Ireland’s mini Olympic Games continue to teach us the true meaning of the word ‘community’
Do you remember Mosney? It was a holiday resort dressed up like an Olympic village for kids and teenagers taking part in the National Community Games Finals. Remember the smell of chlorine as you walked past the swimming pool and watched the swimmers through the big window? Remember the secret trips to the go-karts and the bumpers before a race was even run?
Remember the chalets if you stayed 'in camp'? The dining hall. The disco. The parading and the actual parade on Sunday evening. Remember the grass track and the way the sun used to toast the smell of the paint which marked the lanes? Remember proudly walking around wearing your county tracksuit, feeling a bit taller and larger, although it was probably because the tracksuit was two sizes too big?
This weekend just under 4,000 will participate in the Aldi National Community Games Festival at the Sport Ireland Campus, Abbotstown. It was switched from Athlone IT to Dublin this year to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Community Games. Before Athlone, there was Mosney. Mosney was a mecca because everything there wasn't about competing until competing became everything when your event arrived.
If the Community Games wasn't part of my childhood then I wouldn't have understood what community really means. It's adults and parents dedicating time to overseeing training, it's driving kids around the county and province to take part in competitions, it's washing jerseys, it's local businesses paying for those jerseys, it's church-gate collections, it's nights spent at committee meetings. It's the price people pay for the value of kids feeling supported.
When I was nine years old I ran in the Under-10 200m in Mosney in 1988. After getting stung by a bee at the start-line of the semi-final, I qualified for the final although I'll never know if that bee-sting had some kind of performance-enhancing quality. I still remember running down that bumpy home-straight on the grass track in my bare feet in the final. It was a close finish. Maybe they wanted to keep us in suspense because the judges didn't give us a ticket at the end of the race to tell us where we finished with four of us brought over to the rostrum area.
I don't remember much about how I felt when my name was called out for first place but I remember the reaction of others. I remember my dad whooping and jumping in to take a photo. I remember returning to Kerry and going to Banna with my mother playing in our game of soccer. I never saw her play soccer before. I remember the generosity of our community in Ardfert with a surprise party organised in the community centre. I remember my Nan coming out the back-door when we arrived home and giving me a huge hug. I remembered it even more when she passed away the following year.
If the GAA has a way of binding locals together, the Community Games is an organisation which has something for nearly every kid. It was never just about sport with everything from draughts to art to choir to variety show competitions. Their motto is 'Mens sana in corpore sano' - a healthy mind in a healthy body. It's the only Latin I ever knew and the first motto I ever remember.
If the Community Games wasn't part of my childhood then I would never have known the joy of finishing just outside the medals. A few weeks before Mosney, the second-fastest runner in our Under-15 4x100m Mixed Relay broke his shoulder. In our teenage lives this was a big deal. But our sub stepped in and we finished fourth in the final to get certificates. It was the first time I realised that a winning feeling doesn't solely belong to those who win.
The Community Games is an organisation of equality. There was no difference between the facilities available to the boys compared to the girls, no difference between the support either. The Community Games had a mixed relay in its programme long before the International Olympic Committee decided to bring in mixed relays in athletics and swimming for Tokyo 2020. I remember the mixed relay not being about boys against girls but boys and girls on the same team supporting each other.
If the Community Games wasn't part of growing up then I would have missed the best days of my childhood. The first weekend in September will always belong to the memory of getting the early train from Tralee to Mosney with my friends, family and the Kerry team. There was the thrill of getting our tracksuits and thinking we were Páidí ó Sé wearing the green and gold. During those Sundays, the radio commentary of the All-Ireland hurling final was mixed in with every other sound. In 1988, it was the late, great Tony Keady helping Galway retain the Liam MacCarthy. Croke Park was their arena. Mosney was our field.
This week my dad asked me if I remember nearly losing my gold medal in '88 because it fell down a manhole. But I don't remember that. Maybe it was because the medal wasn't as important as everything else.
On Tuesday: Don't miss our 12-page Community Games supplement