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David Kelly: St Pat's celebrations on a day to make us all feel young again


10-year-old Jack Cummins is held aloft by Anto Flood after his goal against Sligo

10-year-old Jack Cummins is held aloft by Anto Flood after his goal against Sligo

10-year-old Jack Cummins is held aloft by Anto Flood after his goal against Sligo

Few childhood dreams involve a future living above a victualler's on a busy main street. Then again, few childhood dreams ultimately arrive at the reality of being able to see the floodlights of one's favourite football club from one's bedroom window.

Childhood was revisited in the eyes of so many last Sunday, confirmed by the arrival of the glistening trophy on Friday night.

Cynicism drowned a slow death in the Camac over the last week.

In truth, scorn never stood a chance upon the steps of the riverbanks and amidst the audience of a President who, mercifully, had deigned to leave his condescension alongside the superfluous umbrella in the porch of his nearby abode.

The ageing heart of the old socialist-cum-poet danced a little Brian Kerr jig of delight as events unfolded beneath his modest pew.

All around us, it seemed, youth had grasped us all in its paw. It is only natural for the order of things to alter their shape. The older we get, the younger everything else feels.

Brendan Clarke used to come into the old Brendan Kelly and Company butcher's shop – later optimistically altered to become Brendan Kelly and Son in a well-meaning but misguided effort to maintain a dynasty.


A babe in arms then, he would soon follow his father through the turnstiles around the corner in Richmond Park, there to be perched upon the perimeter wall, a simple architectural legacy bequeathed by Paul McGrath's transfer to Manchester United a decade earlier.

Beyond those walls lay the centre of our own little universe.

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When Brendan was 11, he was pictured alongside midfielder Johnny Byrne and centre-forward Liam Buckley with his unfathomable mop of untainted blonde hair, cradling his sister Sarah, with manager Kerr lurking in the background, after Pat's won the league in 1996.

It was a wonder there was still a club to support at all, never mind one within which to acclaim such a success.

Just a few short years before, I had dodged lectures to dolefully help other selfless colleagues sell the football coupons that would, just about, keep the club afloat on a weekly basis.

As the country was buried beneath a chorus of "ole, ole, ole", keeping this club alive was an exercise in staving off the Grim Reaper of extinction.

But a community will never allow itself to die.

Last Sunday, that photograph re-emerged once more. One of the figures has passed on. The rest are older. Yet they all retain a youthful twinkle. The young Brendan Clarke is now the saviour of the St Patrick's Athletic.

More than a river runs through Richmond Park. There are human tributaries that form an inextricable link, indelibly forging a link through the generations of local people, biding them immutably to a local staple of existence. There used to be six butchers in the village; all but one, including Kelly's, are now extinct.

Most folk conduct their commerce elsewhere; the streets predominantly betray the usual preference for walking advertisements for English football clubs, a peculiar incredulous delusion while all the while a local field pulses with the beat of local sporting giants.

A strange form of beauty still exists between the cracks. A sense of place, belonging, identity, quietly flourishes within our psyche.

Too many of us are too insecure to shout it from the rooftops. The Camac stank the place out last Sunday, a jarring reminder of the incongruity that an Irishman could dare to celebrate a soccer success story.

The river that flows swiftly from its accelerating path through the Slade valley was once a propeller of the old mill industries and once, too, of a flourishing gunpowder industry.

In the mills' heyday, the Camac was a roaring source of natural power for the heavy machinery that manufactured muskets for the Irish regiments who fought Napoleon's armies in Spain and Portugal.

Legend recalls an explosion near Clondalkin when a Mrs Margaret Donovan, a respectable dairywoman at the East end of Clondalkin, evicted not merely a rheumatism with which she was afflicted, but an aching tooth too.

Her eldest son was restored to the full use of the tympanum of his ears, and restored to the full possession of speech, promptly blurting out, "Oh mother! Is that the Napper Tandy?"

Quiet revolution and a determined ability to defy the odds have traditionally always formed the DNA of those who flock hard by the flow of this mostly neglected waterway.

Con Houlihan once said St Pat's would never die. The great old man of letters was right about that. And their eloquent expression has always been conducted with a local patois.

We have taken pride in exports, whether they be the "Black Pearl" or the "Greener". The accents haven't always translated successfully to a wider audience but the loss is for others to mourn, not for us.

Kerr assumed the highest office in the land but it always seemed as if there was a distinct craving for a sharp-suited Cockney accent or an expensive Italian suit rather than a Drimnagh drawl.

It is an inferiority complex that we have been reminded of with such brutality again this week as Ireland's international team once more assumes Punch and Judy status for the expensively hired parody of punditry in Montrose.

We spend so much time preening in keening obsequiousness at our next-door neighbours that we neglect the possibility of the local, ignoring the wonderfully habitual and banal nature of it all.

The football played this season was wonderful to behold, players invested in faith by a manager who tolerated expression and traded not in fear, but in trust.

It was thus last year when they "failed". It was so this season when they "succeeded". It will continue to be thus. The tribe demand it of their warriors.

In its own, seemingly insignificant way, here is a template for how a football team can stay true to its principles and still thrive.

But the worlds of international soccer and the local game remain, as ever, half a world away and more.

Pat's fans do not generally subscribe to the theory that their manager should be a candidate for the international job or that they should not husband followers of teams from other jurisdictions.

They are at once devotedly patriotic to country but also intensely parochial to parish, never deigning to confuse the two. The last week, nonetheless, offers a redounding sense of local certainty amidst a crisis of national footballing identity.

It is writ large in the faces of untroubled youth, not yet burdened by the all too anxious baying of the mob.

You can see it on the face of Jack Cummins, the young boy so gleefully hoisted towards the heavens by Anto Flood last weekend, the smile on his features untrammelled by such weighty concerns.

In that moment, Brendan Clarke was once more transported into innocent childhood. We all were. It made us all feel so young.

A monument to the power of the now, conscious of an often troubled past but, so fleetingly, unconcerned with the future.

A window unto our world and nobody else's and yet, too, a celebration for a sense of place in every place in the land where sporting achievement is celebrated.

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