More than 4,500 children flock to Community Games finals in Athlone
It's a festival where Leitrim can be All Ireland football champions, dancers celebrate with badminton players and future stars are born.
More than 4,500 children from all over the country spent their weekend competing in athletics and a variety of talent and team events at the Community Games finals in Athlone.
Thousands of medals were handed out but for most it was about a weekend away, the discos and the atmosphere.
Household names like Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, Sonia O’Sullivan, Bressie, Tommy Bowe and Mark English, who was blazing a trail 12,000 miles at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing over the weekend, are all former participants at the Games.
So the standards are high but the volunteers are keen to stress the fun factor is far more important.
Amelia Roche (7) from Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly and Saoirse Dillion (8) from Duagh Lyre, Co Kerry were the best of friends as they waited to collect their medals from the Girls 80 metres race.
“I was nervous at the end. I thought she won. It was really close,” said Saoirse, who planned to celebrate her gold medal by going to the funfair.
Amelia was equally happy, saying that her family were “really proud” of her performance.
Among the hundreds of volunteers helping run the Games were six members of the Ireland team who competed at the Wold Youth Olympics last year.
Daniel Ryan from Tipperary, who has represented Ireland in the long jump and hurdles, was also there to support three of his siblings, Daniel, Jack and Anna.
“This is basically the Irish Olympics. It’s nice to help out and give something back because I got so much from Community Games over the years,” he told the Irish Independent.
Although he was a two time sprint champion at the Games, his favourite memory was a silver medal as an under 14 hurdler.
“Nobody really expected me to do much but I just gave it a lash,” he said.
Rachel Regan (15) from Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, has taken part in the finals for the past eight years, collecting nine medals in badminton, skittles, art, project and this year model making.
Asked why she enjoys the Games so much she said: “The best thing is meeting different people”, adding that she’ll be back next year to help out.
The parents of Lisa Orsi (22) from Derry, who passed away after collapsing on a volcano trek in Indonesia last February, were special guests at the finals.
The physiotherapist had volunteered as a youth helper with the Games and her emotional parents paid tribute to her HSE Community Games friends for helping them through their grief.
Her father Denis Orsi told the Irish Independent: “I don’t think the man who came up with the name Community Games realised what he was creating. He can’t have known the community that it would develop into.
“Over the past few months I’ve come to 100pc realise that it was Community Games that made Lisa the person she was. It made her rounded, gave her confidence and the will to mix and bring out the best in people.”
Gerard Davenport, President of the HSE Community Games, said: “We are delighted with the turnout this weekend. We are hoping that next year we’ll have an even bigger attendance as people start to realise it’s easy for everyone to become a part of HSE Community Games.”