Community Games: "Children will remember their experience forever"
Much like the upcoming Rose of Tralee, the HSE Community Games is innately Irish and part of our national fabric. With over 200,000 competitors and more than 10,000 volunteers it touches almost every life on the island.
Donning your county colours with pride is a special experience and Athlone, the modern home of the Community Games since 2009, is a hive of action this weekend.
With every facility under the sun available on the Athlone IT campus there is literally something for everyone. The carnival-like atmosphere sets the pulses racing.
Teaming up with Healthy Ireland this year, there is no better symbol of our health and well-being as the stars of tomorrow pit their wits over two glorious weekends with events catering for every talent.
Irish cultural icons like Olympic silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan, rugby legend Paul O’Connell and pop sensations Westlife have all honed their talent in bygone days and everywhere you look there's activity.
From the cat-like reflexes of table tennis, the control and pose in skittles to the rough and tumble of mini rugby, the Games has it all.
The fresh-faced enthusiasm of youth is infectious with fun being had by all. It leaves you bubbling with energy and yearning for your younger years. For parents there is unbridled joy watching their children’s accomplishments.
A tear of happiness rolls down the cheek of Ann Marie Canning, from the rural town of Ramelton in Co Donegal, when she speaks of her 10-year-old son Diarmuid Coyle who followed in her footsteps by competing in the art competition.
"I'm just so proud that my son got here. It's such a big deal considering where we come from," Ann Marie says beaming with pride.
"It's changed so much since I took part all those years ago but it's just brilliant for the kids, Diarmuid will never forget this.”
Three generations are present as Diarmuid’s grandmother Margaret also made the big trip to the Midlands to watch him on his big day.
Diarmuid, who created a picture of two swimmers competing in Donegal and Mayo colours in memory of last Saturday's All-Ireland football quarter-final, was already itching to come back again saying he "can't wait to come back next year."
John Morris, on the other hand, didn't ever picture himself managing a girls soccer team in the national finals. He moved here nine years ago from Shepherd’s Bush in London and marvels at the magnitude of the occasion.
"We don’t have anything like this in England and it’s truly a special weekend for us. It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten this far,” the manager of Kerry's Duagh/Lyre U10 girls indoor soccer side said.
Morris has brought his love of the beautiful game to the Kingdom and coaches his daughter Grace, 10, as well as eldest daughter Ella, 13, who is playing in the U15 Futsal. "It's great because a loss is soon forgotten. It’s just such a wonderful experience for them. They love it." John smiled.
Ennis taxi-driver Paschal Anderson took the day off work to drive his daughter Aoife, 10, for the U10 mixed distance relay and believes the experience is invaluable for a growing child.
"We’ve travelled the length and breadth of Ireland competing but as long as the kids are happy that’s the main thing. It’s great for them and it helps them to develop in so many positive ways."
Jim and Rita Keane are two of many parents waiting in the common area during the table quiz. Nervousness fills the room as people speedily jot down answers and predict their team’s performance.
"There's a great buzz here, you could cut the tension with a knife sure,” Jim says as his 11-year-old son Emmet is representing Elphin, Co Roscommon.
Meath GAA legend Trevor Giles, present to watch his eight-year-old daughter Caoimhe represent Skyrne in the U10 indoor soccer, summed up its importance: "It’s a lovely experience and I'm sure it’s something they’ll never forget.”
The Community Games is more than just sport, it's at the very heart of the Irish community. The overriding memory will not be the winning or losing, it will be the bonds and friendships made forever. Long may it continue.