Early last Saturday morning I headed off to Oranmore to drop off my young man to the Colga under 8 training. I've been continuously impressed by the organisation of the managers of this team and last Saturday was no different. Cones laid out, balls ready, enthusiasm levels on a high as the little men hopped out of their cars full of life and ready for the most important date of their week...clutching their red and white shirts and pulling up their slightly too big red socks...fretting because their shin pads just would not stay up....in their young eyes they were taking the first steps towards premiership ambitions.
And, as I looked around, I could see the cars pulling up....doors opening, not just one but 2, 3, 4 or five little people hopping out as they joined the under 5's, 6's, 7's and 8's girls and boys forming around their coaches and shouting with excitement. Fantastic. Each of the coaches and managers should be immensely proud of the work they are doing at this age group - without doubt setting the foundations for the future.
I left Oranmore and headed off to Kilcornan. It was close to 11am when I arrived and the place was packed. The under 11 league had just kicked off and two of Colga's teams were enjoying their first league experience. At the same time, on the pitch beside, Colga and Athenry were having a right battle in the under 13 league. And beside that game, on the training pitches, the clubs under 12 and 17s teams were busy at training. It was brilliant to be able to glance across our beautiful facility and see it crowded with activity.
What struck me wasn't just the football. I took a moment and looked around...at the entrance, two of the club's longest serving members were shovelling stones and filling the pot-holes. Happily greeeting people as they entered but also intent on ensuring the entrance of the club was in pristine shape. Proud of their club, proud of their role, no one asked them to do it, it was just needed. And it makes a massive difference.
I took a glance left. A recent icon of the club, James, and the Little Red Wagon was surrounded by people. Cups of tea, sandwiches arriving, chats being had....Once again discussing the important things in life...a community in the woods. It struck me....players having just finished talking about achievements and horrendous decisions and ultimate league positions, parents arriving speculating on outcomes, referees in need of refreshments, and a place to chat...to meet, to reconvene, to talk about a sport we love......
Later that day, I was the last to leave. Trainings completed, matches won and lost, thirsts quenched with cups of tea, and visiting appetities eased by parential kindness. Before I turned to leave, I thought of all of the people who had made this possible. Those who had the belief...those who knew this field would host dreams and heartbreaks but who wanted to provide a home. I reflected. Today wasn't possible because of anything that I did. So many more have proceeded and driven. They have built a place to meet...somewhere the child counts time to get to each weekend.....somewhere a boy and girl feel the ability to aspire....somewhere the young adult feel they can connect....somewhere we all feel we can have a chat....we can take our kids to play....a place to call home amongst the woods.
Colga and Kilcornan may not yet have defined ourselves amongst the places of folklore where every player wants to play.... but we are on our way....and then, hands through the bars, I looked around this beautiful field, and I closed the gates gently.