Eoin O'Callaghan's new movie Celtic Soul opens in Ireland this weekend. He retraces a journey that began in Cork in 1994.
The sun was dropping low on the horizon as my brother marched me along the Western Road.
I'd just seen my first ever football game up close - a pre-season friendly between Cork City and Glasgow Celtic in Bishopstown. A delightfully pony-tailed Billy Woods scored a magnificent volley that night but I was more taken with the guests, in their immaculate black jerseys with green vertical stripes. I had read about Celtic a lot in Shoot! magazine and something about them - the colours, the crest, the hoop-design - even persuaded me to give one of their players, John Collins, a place on my hallowed and competitive bedroom wall.
That night, I sat on the battered concrete seats, clutched my match programme and watched, spellbound, as some mythical figures came to life before me.
Afterwards, on the amble back into town, there was the small matter of an emergency toilet break in Jury's. And there, in the foyer, was the entire Celtic squad replete in dark blazers and grey slacks. And that night, as an eight-year-old boy, I shook John Collins' hand.
There's a wide-eyed romanticism to the way we treat sport as children. For adults, it's still there occasionally. For beaten-down sports journalists like me, it's pretty close to extinct.
In Celtic Soul, a documentary sports film I've spent the last number of years creating and which has its Irish premiere this weekend, I've tried to recapture that feeling of surprise and excitement and nervous energy we used to get when immersed in our favourite team at our favourite ground and watching our favourite players.
It helped enormously that I had someone to share the journey with.
I've never had an online date before but that's what it felt like when I first began contacting Jay Baruchel, a proud Canadian actor and star of Hollywood films like Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, She's Out Of My League and This Is The End. There was the first text, the first Skype call and then, finally, a brief face-to-face in Toronto in 2014.
Jay had been a fan of my work on Fox Soccer Report – a nightly TV show broadcast around North America – and I was aware he was an obsessive Celtic fan too. I wondered why. When he mentioned his Irish background and launched into forensic detail about his ancestors who fled Westport in the 1840s to find a better life for themselves elsewhere, it was a light-bulb moment.
The film charts Jay's journey from Montreal to Glasgow, via a stint in Ireland. While retracing the steps of John and Thomas O'Malley, he's also – inadvertently – retracing the steps of Celtic's history too, the club having been founded as a safe haven for those in need – predominantly the despairing Irish immigrants who were forced to leave their homeland. When we finally reach Celtic Park, it all makes sense.
When it comes to most things – particularly sport – Jay is a perpetual excitable kid. And he retains that sense of wonder and effusive enjoyment throughout Celtic Soul. From showing me around the sacred Bell Centre – home of the iconic Montreal Canadiens hockey team – to gamely taking on a crossbar challenge with Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew at Celtic's training complex, that childlike fascination is infectious.
Thankfully, a lot of it rubbed off on me too. Spoiler alert: largely thanks to a cameo by a certain John Collins.
Celtic Soul premieres in Ireland across four different locations this weekend: Dundrum, Swords, Gorey and Dungarvan.
For more information, you can visit the film's official website: www.celticsoul.ca
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