowned American surgeon who has had massive success with an operation for Anna's type of cerebral palsy. On Saturday last he promised Anna would be able to live a normal life if she has the operation. Evelyn met other families who have kids with the same condition and they were all delighted with the outcome.
Evelyn's eyes are puffy from crying. She is worn out from minding her little girl. Evelyn takes six phone calls all to do with Anna. Typical Cork she is, full of fight, full of heart but this is too hard.
The operation costs €100,000. The family has already raised e18k and are spending every cent they have to help their little girl.
The HSE will pay for an operation but not until Anna is 13, by which time she could be in nappies.
I know some of you are saying why should we contribute when the HSE should be paying up? Well, I would say just do it for Anna.
Every growth spurt leads to more pain and deterioration in her condition. Every year is a year stolen from childhood. Every year is a year of pain for Anna and strain for her family. What price childhood then? This is the next big scandal. The Brownes are spending their life savings on Anna. It's not as if they are looking for handouts. They are hard-working people who are fighting with all their might for their daughter.
Before I started to write this piece, I texted Jonathan Sexton and I asked him if he still has the boots he wore for Le Drop; told him a little Mourneabbey girl broke my heart.
Laura and himself have a baby girl of their own and they are giving Anna the famous boots. Jonathan needs to wear the Le Drop boots until the end of the season, as he has a heel problem, but bid now if you are interested.
Before I set out for home, Anna asked her Mom if there would the pain after the operation. Her Mom said, "Yes, for a while pet".
Anna said: "Mammy, I don't care about the pain if I can kick the ball."
You can donate to Anna's fund at gofundme.com/annasdreamtodance
Facebook page is Anna's Dream to Dance