Pride in whatever shade it is

No secret has ever been made of the fact that being able to write about sport is the nearest I will ever get to filling the void left by not being able to partake therein. Especially in more recent years when being involved in team management was no longer an option. Now read on…

The following may come across as strange or perhaps even bitter but it’s absolutely not meant as such, seeing my nieces and nephews taking part in sport – whatever pursuit it may be – has always caused an emotional tangle in this seat. On the one hand, a pondering of what might have bern from my own perspective, but, on the other, immense pride in them and their achievements.

Naturally the whole family would’ve been proud of them all, but, there would be no disguising or restraining it with myself or the bossman. Whether it was Niamh or playing GAA or soccer or Conor playing soccer or Ian taking part in one of any number of sports – be it football or hurling or soccer or athletics.

I will admit that it would’ve always been the hope in this corner that some of them would’ve gone on to wear the green and gold but as long as they’re healthy and happy and enjoying what they’re doing isn’t that all that counts?

Ian is just a naturally gifted young lad, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would’ve made it to the highest level in Gaelic football or hurling or indeed athletics. With the latter, he certainly wouldn’t have licked the latter off the ground!

Ian Byrne – St Patrick’s Athletic and Ireland

As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, it’s hard to blame young players opting for other sports as long as the GAA continue to cling to the self-defeating, antiquaited amateur status. After all, look no further than Conor Nash and Cian McBride, two of the best prospects seen in Meath for some time. Both lured away by the prospect of being professional sportspeople and all  the trappings that go along with same.

As much of a setback as their loss would effect a county like Meath, explain to me what incentive there is for youngsters in, say, Leitrim to persist with Gaelic football when one considers the torture inflicted on that great county last weekend because of GAA inequality.

Anyway, gut feeling in this seat is that soccer has always been Ian’s first love, even though part of uncle Bren wishes it was in a different shade of green. That said, there is and always be immense pride no matter what shade it is in which he’s strutting his stuff.

Almost from the time he could walk he’s appeared to have a ball at his feet. Starting out in my sister’s back garden or, as da used to call it “Farrell’s Soccer Academy”. There was something poignantly fitting in that too, because where the house now stands was once a bit of a sports field for the locality – once the hay had been cut, that is – which often hosted unorganised games of football, hurling and even cricket, while in a corner of the same field nearest our house when I was a kid was a long-jump pit where Ian’s mam Barbara trained during her glittering career in athletics.

Yours truly has always been a firm advocate of the idea that everything in life happening for a reason, so it was when Ian attended primary school in Dunderry – birthplace of his great grandmother Nora Geoghegan, not to mention that the formative part of his footballing education took place with Robinstown FC.

From there, it was on to Trim Celtic and Meath Athletic (also based in Trim) before the first signs there may be something special about to happen emerged when he joined up with Belvedere FC. A noted production line for top level footballers – including Dunboyne’s Darragh Lenihan who became the first Meath man to be capped by the Republic Of Ireland. Athboy’s Jamie McGrath, who plays for Aston Villa, recently becoming number two.

Now, Belvedere’s ‘OFours’ – as the Facebook group all about them is called (players born in 2004) are a very talented group of young players, with many of them now on the books either of League Of Ireland clubs or overseas. Understable too given the level of success they achieved in domestic and overseas football.

Nothing at that level of footall is guaranteed. It’s very much a case of not only making your own luck but putting iourself in the shop window. To that end, it was a source of great pride and excitement for all of us that a number of high profile LOI clubs were making inquiries about Ian.

Naturally, it was great to hear of several clubs being interested in acquiring his signature but I will admit to being especially pleased when he plumped for St Patrick’s Athletic.

For several reasons. First but not least by any means the fact there’s a connection between Dunboyne and the Inchicore club going back generations via the Mullally family, second the current President of the club is Dunboyne resident Tom O’Mahony. Thirdly Paul McGrath, enough said. And finally, the fact that Ireland’s greatest man of letters, Con Houlihan, had a special affinity with the Inchicore reds sealed the deal.

Super Saints

As first seasons at a higher level go, Ian’s initial campaign with the Super Saints could hardly have gone much better, with the gifted group of young footballers annexing a League and Cup double. After such an exceptional season, replicating it would have been difficult under normal circumstances.

But, factor in the chaos Covid-19 has inflicted upon the world – sporting and otherwise – does sport matter in the greater scheme of things.

You bet your last Euro it does. Granted, there was a severe sense of frustration at certain events either not being on or taking place behind closed doors. However, if it wasn’t for the sport which has been on, the road wouldn’t have been negotiable for some of us.

Ironically, for a variety of reasons, I’ve yet to see Ian play a soccer match. That wrong was always going to be righted sooner rather than later but it absolutely will be now for two very special reasons. Firstly and most poignantly for da. And now, inter-linked to same, the fact that he who the boss always called ‘The Striker’ was most recently called into the Republic Of Ireland U-18 squad for two forthcoming international fixtures.

At this point it should be stated that the final squad for the two matches will be trimmed and announced in just under two weeks time, but that doesn’t for a second dilute the happiness felt for the young man or pride in him. Look, every player that ever kicked a ball – or partook in any sport for that matter- wanted to get to the highest level of their chosen pursuit. And those closest to them want nothing more than for that aim to be achieved.

Once the ultimate target has been hit – no matter how or when it occurs – that achievement is hugely commendable and an immense source of pride to those around the individual.

It should and must be seen as a journey’s beginning and not the end result. There’s one talent scout on a sideline seat far away smiling down.

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