If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older
Those of us who have yet to grow up revel in the dreams, ambitions and possibilities of childhood! On Wednesday, on grassy Castlebar rectangles, hundreds of children went in search of their fondest dreams in the company of even fonder friends.
The sun blazing out of the heavens meant that anyone at a loose end might be summoned to the bog but there were no thoughts of winter fuel resources in Castlebar – all that mattered was the ball, that perfect round, bouncy ball.
A batch of Cuman na mBunscol semi-finals were scheduled for this sun-splashed day – a batch of contests between young footballers dreaming of a place in the final and the chance to strut their stuff on the hallowed turf of MacHale Park.
I love Cuman na mBunscol football for the exciting, joyous, flowing, fabulous football – I hate it because it yields sadness for half the contestants. I wish everyone could experience the happiness of winning, but sadly life isn’t like that.
They came from the edge of the ocean and the butt of the mountains, from towns and villages and everywhere in between. They came with their friends, their coaches, teachers and families with the desire to strut their stuff on the big stage and show how much they’ve learned.
After a winter of chilled fingers and biting winds the young stars were greeted by stunning sunshine in Castlebar.
The first boots to grace Pairc Josie Munnelly on Wednesday morning belonged to the girls of Cogaula and Derrinabroc, both clad in their famed green and white shirts. Cogaula lost the toss and wore bibs but that was all they lost – despite a spirited and determined effort from Derrinabroc, it was the Islandeady students who progressed to the final.
On the adjacent pitch, Errew and Cloonliffen boys were immersed in a match where some of the skills on view took the breath away. The movement of the forwards and the excellence of both goalkeepers was a joy to behold. Errew eventually came out on top as the sun danced in the sky and more buses arrived.
On the top pitch, the scarlet jerseys of Aghamore jousted with the boys in the royal blue of Killala. A big crowd packed the sideline as classy forwards strutted their stuff. Killala were gallant and proud but Aghamore were a little more clinical in attack.
Nearby, the boys of Currbaggan and Balla were warming up. The North-Mayo contingent looked good as they stretched the sinews while the boys in the maroon of PW Nally’s native place went through drills on the opposite side of the pitch.
Back on Pitch 1, there was Gaeilge in the air as the cailíní of Eachleim were taking on Gordjordan and the Erris girls were moving well. They were backed by every child in the school – Eachleim were in Castlebar in force. Learning isn’t confined to the classroom and that thought process was exhibited brilliantly on the green grass of Pairc Josie.
Gortjordan mounted a superb second half fightback but the Gaeltacht girls were too far ahead at that stage.
Back on Pitch 2, the boys of Glencastle and Straide were showing what they could do. Glencastle had the best of the early running but Straide were conceding little and slowly worked their way into the game.
On the top pitch it seemed as if Mayo were taking on Kilkenny but it was actually the boys of Parke and Kilmaine. The Black and Amber were making the most of their good start and their phalanx of fans were enjoying their day in the sun.
At this stage Currabaggan and Balla were immersed in their battle. The Knockmore side were enjoying a large percentage of possession but found the Balla backline very hard to break down and the boys in maroon were growing in confidence.
Nearby, Kilmaine were launching a fightback but Parke refused to panic as shrieks and screams rang around the famous patches of grass.
The girls from Aghamore had gathered in a circle for last-minute instructions as the final moments of a thriller between Glencastle and Straide were being played out.
“Kick it in lads” – “One last push” echoed from the sideline but when the final whistle sounded the referee said the scores were tied and extra time was on the cards.
Straide began the added period impressively. They had the ball in the net in the opening seconds, but the umpire called in the referee and nobody was quite sure whether the score stood or not as a group of Eachleim girls passed by “looking for Casey’s tooth.”
Reality wasn’t as dramatic as their commentary had suggested. Casey was a very young supporter and the tooth was one designed to be collected by the Tooth Fairy – it hadn’t suddenly vacated her gum in the midst of a feisty football match.
On Pitch 1, the boys of Derrinabroc and Murrisk were immersed in an almighty contest. The fervour and passion on view was eye-watering and those on the sideline were enthralled.
Nearby an Ardagh mother was imparting very wise words – “Ye’ve done brilliantly to get this far, so go out and enjoy it.” The receptors of the advice were getting ready for their meeting with the Aghamore girls while Glencastle and Straide still battled through extra-time.
Glencastle were powering forward as their traveling army urged them on and when the final whistle sounded the Erris contingent readied themselves for another bout of added time but it wasn’t to be.
The goal early in extra time had not been disallowed and Straide were in the final with three points to spare. The fine Straide team celebrated while Glencastle were dumbstruck.
Meanwhile on the back pitch a Currabaggan goal unleashed scenes of wild delight but few had any notion of the scoreline. “There’s three points in it, but I’m not sure whether we’re winning or losing,” a Knockmore father exclaimed, while one of the substitutes remarked that the parents from both sides were getting very excited – “You can’t bring them anywhere,” he explained wistfully.
A big cheer from Pitch 1 hailed victory for Murrisk as former Mayo attacker Michael Conroy arrived to cast an eye over the future stars and the girls of Knock and Currabaggan came out to play.
Both sides have strong history in the competition and three goals in quick succession had Knock in an early lead.
Up on the top pitch, the Aghamore girls were two points clear of Ardagh at half time and an exciting second half was anticipated as the girls from Carrowholly arrived.
Down on Pitch 2, a stormer was taking place between the girls from Cloonliffen and Ballyheane. Some of the skills on view were absolutely top-class and it was hard to separate them early on.
A big crowd had gathered at Pitch 1 as Bangor and Facefield prepared for their semi-final. The same two schools had met 12 months previously at the same stage with Bangor emerging victorious but there was nothing between them as they prepared for the 2018 episode.
On the top pitch two goals in quick succession had given Aghamore a decided advantage as one of their nerve-jangled fathers urged the ref to ‘blow it up.’
Meanhwhile on the back pitch, current Mayo star Sarah Mulvihill’s words had encouraged Currabaggan girls to roar back into contention and lead by seven points at half time.
The noise coming from Pitch 1 was drawing observers towards the action between Bangor and Facefield. The Erris champions led by four at half time but nobody was counting chickens or any other feathered friends at that stage.
On Pitch 2, the girls of Ballyheane needed extra time to squeeze by the wonderful footballers from Cloonliffen. If ever a game exhibited the horror of losing this was it. My heart went out to them.
Nearby, the goalkeepers of Lahardane and Midfield were excelling as half time arrived with the Nephin girls just one point ahead.
Nearby, a star-studded attacking display was edging the Kilmaine girls into their final despite the very best efforts of Carrowholly.
Back on Pitch 1, a big cheer signalled a late goal for Bangor but when the final whistle sounded Facefield were a point in front and were on their way to the final.
The final game of the day between Lahardane and Midfield continued and the momentum was beginning to swing towards the girls from the Titanic Village. Lahardane’s powerful defensive department and classy forward play was hard to beat despite the gallant efforts of the girls in Black and Red and the Nephin girls booked a place in the final.
Soon, the buses were headed for home, ferrying tired footballers back to their kingdoms. It had been a very special day in Castlebar.