Ever since assuming the role of general vice-president in 1993, Carmel Grealy is to be found in the same location at the Community Games year in, year out — sitting patiently behind the main desk at reception, lending a hand to whoever requires assistance.
On three occasions at the weekend she slipped out into the action, leaving behind her title and duties to support Emma Loughnane (long puck), Brian Burke (U16 marathon) and Galway’s representatives in the U10 mixed relay. But why these three? On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that all are natives of Ballinasloe, Grealy’s home town.
Grealy may have taken up her national role 20 years ago, but it succeeded a further two decades of service with the Ballinasloe Community Games organisation, one of the most successful in the country.
Recalling her first trip to Mosney, Co. Meath 40 years ago this month, a smile lights up her face: "They were great times," she remarked.
The Ballinalsoe U11 rugby team, featuring Carmel’s son Seamus and one Noel Mannion, had earned the right to represent Connacht and returned from Mosney as silver medallists.
"It set a very solid foundation for Community Games in our town. The very same year a girl from Ballinasloe by the name of Mary Walsh won a bronze medal in the swimming. That was instrumental in getting a swimming pool built in Ballinasloe.
"In those years there was very little for the young children to do in the town, the GAA wouldn’t have been that strong. Community Games was a great vehicle because it was a new concept of games based on the community for those aged six to17 years."
Interest in Community Games "spread like wildfire" following the success and Ballinasloe would represent the province in the U11 rugby competition over the next 14 years, claiming top spot on the podium in 1983, with Grealy’s son Seamus on the coaching staff.
Training for the rugby began each February when 80 or 90 eager enthusiasts would show for trials."Even if you made the panel it was a great achievement. Then the prize for getting out of your county was Mosney. Mosney was Mosney. It didn’t matter how you got on. You got to Mosney and it was as good as winning the sweeps."
As well as landing gold in the rugby in ’83, the U12 relay quartet of Brendan Grealy (another of Carmel’s sons), Brian Moylan, Brian Jennings and Declan Hennelly also secured outright success.
Moreover, Grealy recalls the August weekend when 14 medals were picked up by the East Galway town in the various swimming events, not to mention the six-in-a-row gold rush in the U16 Chess competition, their bid for a seventh consecutive victory coming a cropper in May of this year.
"Success builds on success. We are so lucky in Ballinasloe that we had a very strong Community Games committee. We had Michael O’Grady, Luke Brennan and Mary McKeon, there were many more, great, great people. They took on a job and they did it.
"To this day we have been very lucky. That continuity of support is still there."
Above everything else, Grealy takes immense pride in the memories and friendships forged through Community Games involvement. One tale captures poignantly its lasting impact.
Sitting in Croke Park watching the All-Ireland football final between Meath and Galway in 2001, Michael Walsh, a native of Ballinasloe, recognised the lady who spearheaded the annual pilgrimage to Butlins.
"‘Howya Greally’, he said to me.
"Michael is now a successful chief executive of a company in the US. He has travelled the world, yet the best memory he ever had was sleeping on a mattress on a floor up in Mosney That was his best experience being part of the Community Games and he’ll never forget it."