Thousands of competitive children and their sometimes considerably more competitive parents poured through the gates of the sprawling National Sports Campus in Abbotstown on Saturday morning to take part in one of the most enduring and uniquely Irish events on the sporting calendar.
Spirits and winds were both high as the Community Games – or the Aldi Community Games to give it its new title in the first year of a three-year sponsorship deal with the retailer – got under way beneath leaden skies.
All told 2,800 children from across the country descended on the Abbotstown campus to compete for national glory in all manner of sports including swimming, judo, table tennis, tag rugby, soccer and running.
But it wasn't just traditional sports – and events like Spike Ball and Futsal – which brought the children out to play and they also togged out in their county colours for chess, draughts, table quizzes and to debate burning issues of the day.
One of the early debate topics in the under-12 category looked at the wisdom of shortening school summer holidays.
It was fiercely argued between children from Longford and Monaghan with the boys and girls from Longford winning their quarter final by dubiously claiming that summer holidays were boring and the youth of today were “already lazy enough”.
They also referenced the work of Malcolm Gladwell and research from Johns Hopkins University suggesting that excessive free time caused indolence and the dismantling of civil order.
Or something like that.
While their stout arguments would hardly endear them to classmates or to children anywhere, in fact, it was enough to win over the judges and they sailed through to the semi-finals.
Heartache was evident on losing teams and individuals across the campus, throughout the day. But even making it to the National Festival was a big achievement for participants who had to first compete at an area, then at county and sometimes at provincial level.
Jane Walsh was well aware of what was needed to make it to the Community Games having taken part in the athletics as a child and steered her three daughters through various stages of the competition in recent years.
Her offspring have grown out of the event but she still volunteers. “The one thing is you have to watch out for here are biased sidelines,” she said. “There really too many of them and it can be a bit ‘I can’t see anyone else out there except for my little darling’. But once you take the adults out of it it’s great craic.”
Out on the playing fields, a girls' GAA team from Burrishoole Co Mayo were representing their county in the under-12s soccer. They were two up and coasting in their first game and the adults on the sideline were shouting enthusiastic encouragement without losing the run of themselves entirely.
“I packed T-shirts and shorts,” said John McDonald, a Community Games novice up from the west to cheer on his daughter. “We were told to wear sun cream and everything,” he said. “It’s a great pity sun cream doesn’t keep out the cold.”
As he spoke Burrishoole scored again and with two minutes to go their semi-final seemed done and dusted. “Ah no,” he said. “We take nothing for granted until the final whistle blows. We’re from Mayo.”