Friendship comes first at Community Games


MORE THAN 2,000 young people from across Ireland descended on the modern campus of Athlone IT to showcase their talents in dozens of disciplines in the Health Service Executive Community Games finals over the weekend.

Flags in county colours billowed in the wind while the sun beamed on competitors. “It’s like a mini Olympics,” quipped a spectator. Parents and supporters flocked to lend their support. There was a carnival-like atmosphere with hundreds of young people wearing tracksuits in a kaleidoscope of colour.

Tensions among competitors ran as high as some of the funfair rides on site as the games entered their final stages.

John Byrne, chief executive of the Games, was thrilled with the good weather. “There is great competition between the competitors and the level is high but for most of the competitors, the medals are a bonus,” he said.

“You speak to people here who met 30 years ago – the medals matter at the time, but people look back later and think of the friends they met instead,” he added.

Tag rugby is a recent addition to the competition. The chips were down at half-time on Saturday for the Monaghan under-14 tag rugby team but their coach Michael McIllroy said they weren’t too worried.

“They need to get their heads in the game, they’re more concerned about the disco tonight!” he laughed.

“This is their first year competing and we’re very proud of them. We don’t push them too hard. We’re not about the ‘win or die’ ethos. It really is more about taking part and they make friends here for life,” he said.

Team-mates Emily McNally, Terry Curtis, Courtney McEntee, and Pamela Connolly from Corcaghan in Monaghan were exhausted from the heat but said they would enjoy socialising with their competitors later.

Sarah O’Neill from Crecora in Limerick was competing in the long jump. “It is great fun if you are staying over. I was here last year and I made friends from all over,” she said.

Ciara Bonner and Cliona Harvey, both from Donegal, believed Tipperary were the ones to beat in the under-12 relay race.

Their team-mate Laura Crossan agreed: “They’re very fast and had a good heat when they were here the last time.”

Their team-mate Claire Doherty said they had no special preparation for the relay race. “We just go out there and run.”

Taking part in the under-15 mixed relay was Rebecca Kelly from Rathoe in Carlow. “I am quite nervous. We train twice a week, doing sprinting and baton passing.”

Her team-mates Gráinne Mullins and Joe Holden, both from Ballon, anxiously eyed up Kerry as the team to beat in the relay discipline. Their team mate Donal English-Hayden from Rathoe said, “I’m not too nervous, I’m confident that we can win.”

Gerard Davenport, Community Games president, said that every year the competition grows and young people are inspired by previous competitors who go on to compete at national and Olympic levels.

“There are several ones to watch. There’s a relay team from my own county, Donegal. If any of those girls stick with athletics, they will be something else.

“The sport that you partake in at Community Games may not be the one that you pursue in later life. It is all about introducing young people to sporting and cultural activities,” he said.

“Sonia O’Sullivan did not come first in her sport when she was competing, but look at all the success she went on to achieve. Niall Quinn competed in the long puck and he went on to become an international soccer player.”