FOR football fans in Clare, the only place to be on Sunday is Cusack Park, as the county’s flagship team set sail in Division 2 of the National Football League when playing host to Ulster champions, Donegal.
However, it would be great to be in the parallel universe that will be Páirc Tailteann in Navan, when the Meath senior footballers set out in Division 2 of the National Football League, as they play host to Tipperary.
It’s all to do with a Meath County Board initiative that has won wide acclaim and attracted rave reviews over the past few days — a simple act it was, but one that has the potential to go a long way in terms of the goodwill it will generate, all the way to maybe inspiring a new generation of senior footballers.
What the Meath County Board has done is brilliant.
It’s their ‘Bring a Ball’ campaign that’s inspired and can be parsed down to a policy of throwing open the gates of Páirc Tailteann to children on National Football League match days.
“Time to dust off the boots,” begins this sales pitch to kids. “Meath GAA is introducing ‘Bring a Ball,” it continues, before inviting all children to “bring a ball to our games and play on the pitch at half-time. This invitation to play will see children alongside our traditional Cumann na mBunscol half-time game. We hope to see all our young supporters wearing their county colours and enjoying themselves at half-time.”
Oh for the denizens of the Clare County Board to have a Pauline-like conversion on a football road to Damascus and to adopt the Meath County Board initiative lock, stock and footballs.
Its impact could be huge, simply because it would be a volte face from the Clare County Board police that are much more prone to keeping gates under lock and key, rather than throwing the keys away after throwing the gates open.
However, never say never, because such an about-turn could have huge implications for football in Clare — it’s just about the Clare County Board having the foresight and courage to do the right thing.
This is what the Meath County Board are doing. No doubt their simple gesture is but one bullet point in their masterplan to narrow the gap between themselves and Dublin in Leinster.
It’s about creating a festive atmosphere at games during the half-time interval, something Clare hurling followers would have seen at first hand over many years at games against Galway in Pearse Stadium.
No sooner does the half-time whistle sound and then you have scores of children pouring out onto the pitch with camáns and sliotars in hand for their 15 minutes of fame, as they ape Joe Canning’s every move.
The importance of this can’t be underestimated — indeed, it’s as good as any coaching session, while it also has psychological value, because being out on the field, the same field that’s being played on that same day by your heroes, creates a greater connection with the team, the jersey and the county. It stirs dreams lads.
Why shouldn’t there be a ‘Bring a Ball’ campaign or directive issued the by a far-thinking — and not short-sighted — top table of Clare GAA, telling the kids that it’s “time to dust off the boots” after the winter break because “Clare GAA is introducing ‘Bring a Ball’ to invite kids to play on the pitch at half-time”.
“This invitation to play will see children alongside our traditional Cumann na mBuncsol half-time game. We hope to see all our young supporters wearing their county colours and enjoying themselves at half-time.”
It would create a festive atmosphere at half-time intervals, with footballs flying all over the place in Cusack Park — and that Pauline-like conversion of the football road to Damascus and volte face change in policy would be complete.
An rud is annamh is iontach and all that, but why not let the gates being thrown open become the new reality at Cusack Park?
As it stands at present, the ‘Yellow Vests’ security team on duty in Cusack Park would mark the Stasi and their ilk that manned Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall that surrounded it down as slackers.
Who knows who it could inspire — the present crop, and future generations for that matter.
In that regard, I’m reminded of the wise words of the late and Kerry great Joe Keohane, who has been recently immortalised by footballer and fashion guru Paul Galvin in his newest clothing range, which is called Keohane Athletic Club.
Go on. Do it.
Keohane was an uncompromising full-back and a straight-talker. After the Kerry team he was a selector on were lucky to escape Cusack Park with a win over Clare in the National League quarter-final in 1987, he was lavish in his praise.
“If this Clare team sticks together, they could develop into a hell of a team,” said the legendary John Mitchels man. “They are still a little bit raw in some areas, but that will change with time. It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that they could take a Munster title in the near future,” he added.
It happened for Clare just five years later — and the goal for all Clare teams going forward has to be to reach those exalted heights once more.
Why not? And why not throw open the gate of Cusack Park at half-time intervals as part of that process? Because it’s about inspiring the up-and-coming generations to kick ball, it’s about making them feel like they have an ownership of Cusack Park — and they have an ownership because the clubs they represent were mandated by the Clare County Board to cough up their share for the upgrading of the seats of Clare GAA a few years ago — and it’s about what Sean Lemass was thinking about when he spoke of the ‘rising tide lifting all boats’.
This is what the Meath County Board are about with their ‘Bring a Ball’ campaign; it’s what the Clare County Board should be about.
Throw open the gates! And with a football man in PJ McGuane about to assume the reins of power in Clare GAA as stand-in chairman for Joe Cooney, as he takes a sabbatical over the next few months, the time to throw open those gates is now.
It would be PJ McGuane’s biggest legacy as stand-in chairman of the Clare County Board.