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Leaving a lifetime of memories

Sport

A LOVE OF SPORT The late Tony Finnerty from Ballinrobe. Pic: Patrick McCann

Reflection
Mike Finnerty

ONE of the definitions of a moment is: ‘an appropriate time for doing something; an opportunity’. So in that context this feels like the right time to pause and reflect.
Over the years I’ve used this annual exercise to pick out matches or milestones that made my work as a sportswriter and broadcaster especially memorable. To single out that one day or game when someone or something transported us above the mundane and the ordinary.
My colleagues elsewhere in these pages have written eloquently and beautifully about a selection of these sorts of experiences. However, this time I’ve taken a different approach.
Over the last 40-odd years I was lucky enough to share some great sporting moments with my father. They didn’t all unfold at Croke Park, the Aviva Stadium or Cheltenham (although we had plenty of those too), but even the most ordinary and simple of them have seemed both precious and priceless over the last few months.
The car journeys to the races in Sligo, Roscommon or the Curragh; the flask of tea and sandwiches shared outside pitches from Belmullet to Ballaghaderreen; the half-time chats during Cumann na mBunscol Finals; or the idle conversations about life, growing old and the future when we were driving to Garrymore or Mayo Abbey for some class of a ‘South Final’.
You see, I was one of the lucky ones. Lucky because I was the son of a father who loved sport. And not just one sport either. Sure, the GAA was where he stored most of his pride and which stirred his passion more than anything. But the man would watch everything from golf to snooker and horse racing to rugby. And he knew his stuff too.
He wasn’t going to confuse Ian Woosnam with Ian Wright. Or MJ Kinane with MJ Mullin.
Blessed with the sort of stamina that could see a man climb The Reek in the early hours before driving to Dublin for the Leinster Final and finishing up with a ‘small jobeen’ at Ballinrobe Racecourse later that night, he also had an encyclopaedic memory when it came to things like Connacht Finals, Galway Plates and Greyhound Derbies!
And from the moment he lifted his nine-year-old son over the turnstiles in Croke Park for the 1986 All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Meath, a common bond was created that would never be broken.
In the years that followed we travelled the length and breadth of the country for matches and race meetings. There were Munster Hurling Finals, Ulster Football Finals, and a few Irish soccer internationals. We were in Croke Park for two of the four famous Leinster championship matches between Meath and Dublin in 1991, and even went to the Cheltenham Festival for his 60th birthday.
But some of the most vivid recollections of watching games with my father come from that long, hot summer in 1989 when Mayo played five magical matches on their way to losing the All-Ireland Final to Cork. I can still hear the roar of the crowd and picture the sea of colour from every single one of those season of Sundays if I close my eyes and concentrate.
And I still can hear his voice, as clear as day, when I cast my mind back to the seconds after Anthony Finnerty’s shot hit the back of the Cork net and thousands of Mayo supporters in the Canal End fell forward. ‘We have them, Mike, we have them!’ he shouted as he celebrated with half the county. And for a short while it felt like we did indeed, ‘have them’.
Alas, it was not to be.
But he never lost the faith, and he was in the crowd for all of Mayo’s first five National Leagues matches at the start of last year, until Covid-19 arrived and everything stopped.
Little did we know leaving MacHale Park on March 1 last after Mayo’s narrow defeat to Kerry that it was the last time he would see the Green and Red play.
My father passed away on August 17 last, leaving me with a lifetime of memories to cherish and sporting moments to treasure. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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