Martin McGuinness’ death overnight has taken away one of the most influential political operators in Ireland’s recent history.
He also played an important role in sport and it was a major love of his.
As Deputy First Minister in the Northern Assembly he was in part at least responsible for the biggest injection of cash into sporting facilities on the Island of Ireland that there has ever been.
Sport was seen as a way to deep heal the divides across religion that needed to follow the political peace process and money was found to upgrade three of Belfast’s major sporting arena’s. The Kingspan Stadium was first, followed by Windsor Park with Casement Park still on hold but with the money ready to spend.
Anyone who was involved in sport in the 1970’s would have known it was one of the many areas in Northern Ireland life that was drawn along sectarian lines. The revolution that has taken place since, the reaching out of fans and players across all three codes, has been astonishing in a slow build way.
I have been to numerous events where local representatives from each sport have learned, laughed and looked at each other through a different prism. Martin McGuinness played a part in that.
I have also met McGuinness on a couple of occasions and can safely say he was one of the most charismatic individuals I have ever met. As soon as he walked into a room you knew he was there but more so when you spoke to him his whole and undivided attention was firmly fixed on you.
He also was a lover of sport in a personal capacity. Balls.ie did a charming round up of his personal sporting passions when he announced his retirement from politics earlier this year.
It covers his family history with one brother having won three Ulster titles playing for Derry in the 70’s and another representing the League of Ireland against Diego Maradona and Argentina in a friendly.
He had an unexpected but deep rooted fascination with cricket and he knew that sport, while adversarial in so many ways could be such a healer. He attended both the Republic of Ireland against France and the Wales against Northern Ireland games at the Euro Finals last year.
He would have loved coming South to the Euro 2020 Finals in a few years time, he would have loved seeing Ireland’s cricket team step up to full test status in years to come.
As much as any he would have loved to have seen the Rugby World Cup bid come to fruition and for the eyes of the world to be on Ireland in a positive fashion through sport.
Sadly now that will not happen for him. He made his mark on Ireland, he made his mark in sport. May he rest in peace.