The real magic of sport is that anything is possible. Yesterday and today at Croke Park the dream of playing on the biggest possible stage is coming true for teams of boys and girls aged nine to twelve as part of the annual Allianz Cumman na mBunscoil finals.
From round robin groups on wet and muddy fields through the winter; to semi finals where parents nerves can sometimes, but only rarely filter through to the teams; all the way to the excitement of a sleepless night as minds race with dreams of scoring the winning point; these are unforgettable days that plant a seed of lifelong interest and involvement in sport.
There is an element of playing with your friends, and for those in sixth class, the added poignancy that this may be the last time you will line out as a team that has been together for the best part of your school life.
There is also the fact that most schools bring busloads of those you normally sit beside or run alongside in the playground to crowd the grandstand, cheering loudly and celebrating with you, especially if victory means a pass from homework for all.
There are the parents who gather in knots, camera phones held aloft, their faces aglow with pride that their little one is out their on the big pitch battling, lifting, striking, blocking, scoring all on their own, showing their independence and their ability to cope with what life throws at them, at least in the parallel world of sport.
There are referees in red, photographers slinging long lenses over their shoulders and capturing the moment for tomorrow’s newspapers.
There is the noise and buzz of three matches being played at a time across the pitch.
The kids and parents cheer every point, burst into random song and exhort the team as best they know them under hiding helmets, hoping their own child will be the one to shine, or to do what is required when the moment falls to them.
They only fill maybe one per cent of the great stadium at any point over the course of the maybe six transitions of players and fans that take place through the day but the noise and the fever of excitement makes even some of the supposedly bigger days seem pale by comparison.
The medals used to come in presentation boxes. Now they are hung around the kids necks. Silver for the runners up, gold for the winners but bigger than the medals they win at blitzes and all set to be shown off on shelves and mantlepieces for a long time to come.
Those boxes used to be great for storing the blades of grass that each player would secretly steal away as a memento. Perhaps the authorities realised that but now the same blades are stuck down socks so the damage to the turf continues. That repairs quickly though. The magic it instils far outlasts the growth cycle, especially with those big lights they use now.
A few years back when Croke park opened up to Rugby and Soccer, the Cumman na mBunscoil Finals were moved out to Parnell Park. There was not time to squeeze them in. There was a fear that maybe that was it. The huge investment in creating a great pitch that would last the summer would override the smaller dreams of ten year olds. But no. The games returned, the dreams given flight once more.
For many that played, this will be their one and only time to get changed in the same dressing rooms as Henry Shefflin or Mary O’Connor. Their one shot at striking a ball cleanly and perhaps scoring that winning point. Their last chance, in front of their universe of parents and friends to rush forward as one in celebration, or console each other in defeat.
When we think of how commercial partnership can bring sporting programmes to life, these are the images we should store in mind because these are the days that sport provides which breathe life into communities. Shared memories of golden days that make the problems of the world seem a little less important than they are in the dead of night.
These are the days we need to create, maintain and cherish.
“I have spread my dreams under your feet, tread softly because you tread on my dreams,”
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