Throw open the gates of Cusack Park to the kids

A COUPLE of weeks ago there was a picture posted on the website that in it’s own way captured the real essence of the new multi-cultural Ireland so much better than words could ever do.
I’ve looked for the picture since, but it has long since evaporated out there into the internet ether — you could say it’s missing in action — so in this case words will just have to do.
It was a Cumann na mBunscol final up in Dublin and one of the cameras present the big day out to capture the spirit, joy, tears, raw emotion and much more of the occasion had what the celebrated French snapper Henri Cartier-Bresson used to call ‘the decisive moment’.
It was a girl from the Irish-African community, or is it the African-Irish community — more and more of whom are now becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves in the way they embrace Gaelic Games, so much so that they will make All-Ireland final day in Croke Park yet — in full flight and at harmony with the football, athleticism and what sport should really be about, unbridled joy.
She was airborne in the same way that Bob Beamon was when he nearly jumped beyond the sandpit – thing is Bob didn’t have to keep his eye on a football or have anyone pulling or dragging him, not to mind the threat of shoulder to shoulder, as he galloped along the runway and made his leap into history.
But any amount of pulling and dragging and shoulder to shoulder doesn’t bother the best of footballers and in this instance — in this ‘decisive moment’ everything was in perfect sync. Boot, ball, everything.
The jump belonged more to the ballerina’s stage than the big ball stage, but at the same time was football poetry in motion, because it was all in harmony with the football – the right leg extended to punt the ball forward with authority and no little grace.
It was text book stuff in execution, the kind of stuff that Dick Fitzgerald would have written about 100 years ago when he penned his ‘How to Play Gaelic Football’ bible, or what another Killarney man Dr Eamonn O’Sullivan would have forensically explained away in his ‘Art and Science of Gaelic Football’ published over half a century back.
Thing is, in many ways the art and science of that kick of an O’Neills wasn’t the most important thing – instead it was the sheer enthusiasm and joy that it conveyed as a young athlete representing her primary school on the biggest stage really lived and footballed the moment.
And what made it all the more special – what probably made her jump higher and made her scissors kick longer to punt the ball further — was that it was all played out in Croke Park.
It’s where the Cumann na mBunscol finals in Dublin, hurling and football, always are. Every year. Without fail. Since the whole Cumann na mBunscol structure started way back when. They’re never shipped or farmed further out the northside to Parnell Park or southside to O’Toole Park.
In Dublin Cumann na mBunscol = Croke Park; in Kerry Cumann na mBunscol = Austin Stack Park under lights; In Cork Cumann na mBunscol (it’s called Sciath na Scol) = Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
In Dublin the kids play their preliminary round games in places like the Phoenix Park’s 15 Acres, Fairview Park or Whitehall, all with the big prize of Croker in sight; in Kerry and Cork they play in the four corners, with all roads leading to the Austin Stack Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh respectively.
On it goes around the country – a survey of the Cumann na mBunscol finals nationwide would make for very interesting reading, with the sure result being that 99 per cent of the games taking place at the seats of the GAA in the respective counties.
Not in Clare though, with generations of primary school students denied the opportunity to have their big day out and play their Cumann na mBunscol finals in the county grounds of Cusack Park.
Yes the hurling finals are always played there in June, but when it comes to the football finals, more often than not over the past number of years they finals have been farmed out to Clarecastle.
Clarecastle is a great facility that’s central to schools from around the county, but just as the Walled Garden in Kilrush is nothing compared to the Great Wall over in China, Clarecastle just isn’t Cusack Park.
That’s why it’s hoped that the Cumann na mBuncscol application to host the football finals in Cusack Park next week won’t fall on deaf ears like they have in recent years.
Cratloe play Thurles Sarsfields in Cusack Park this Sunday in the Munster Club hurling semi-final — the last senior game of the year at the seat of Clare GAA before the working men in hard hats, as distinct from hurlers, move in and create a ground befitting the founder of the GAA.
It was 130 years ago last Saturday that Cusack got the whole GAA show on the road — what better way to mark that anniversary in Clare than throwing the gates of Cusack Park open for the Cumann na mBunscol football finals. Give it to the kids on Tuesday and Wednesday and then let the bulldozers come in and create the new Cusack Park.
Give the kids their big day out – after all they’re the future so it makes so much sense to let them live a few dreams along the way in Cusack Park.
It would mean so much.

Above: An under 12 team from Éire Óg that got a day out in on the field of dreams that is Cusack Park nearly 30 years ago, among them many players who went on to represent Clare at all levels of hurling and football.

Back row: Gordon McCullough, Mark Flaherty, Tadhgie Lyne, Liam Miniter, Adrian Rushe, Damian O’Brien, David Pyne, Shane Slattery, Tommy Corbett, Peter Cosgrove, Cathal Rooney, Richie Fitzpatrick.
Front Row: Derek Keane, Darren Linnane, Fergus Cosgrove, Padraig O’Grady, Paul Scahill, Pa Connellan, Barry Keating, Kieran Ryan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen McNamara, Alan Ball, Paul Madden, Danny McCullough.


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