When I was growing up, Limerick Football wasn’t on my radar.
The Limerick Senior Hurlers were the only show in town. At the time, Frankie Carroll was an Agri Rep who used to visit the area. And you would be on the look out to just catch a glimpse of this hero, and maybe get a hurley signed. Trips to the Gaelic Grounds, and seeing “that” point from Ciaran Carey, and to Croke Park, for that heart-breaking loss to Wexford, are memories that will stay with me forever.
When I was pucking ball out the front of our house in Ballysteen, leaving marks on the wall, it was Frankie and Ciaran who I was picturing.
And when I had a football in my hands, I was imitating the likes of Meath’s Trevor Giles and Galway’s Sean Og de Paor.
The only thing I can remember when it came to the Limerick Footballers were stickers and cards that were given out in school. I had ones of Richard Bowles and Ger O’Connor.
I am sure the footballers of the time trained hard and were fully committed to the jersey. Having met the two men mentioned above many times since there is no doubting that. But they were out of sight. Out of mind.
There is a statue of a rugby player and a hurler outside of my workplace in O’Connell Street. It celebrates the traditional games associated with Limerick. I have often thought when passing how it would be great to have a Gaelic Footballer included.
But I am also realistic enough to understand that that would be unlikely.
The achievements in history of Limerick teams in those two sports is the reason for this sculpture. I just felt it would be a nice reminder for those passing that Gaelic Football existed in the county.
The mistake I made was thinking a statue would help. Getting to see and experience things in real time is so much more powerful.
Those essential visuals have been there in recent months. Youngsters have been able to see in person, on television or on their phones that Gaelic Football has a place in Limerick.
Whether it was in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday week, where a 2pm throw in made it possible for children to be present and see the footballers in action. Or in the aftermath, where they were able to set foot on the hallowed turf and take pictures with players, and even kick a ball around.
Or during the course of the league, with the coverage of their exploits being shown on RTE and TG4, culminating in the league final being broadcast live last Saturday.
Or the acknowledgement on social media of the various Gaelic Football “Teams of the Week” over the last few months, where Limerick had representations from Brian Donovan, Peter Nash, Josh Ryan and most recently Sean O’Dea. Or Iain Corbett being selected on the RTE League Sunday “Team of the League” is an acknowledgement of the efforts of the whole group. Limerick Football has rarely seen so much positive publicity.
Even appearing in Croke Park for a final was a huge thing. For the players themselves, the majority of whom wouldn’t have gotten to sample it before. And I’m sure they will be doing everything in their power to get back there.
But even more so for those looking on. Croke Park can seem like some sort of mythical place for a footballer in Limerick. A place you see other teams getting to play on. But when you see your own feature there it makes it achievable. I know that the Limerick Under 20 Football panel were in situ last Saturday.
Back in 2003, Limerick played Westmeath there in the Division 2 league final. Defeat was to be Limerick’s lot on the day, but to see a Limerick Football team there was just brilliant. I was on the Limerick Under 21 team at the time, and a couple of lads from that were on the Limerick panel that day.
One of those was Galbally’s Eoin Bourke. I can still vividly remember watching the warmup and seeing him kicking a ball over the bar in the shadow of the Davin Stand. Seeing a teammate do that made it all so much more obtainable, and I decided there and then that I would do everything I could to have that opportunity.
I have no doubt that some of those Under 20s felt the same when watching their clubmates do the same last Saturday. And every other youngster that was lucky enough to be in attendance or watching at home.
When we are playing ball out the back of our house here, our two normally pick Dublin and Mayo as their teams (I don’t allow Kerry or Cork!). For the last two weeks they are fighting over who gets to be Limerick.
That statue on O’Connell Street may never get a Gaelic Footballer added to it. But that’s okay.
The inspiration has been provided in full colour at different times over the last twenty years. Opportunities to harness the power of those periods of success and promote the players involved were not taken advantage of during that time.
There is no excuse for that now. Players have never been more accessible. Our games never more available to see.
You have to strike while the iron’s hot. And it’s positively glowing at the minute.