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CLUB | Croke Park Game for Sigersons

Thursday 06.08.2015
Team Talk Mag
Club


Reflection by Aodhan Harkin

On Saturday 1st August the U12 boys of Strabane Sigerson’s had the privilege and honour of representing County Tyrone in the half-time Go-Games display at the Tyrone v Sligo game in Croke Park. The young lads, their parents and Coaches set sail from Páirc Mhic Sioghair early on Saturday morning to make the long journey via bus to GAA Headquarters in what would be a first time visit for most of the players.

The atmosphere on board the bus was electric to say the least, with the young players setting up camp in the back seats of the luxury coach discussing the exciting day that lay ahead. While the seasoned campaigners who’d made the famous journey to Croke Park many times before sat at the front. The expectation of how the young lads would react to seeing the Irish equivalent to the Roman Colosseum was eagerly awaited by the U12 Coaches. Bearing in mind the lads played in Healy Park Omagh just four days previously and were in aw of the seated stand and press office perched in the skyline. Young Darragh Devlin (spotted by a spy that coach Molloy had sent to Healy Park) fell to both knees in Healy Park kissing the ground and then waving to the empty stand. How was he going to react to a stadium with an 80,000 capacity?

As the Bus toured through Counties Tyrone, Monaghan and Meath, the anticipation grew higher and higher. The boys were waving at fellow Tyrone and indeed Donegal supporters who were in convoy down the now busy M1. We could feel the buzz getting higher among the lads, but the noise levels were dropping as the realisation of what was ahead began to over take them.” Look out the left widows” came the cry from Coach Barkley, as we rolled into Dublin. There it stood! The massive grey structure that only the best of Irelands GAA Gladiators can claim to have entered to battle. You could have heard a pin drop!

Dominic, (the coach driver for the day) paraded our gleaming white bus through the Dublin streets like it was carrying the Mighty Tyrone team inside. The Sigerson’s lads were Kings for the day. The Garda opened roads when they were told of the precious cargo within the coach, and fast tracked the boys to Headquarters. We arrived! Marching, like a herd of finely tuned machines – we made our way into the history books.

“Welcome to Croke Park Lads” said the Croke park official, sent to make our every wish come true. “Can we find somewhere for the lads to change into there kits?” I asked, thinking we should have changed on the bus, or maybe we’d be stuffed into a cleaner’s cupboard to speed thing up a little. “Not a problem Sir” was the reply. “Follow me please”. In convoy we were led down by the hallowed turf and under the huge Cusack stand into our very own changing room. A room fit for God himself to change in. Sweet Mother of God.

“Right lads, settle down!” came the words. Not sure who said those words, but they were directed at Both Sean Barkley, Michael Quigg and Me by one of our young players, as we were dancing around the changing room like King Brian himself (Out of Darby O’Gill) Ye’d think we’d just win the All Ireland ourselves, or just got the keys to the Wonka Factory, either way we soon settled.

As the eleven lucky boys selected to play in Croke Park sat on the changing room bench. Michael Quigg began laying the official Red Tyrone shorts and socks on the table in front of the boys. The silence was deafening. The lads were reminded of the lucky position they had now found themselves in. “Remember your team mates who are sitting up in the stands watching you! Think of your family members who have travelled here to watch you, and those sitting back home in Strabane, willing you on. Play your very best for them.” As I gazed around the room at these we boys who we’d coached since they were under 8’s, now about to run out onto the best sporting arena in Ireland if not in the world. Our hearts were bursting with pride.

“Ok Lads”, said the official. Let’s learn the hand shake before you hit the big stage. As we all stepped out of the changing room doors to meet our opponents from Co. Sligo. I spotted the one and only Artane Boys Band. What’s the story here?” I asked the official. “Are they for the Donegal game?” “And why didn’t they play in front of the Tyrone and Sligo teams?”  “No Sir” he replied. The Artane Boys Band will be leading your lads onto the pitch to play. OH MY GOOOOOD! And off we went again. Sean, Michael and me danced a jig under the Cusack stand again.

Half-time in the Tyrone v Sligo game! The signal was sent down the tunnel towards us telling the boys it was time. “Pull your socks up fully” came the cry from the Official at pitch side, your one of the big boys now lads so the same rules apply”. My heart almost burst as I felt the disappointment that not all our fantastic young under 12 players could have this experience, but also being so proud at the fact that we were about to witness our young lads achieve a momentous point in their young Gaelic football journey.

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As we stepped out from the shadows, into a sun drenched view of the place where dreams come true. The crowd in the stands erupted. Parents, brothers and sisters, fellow team mates and club members all clapping and cheering. Fog horns blowing with all there might, warning the crowds of the entrance of next year’s future stars. The fanfare music trumpeting from the upper tiers like this was where the World started and stopped. The one and only Liam (Sweeno) Sweeney was shouting at his loudest ensuring the young Strabane Sigerson’s lads knew they were in the real deal and I’m sure, wishing as I was we could turn back time.

Ronan Snodgrass lead the Sigerson’s lads out behind the Artane Boy’s band, followed by Ronan Quigg, Gavin Molloy, Danny Walsh, Oran McGrath, Oisín McGillion, Cadhla McCrossan, Cormac O’Kane, Tiarnán Gallagher, Darragh Devlin and last but not least Eoin Barkley all growing in stature, with each step. As I recorded their child like steps out of the tunnel, I shed a tear as they each took manly steps onto the lush green Croke Park surface.

With a loud blow of the whistle, it was on. Oran McGrath climbed high into the blue sky and collected the first ball. Oisín McGillion burst past him in a flash of red and white demanding the ball. You could tell from his body language, this is where he belonged. Blow for blow the Tyrone and Sligo boy’s played with all there might. It was ferocious, intense, energy sapping call it what you will. Was this men at play or young lads aged 12? As Coaches we hadn’t time to catch our breath as the lads in red and white peppered the black and white goal mouth. Goal! Ronan Quigg, after recycling a ball earlier in the play. Kept on the move and like every great forward, was in the right place at the perfect time.

Back came the boy’s in Black, tackle after tackle both team trading like heavy weight boxers. Cormac O’Kane playing in a Joe McMahon type role stopped a Sligo attacker in his tracks. Arms out body set, he simply gobbled up the young black and white player like a human black hole. Tyrone back on the attack! Up steps Danny Walsh who was played in by Cadhla McCrossan kicking into the famous Hill16, it had point written all over it. Boom! What a block. A young Sligo player, a hero in the making. Dived full body into Danny’s path. What a block. None of this blanket defence nonsense here!

Sligo back on the break. Long ball delivered into the forward line in what looked like a goal bound effort was snapped up by Eoin Barkley. Now the move of the game. “Trust me it’s on video, and I’ve timed it!” Thirteen seconds it takes, start to finish. Anyway! Eoin bursts out of defence and delivers a 15 meter hand pass, wide to Gavin Molloy. Gavin turns and before being closed down slips the nicest return hand pass to a forward steaming Eoin Barkley. Eoin passes on to Danny Walsh before the ball spills free under pressure. Eoin now in the forward line facing Hill 16 regains possession before the final shot is fired just wide by the ever sharp Ronan Snodgrass. Unbelievable.

Tiarnán Gallagher was given a task of sticking to his man like the white on rice. My goodness. This young man carries out his instruction to the letter. The young Sligo player tasked with getting past Tiarnán will probably still see him in his sleep. As for Darragh Devlin. What can I say? A young gentleman, soft natured and so kind. Just don’t look for a kick of the ball if he’s marking you. Majestic springs to mind. He broke down a Sligo attack while out numbered 2 to 1, and turned calmly between two attackers sending them the wrong way while setting Oisín McGillion back on the attack.

As the final whistle was blown the emotion was clear to be seen. Red faced and pumping with adrenalin, both sets of players shook hands and embraced, before falling in behind the Artane Boys Band to be lead off the pitch. Cheering and clapping sounds rolled off the stands to praise the boys and their efforts.” Wave to the crowd lads” we cried, there clapping for you lot. As we entered the tunnel for the last time. We gazed into the crowd where we could see Mum’s and Dad’s crying and cheering with pride, as well as our very own Youth Officer and big child himself Jason Foley, with tears of pride rolling down his massive grinning smile. What a day.

It’s with a massive thank you to Jason that this day was possible. If he hadn’t replied to Anne Daly’s email to show an interest in applying. Our kids would never have had this opportunity. We were all disappointed at the fact that only 11 boys out of our 25+ strong panel could grace the pitch, but we were delighted that the club helped with running a coach to afford all our players the chance to experience Croke Park and its magic. So from All the coaches and players, thank you one and all.

Under 12 Coaches – Dean Molloy, Sean Barkley & Mickey Quigg

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