This past weekend felt like the U-8s were finding their feet in the big bad world. The boys kicked things off with a double header against Clontarf Scoill Ui Chonnaill. The sun shone on us as we drove to their pitch with “Dollyier’s” sandy beach on our right hand side. A lovely location and a nice vibe and we were welcomed by their head coach Conor. Lovely fella who made us feel super welcome.
Tony and Luke were coaching our two teams. They duly picked their players and put the lads into their positions. The two teams went onto separate pitches and within a few minutes the ball was thrown in. At this tender age the kids are just learning their trade and gaining experience and they seemed to be doing just that from the off. Just as every player has their own style so do our coaches. Tony reminds me of Jim Gavin – a nod here and there and a quiet direction to a child. Luke appears to come from the Jurgen Klopp mold with more than a hint of Davy Fitz about him. Luke must have had his Weetabix and several packets of lozenges before the game because I could hear him over on the far pitch as he encouraged and gave instructions to his players. Many mums and Dads told me after the game that they’ve started to see definite improvements in the kids in recent weeks. Better kicking, tackling and hand-passing. Oisin’s dad David, specifically mentioned that there was clear awareness of their positions on the pitch. Progress.
They say in a wedding speech it’s a bad idea to single out people for special mention and I'm sure the same goes for articles on U8 football. But I mention these kids more as a selection of an overall “step up” in performance of the team if you’ll forgive me. Maxo who has always been one of the most committed and enthusiastic kids since nursery scored his first goal - and a peach it was. A little tap to the right of the keeper. He turned around after the goal first with a look of disbelief and then a beaming smile. He seemed to fill with confidence and played the remainder of the game in high spirits. The goal was the tonic he needed. Daniel McClenaghan ran and tackled and harried like a curly haired Lee Keegan. He noticeably improves month by month. Oscar McCormack has only recently joined us. He hasn’t done the months and months of drills like the rest of the kids but he's like a duck to water – great catches and brave as anything. Jamie as keen as mustard in goals stopping stinging shots. Lorenzo got a super score worth 3 points (in Go-Games over the bar is 3 points) and Devon Welsh (another recent recruit) seems to have got a lot of his Dad’s rugby genes as he bravely grabbed the ball from high and low. They all did a pretty good job scoffing the Jaffa cakes handed out by Maire and Brenda after the match too. Enough of the boys.
Joe Dalton once told me that “there was never a bad team came out of Ballymun” so it was with some trepidation that I headed over to meet Avril the Ballymun coach and her girls team on Sunday morning. Our gang were all in great fettle and the girls were adorned with pink sunglasses and sparkly head bands! Chris and Pedro handed out the jerseys got them into positions and the Ref threw in the ball. It would be fair to say that we were stunned at how well the girls did. They rattled the net on multiple occasions in the first half. We all watched as one after the other our players broke through packs of red and green jerseys with the ball. Whether it was Sibhéal kicking and catching, Lana sprinting the length of the pitch, Louise popping up from nowhere with the ball and passing it off to a team mate – they really put on a great show. Emma and Kaia really came into their own as they fought for possession. I'm sure Casey made her Dad very proud when she rattled the net in the second half. Lana, Eve and Alicia chased Ballymun around the pitch. Cara jumped for every ball in midfield. Apologies if I’ve left anyone out but its fair to say they really played well as a team. Much credit must go to Pedro and Chris and indeed all the parents who shouted and supported – all who must have been very proud of their charges.
Sometimes when you’re very close to something you don’t always see the incremental changes but this weekend it was starting to feel more obvious. Our juvenile group and our team is a fledgling set up in many ways. We don’t have the Astro pitches, facilities, coffee shops and massive numbers and structures that the bigger clubs have. But we’ve new kids joining – great kids - all who have been great additions and added a lot to the team. Its also not just the kids who are making progress it’s the parents/ coaches who are putting in the time and effort. At hurling training last week we had at least 8 coaches. This is how change happens - when we all pull together. I have a real sense that we are finding our feet.