There's Been an Awakening

Let me take you back to an unseasonably humid Thursday evening. It’s the eve of the Galway United vs Drogheda match and my children Robin and Obi are busying themselves at the kitchen table. Freshly washed, hanging above their heads are two pint sized Galway United shirts. One Maroon and one White. Robin, my oldest, tongue poking out ever so slightly in concentration studies the shirt. ‘Is this the right colour Dada?’ holding up a magenta crayon. Robin and Obi are drawing pictures for Terry the Tiger, Ryan Connolly and co. and they need to be perfect.

They are still young. At four and three years old respectively they’ve never really even played football. Maybe they never will. Their love for the game is purely an extension of my own obsession. Maybe this is how most people are introduced to any sport. Via a parent, sibling or grandparent. They love football because I love football.

Cut to the following day. One hour to kick-off. I’m waiting in Eamonn Deacy Park with a giddy smile on my face. My wife and kids are enroute. Match stewards, players and early birds file through the rear gate. Their names routinely checked. My phone vibrates. They are here. I make my way through the car park to meet them. Decked out in the colours of their fathers team, the two run towards me. I couldn’t be prouder.

Mike Daly greets them at the gate with a gentleness and sincerity I will always remember. He kneels down, shakes their hands and presents them each with their very own scarf and match programme. Robin does a quick twirl and Obi shows Mike his jersey. “Like Dada” he chirps.

The kids make their way through the stadium. The full tour.

From the sideline they watch the players train. Obi is desperate to get onto the pitch. It’s now I realise, he thinks he has come to play. Obi is a stubborn little buck. Determined. Strong willed. But there is extra fire in his belly today. Shane Keegan watches on and chuckles as we do our best to explain to him, “you’ll get to walk on the pitch soon. When the match starts…” I’ve never seen this look in Obi’s eyes.

Thirty minutes to kick-off the manager is leading us into the dressing rooms. Robin is amazed. She poses primly under Stephen Kenny’s number 7 shirt. I look around and Obi has nabbed the signed match ball and bogs it into the shower room. “GOOOAAALLL” he shouts. I usher him out and replace the ball half smiling, hoping the antics of a three year old boy will not furrow too many brows. I kneel down and explain again, “you’ll get to go onto the pitch soon. It’s nearly time.”

Two minutes to kick off I’m now standing at the rear of the tunnel. Shuffling in front of me are two rows of gladiators. Maroon vs green. I squat down and take a photo of Obi. He stands proudly at the front of the pack alongside Alan Murphy. He’s in safe hands. The crowd begins to roar. Silhouetted against the sheen of the sun bleached side line I watch as he walks onto the pitch for the first time in a maroon shirt.

Obi and Robin are funnelled towards the halfway line. Robin well practiced stands in place as the team’s shake hands. Obi has other ideas. He notices the ball at the foot of the referee and makes a beeline. With a roar from a small section in the stands I watch from the sideline as he dribbles off with the ball. A natural. Football for Obi, up until this moment was probably nothing more than his father’s obsession. But that day something changed in him. That day he had a small taste of what it feels to have a ball at your feet and the cheers of a crowd at your back.

Originally Published - Maroon View Issue 8, 2018