Off the fence
GARDAÍ in Swinford had an unusual assignment on Sunday last. They had to police a ghost town.
With Kiltimagh in the All-Ireland Junior Club Final in Croke Park, the town literally emptied and decamped to Drumcondra.
The greatest exodus in the history of the storied Mayo town left crime as a concern.
With virtually every house emptied of its occupants, any attuned burglars could be rubbing their hands with glee.
So a few extra patrols were sent from the Divisional Office in Swinford to keep an eye on the ghost town.
One-hundred and forty miles away the Kiltis made themselves heard in Croker and if you closed your eyes, you would be justified in thinking there was a crowd many times more than what was there.
It was as strong an expression of community pride as you would wish to see. The town’s team had made it all the way to the All-Ireland Junior final and hardly anyone in Kilti’ wanted to miss out.
So the townsfolk collectively packed their bags and headed east. Many of them stayed over, more travelled up on Sunday morning and they made the Hogan Stand their own. Sunday evening, after the final whistle sounded and their team had just fallen short after a gripping and tense decider, the disappointment was palpable.
But so too was the sense of pride. Their team had brought them on a wonderful journey to within inches of being champs of all-Ireland.
That they fell short is part of the cruel nature of sport. But the town’s team united a whole community. They made people from the town proud to be of Kiltimagh. Irrespective of the defeat, this week the people of Kiltimagh will walk tall. Their All-Ireland odyssey galvanised them together and the pride of place that is so important in rural Ireland is thriving in Kiltimagh now. Like it was in Crossmolina, Ballina and Knockmore during their football journeys. The very same in Westport and Erris during their monumental soccer journeys last decade.
That is the power of sport. There’s plenty to concern ourselves with in the harsh realities of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. It is no harm to escape. The people of Kiltimagh were given that outlet over the course of the winter and up until Sunday. Its legacy won’t end there for them though. Memories will sustain.
It was certainly an exaggeration when some people opined that Ireland can thank in large part the Irish soccer team of 1990 and their pioneering journey in Italia ‘90 for the economic growth that followed later that decade.
But there is no doubt that it helped tremendously with the confidence of the nation. We could do with a a similar fillip.
Thierry Henry took away such an opportunity for the Irish soccer team to do likewise 20 years on.
So in Mayo we’ll turn to our county footballers for sustenance. No pressure guys.