As I have become more involved in the regimes and routines of my childrens’ lives I have had a chance to compare and contrast them with my own formative years. One of the things that really stands out for me is the huge jump in standards when it comes to underage GAA.
I was part of a fairly decent underage team in Clontarf back in the day. We didn’t produce any Dubs but we were always close to the top of the North Dublin league at under-10, under-11 and under-12 level. I can remember some epic battles on the pitches of St Anne’s against St Vincent’s and Fingallians, who were our main rivals at the time. But the thing is I didn’t start training until I was in third class, I can specifically remember the excitement of signing up to play in the prefab classroom in Belgrove (probably while shivering). And that was just gaelic football, I didn’t start hurling for another year or two. My eldest, Aaron, is now in third class and he already has well over a hundred training sessions under his belt in both codes. I can only wonder what type of player I could have been with that amount of tutelage, probably swinging points over with my weaker left boot from underneath the Hogan Stand, bringing success after success to the Dubs in those barren years between 1995 and 2011 (my peak athletic years) instead of trundling out playing substandard rugby at a substandard level on substandard pitches across the southside of Dublin. But hey I’m not bitter!
Anyway back to the kids, Aaron currently has training twice a week and a match at the weekend, a routine which Lochlan (age 7) has now also begun. Oscar (6) is still at the “nursery” so it’s just Saturday mornings for him, although with a 9.30am start this can often be the biggest chore of the weekend. As for Ella (2) for the moment she can only chase after many of the spare footballs which seem to inhabit our house and are constantly spawning new offspring! Goodness knows how Niki and I will manage when all four of them are into the matches and training sequence. Even now we are often faced with a “2 into 3 doesn’t go” situation on Saturday mornings particularly as some Na Fianna home matches are played at Collinstown out by the airport which is c. 6km away and involves crossing the M50 which isn’t really appropriate by scooter (and I’m sorry for even suggesting it!)
I must of course say that I have nothing but admiration for the Na Fianna club and the countless mentors that make all the training and matches possible. Everything is organised with precision, from the fixture list right down to the countless training routines aimed at developing skills in a fun and enjoyable way. The sight of 200-300 kids down at Mobhi Road every Saturday morning is a wonder and it will never fail to impress me (even if occasionally I have to sneak back to the warmth of my car to allow me to regain some feeling in my fingers and toes). I have so far managed to evade the lure of the mentor siren song purely because I have always had a younger child hanging on to my ankles when the call for new blood has gone out. That’s not to say that I don’t give advice or the odd piece of constructive criticism when I am on the sideline. This generally gets aimed at Aaron who I try to control like one of my PS4 minions on FIFA or Madden. I’m not sure he appreciates my strategic know-how as I encourage him to make another dummy run to the right before spinning back to the centre. I can remember one windy day down at the pitches by Malahide Castle where he told me in no uncertain terms to keep quiet so that he could concentrate on his own game. This seemed to cause much merriment not only on the opposing sidelines but also on our own! Who can blame me for being enthusiastic!
I get my exuberance for such matters from my Dad who was never afraid to voice his opinion on the rights and / or wrongs of a situation in any of the many matches we attended over the years (mainly in Croke Park). Occasionally this good natured banter on the topic of why it was unfair for a Meathman (for it was usually a Meathman) to attempt to clothes-line the nearest Dub would spill over into something more heated but it never got out of hand. Well at least that was until we went to the 1984 FAI cup final replay in Tolka Park between Shamrock Rovers and UCD. I can remember sensing that the atmosphere was a little more edgy than anything I was used to and my Dad being an alumni of UCD was proudly showing his colours much to the annoyance of most of those in attendance in the old ground. My abiding memory is of me tugging at my Dad’s sleeve, pleading with him to sit down as he celebrated UCD scoring the winner. I was very aware that we weren’t in the Cusack Stand anymore!