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Never underestimate sport's enduring ability to raise our spirits

TRUE inspiration is often talked about, but rarely found. The idea is carelessly bandied about by people who wouldn't light up a wet Sunday, and some of the least inspirational are often held out, wrongly, as beacons of hope.

I'm glad to say there were a number of real inspirational forces in my life, both as a human being, a footballer, a manager and a businessman.

Every time I praise CJ Haughey, I receive the full force of moral outrage and deep disapproval. I don't know why this should upset people so much. But I am frank in admitting that I wouldn't mind a bit of Charlie around now to give us the lift we need.

I always found him to be not only kind, courteous, interesting, and humorous, but also one of those people who could give everybody in the room a real boost and set them to action. There, I've said it again! So I can expect a mail bag full of vituperation over the next few days. Another man who always manages to inspire me is Mick O'Dwyer, who did it all as a player and a manager and contested a record 22 All-Ireland finals in both capacities.

With such a remarkable history, you might expect Mick to be an overpowering personality. Mick, in fact, is disarmingly modest and courteous -- and, like Charlie, he isn't lacking in a sense of humour.

A neighbour once asked him if he had ever been to Lourdes? O'Dwyer, in the best Kerry tradition, answered the question by asking another: "Did Kerry ever play there?"

If I may blow my own trumpet (I hope with some humility) for a moment, may I say that Comortas Peile Paidi O Se at the end of this month provides a beacon of light in West Kerry at a bleak enough time of the year and in the midst of economic crisis.

It will be launched in the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, on Wednesday at 6.30pm by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD. It is the 21st year of this tournament and I am delighted with the huge participation this year of lady footballers.

Ladies' football is the fastest growing outdoor sport in the world and these days it gets as much television attention and press coverage as many male sports. We will have eight ladies' senior club teams contesting the tournament in West Kerry on Saturday and Sunday, February 27-28.

There is a strong contingent from the North, such as St Paul's of Belfast, Maghera of Derry, Dorsey Emmets (Armagh), Lacken (Cavan) as well as Cornacon (Mayo), Mountmellick (Laois), Boardsmill (Meath) and Southern Gaels (Kerry).

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Eight men's senior clubs will also take part: O'Rahilly's (Drogheda), Roscommon Gaels, Clonguish (Longford), St Anne's (Dublin), O'Donovan Rossa (Skibbereen), Cooley Kickhams (Louth), and the two West Kerry teams An Ghaeltacht and Dingle.

On Saturday, February 27, there will be an American football exhibition match in which Limerick Vikings play Cork Dragons. The matches will be played at venues all over the Dingle Peninsula, as far back as Blennerville, near Tralee, and Milltown in Mid-Kerry. The final will be played in my own home pitch of Gallarus on Sunday afternoon, after which David Conachy's brilliant exhibition of pictures 'A Day in the Life, Conachy's Sunday Independent' will be opened by the editor of this paper, Aengus Fanning.

Again, if I may say so myself, an event like this which lifts hearts, minds and spirits was never more badly needed than at present. I could not do it without the huge help I get from many people in West Kerry. I will mention but a few -- my right-hand man Derry Murphy, John L O'Sullivan and Vincent and Ignatius O'Connor. In my younger days, when I had Kruger's in Dunquin on lease, many people from the Blasket Islands who had resettled on the mainland inspired me with their courage, their humour, and their philosophy of a hard life fully lived. I will never forget them and how they shaped my thinking.

If any of us can manage to impart even one spark of inspiration or hope to another, we will have done a good job. At the end of the day, that is what really matters -- it is the bottom line.

For similar reasons, I am looking forward very much to seeing the new movie Invictus, and its portrayal of one of the most inspirational men the world has ever seen, Nelson Mandela.

Mandela's decision to throw his full support behind the South Africa team in the 1995 World Cup, culminating in their triumph, was one of the most healing, magnanimous, courageous and unifying acts in modern history. He did the right thing, and he was big enough -- and wise enough -- to know that.

Once again, sport proved to be a great healing force, as the history of football in Kerry demonstrates powerfully with the story of how the opposing sides in the Civil War came together on the football field and were united in their passion for Kerry's success. Jo Jo Barrett's fine book on this subject is well worth a read.

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