When Friday Comes!

Some of the many guys who have played on a Friday evening in Mervue

Each and every Friday evening for the past twelve years the all-weather pitch in Mervue is the venue for the greatest assortment of tough guys and cry-babies, divers and whiners, kickers, flickers, hoggers, cloggers and boggers, crossers, headers, no-gooders, spoofers, yellers, tacklers, show-offers and exhibitioners to have ever laced their boots in Galway. The gathering has evolved from an over-35’s kick around for some veteran Mervue players to an over 40’s, then over 45’s, and now closing in on a half-century congregation made up of ex-players from a wide array of clubs whose main purpose is the lasting satisfaction of playing football at a competitive but enjoyable level.

There is a fundamentally social element to this regular get-together, one rooted in participation in sport and community in Galway. Many of the players have forged links and friendships competing against each other over the years for different clubs across the city. Mervue United, Cresent United, Bohs, West United, Hibs, Thermo King, Renmore… no quarter asked and none given during their playing days but always mutual respect which ultimately leads to lasting friendships. The power and enduring influence of sport, no matter what the code, is epitomised by this group, an assembly that has now evolved to having regular social get-togethers and trips abroad.

And so to the issue of representative football at a national level for Galway. With three strong competing football entities vying for supremacy in a county with the carrying capacity of one League of Ireland team a solution to this impasse may not come from above, a cauldron of strong personalities and legitimate but narrow self-interest. Transformation and footballing realism are more likely to be decided and more sustainable from the ground up, a Galway Football Spring so-to-speak. Friday evening’s gatherings ought to be held up as an inspiration and provide motivation for comprise in this respect… but don’t hold your breath!

Whatever does happen one thing is assured; battle re-commences next Friday evening with plenty of commitment, arguments, slagging, anger, and sore limbs… and I can’t bloody wait!

Eamon ‘Chick’ Deacy; much more than a Legend!

Chick focussed on the ball | The Salthill Fives

Galway is in a state of shock with the sudden death of Eamon ‘Chick’ Deacy and for many the unexpected nature of the news has utterly devastated us. His passing, before starting his usual route delivering fruit and vegetables across the city, from a suspected heart attack leaves us reeling, much like being on the receiving end of one of the crunching tackles he was renowned for. The passing of someone loved and admired is always distressing, but the disbelief that it’s Chick is palpable. The man was the epitome of a sportsman; never smoked, rarely if ever drank, never over-weight, and had continued to play football when called upon to this faithful day. But he was more than just a sportsman; he was a gentleman and an unquestionably decent human being.

The term ‘legend’ is commonly overused and often simply lacing a pair of boots for a number of years is enough to earn that accolade. With this in mind, it’s not fitting to simply call Chick a legend because for so many he was more than just an ordinary footballer. Having been part of the famous fourteen at Aston Villa for the league-winning 80/81 season and the foremost trailblazer from Galway to play football in the UK, the pride that we felt in him was (is) immeasurable. He was our representative at the top table of football, and our ambassador, and he never let us down. Many who travelled on the West United trip to the game against Southampton that season spoke of ‘pride’ and recalled the respect his teammates had for Chick, a respect that was extended to his family, friends, and neighbours from Galway. It was not enough for the players that day to simply meet and greet Chick’s Galway people they pushed the boat out transporting them to pubs and clubs across Birmingham, in their own personal cars. Somehow, in an age of multi-millionaire footballers I don’t think that same level of respect for teammates, and by extension family, friends, and neighbours, exists today.

So we mourn the passing of a true Galway sporting icon and hero today and his impact on our lives will be enduring. Chick had all the attributes that we should aspire to for our own self-realisation. He was quietly persistent, tough as nails on the pitch and humble off the field of play, with a kind self-effacing approach to life and to the people he met daily. He was undeniably called to the dugout far too early because, as usual, he was playing the game of life just like the true pro he will always be!

P.S.  An aside for many Galwegians will be an interest in the photo accompanying this post. It was taken at the Salthill 5’s and some other notable Galway individuals are closely monitoring Chick’s close ball control.

It’s time for sport to be taken seriously as a social good

A Galway Supporter urges on her team

Galway truly needs a person, or organisation, to champion sports in the city and county. For too long Galway City Council, Galway County Council, politicians and other civic leaders have paid limited attention to the provision of modern sporting facilities and offered little support to sporting clubs and organisations throughout the county. It is my belief that many decision-makers in the county have no real understanding of the benefits, both from a health and social perspective, of participation in sports and thus treat the issue in an off-hand inconsequential manner. Instead, they prioritise issues that will be economically beneficial or will afford them a ‘peaceful’ working day and evening. The worthy effort, time, and resources spent attracting visitors to the city must be commended, the Volvo Stopover being a good case-in-point with Deloitte estimating that the stopover was worth 55 million Euros to the local economy [1]. Nonetheless, the focus of decision-makers is too frequently skewed towards attracting visitors to the city at the expense of the local populace, and in particular local sporting organisations and activities.

In 2005 the Economic And Social Research Institute, in conjunction with The Irish Sports Council, released a report on the social significance of sport in Ireland. The key recommendation of that report is that sports policy in Ireland should recognise and support the social aspects of sport, taking account of social bonding, community involvement, and general contribution to the effective functioning of society that it provides [2]. This social dimension of sport has attracted growing attention over the past number of decades in the context of an interest in ‘social capital’. The concept of social capital refers to the social networks, norms, values, and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups [3]. This might be understood as simply a new term for ‘community’.

As a way of emphasising my point on the lack of reasonable facilities, I suggest that the majority of playing pitches vested with Galway City Council, particularly soccer, are in poor condition. When I visited West Park recently I was transported back in time some 30 years. This heavily utilised pitch remains the same as it was when I played schoolboy football, with the massive dip in the centre and a dangerous and uneven surface throughout. I also, of late, sat and watched games at South Park on a surface that would have Roy Keane blowing a gasket (remember Saipan). Crestwood, Millers Lane, Renmore, Cappagh Park, Westside, Oranmore, Jes Pitch (to name just a few that come to mind), all these pitches would fail even the most basic and rudimentary criteria set down for participation in the Mayo Soccer league. A report for Galway City Council some two years ago also focused on the fact that the majority of playing surfaces were well below the required standard for participatory modern sports activities [4]. It’s grossly unfair on players, managers, and teams who train twice weekly, if not more, to then risk injury every Saturday/Sunday on sub-standard pitches that are poorly maintained through no fault of their own (it’s important to note that Galway City Council forbids any work to take place on these leased pitches without their explicit consent).

It’s time for some action and it’s time sport was taken seriously by the powers-that-be. The progressive clubs like Salthill Devon and Mervue Utd are to be applauded for the enormous efforts they have put into improving their facilities, but the city and county have many other smaller, and just as vital, clubs that allow the various leagues and cup competitions to take place each year. They need help not bureaucratic stonewalling, they need support and assistance and, more importantly, they need encouragement. Sport is providing an extremely important social service in Galway and it needs tangible and practical support from our local leaders.

Mick Dolan: An Unsung Hero

Every cloud has a silver lining, or so the saying goes. As we plummet even deeper into the most damaging economic crisis in the history of the state it can be difficult to imagine, never mind witness, any sign of this silver coating. However, in our midst are unsung community activists who have given tirelessly of their time, effort and enthusiasm in the promotion of sport and the healthy development of young people long before, during, and now after, the last whimper of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ can be heard. These are people who understand the concept and deep need of community in the natural development of society. As we chalk down the last painful experience of buying bogus Bulgarian property we should appreciate these people and truly value their work and, perhaps, consider offering our support and a helping hand from time-to-time.

Just last week saw the passing of one of these individuals with the death of Mick Dolan. Mick lived for Gaelic Football and although a proud Roscommon man devoted most of his life to the promotion of football in Galway City. Mick’s club was Fr Griffins and he drew immense pleasure from the initial triumphant years, even writing the definitive early history of the club. When things became difficult and player numbers began to dwindle a lot of people threw in the towel and walked away, but adversity only served to increase Mick’s zeal and dedication to his club. He spent countless hours assembling teams and drove thousands of miles bringing players of all ages to games all over the county. He did have help but he’s tireless enthusiasm and can-do attitude allowed me, and many other, develop a love for the sport and build friendships that endure today.

The reasons for the club’s difficulties is straightforward. As the city developed over the past few decades Fr Griffins were placed in a unique but damaging position. The GAA ethos is very much based on the concept of the parish and each player is tied to this recognised boundary setup. As new houses are built within a parish, potential players, officials and supporters manifest themselves. However, in the case of Fr Griffins the natural catchments area consisted of the old Heart of Galway City. The rapid development of the city from the 1980s meant many of these regions turned from residential to business areas. Those estates that remained residential were very much the older parts of the city, and the demographic profile therein also grew older. Where development is seen as assisting the majority of GAA clubs nationwide, for a handful of clubs like Fr Griffins it has proved to be detrimental. For example, when I grew up on Forster Street there was a vibrant community and we were even able to field our own team, with all players resident on the street. The Hynes’s, King’s, Wall’s, Qualter’s, Walsh’s, Feeney’s, Trill’s, Fahy’s, O’Reilly’s, to name but a few. In fact the present Galway manager, Liam Sammon, came from Forster Street and he also played his early football for Fr Griffins. Today, however, we are the last family left living on that street. People have moved away from the area and now pledge allegiance to their new parish and new clubs, leaving behind a decimated entity. Mick fought against this destructive tide that threatened to annihilate his beloved club for years and there are very few people from Bohermore, Woodquay, Eyre Square, College Road, Riverside, and the Claddagh who weren’t approached by Mick to play Gaelic Football over the decades.

All his work and dedication to Fr Griffins was done not out of self-gain but for the greater good of the sport, the community football serves, and the enrichment of society in general. George F Will, the US commentator & political columnist, wrote in 1941 “sports serves society by providing vivid examples of excellence”. In this respect Mick has more than served society and is indeed a perfect example of a real community hero. He will be sorely missed, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!