Record crowds descended on Athlone over the weekend, heralding a "new era" for the HSE Community Games.
More than 9,000 spectators passed through the main gates of Athlone IT to watch children from all four corners of the country — aged between six and 16 — add their names to the list of those who have competed in the Community Games.
More than 4,000 participants fought it out in track and field, hurling, football, soccer, and basketball, not forgetting lesser known events such as spikeball and skittles, trying to secure top spot on the podium.
Although the 46th edition of the national finals drew a record attendance, one noticeable absentee was the burger van. Organisers took the decision to ban the sale of fast food as part of the Healthy Ireland initiative fighting childhood obesity.
“No one has gone home hungry and no one has complained about the lack of burger vans. It hasn’t caused a single problem,” said HSE Community Games President Gerry Davenport.
For a sprinkling of Kerry and Mayo supporters, involvement in Athlone meant the journey to Croke Park for the All-Ireland football semi-final meeting between the two counties could not be made. Former Kerry All-Ireland winning footballers Johnny Crowley and Seamus Moynihan were among those present.
Mr Crowley oversaw the Glenflesk U10 indoor soccer team, which came up agonisingly short in the gold medal final. Mr Crowley’s son Luke scored both Glenflesk goals, while Mr Moynihan’s son Jamie also featured prominently.
“It is very disappointing to lose, but the boys gave it their all,” said Mr Crowley of the 3-2 defeat to Galway’s Knocknacarra.
The two counties could not be separated at GAA HQ, but it was the Kingdom who enjoyed better fortunes in the midlands.
Kerry’s Duagh/Lyre scored a comprehensive 7-0 victory over Burrishoole in the U13 girl’s futsal decider, with Firies’ Cian Sheehan edging out Mayo’s Emily Murray for the gold medal in the U12 solo recitation.
Moycarkey’s Daniel Ryan retained his U16 100m title, bringing the curtain down on his eight-year involvement at the Games.
“I will be too old to compete in 2015 so you want to go out with the gold medal,” he said.
Those lucky enough to get on the podium proudly donned their medal, but “the HSE Community Games is all about participation”, stressed Mr Davenport.
“Every kid leaving Athlone, irrespective of whether they medalled or not, receive a unique participation pin which we have brought in this year.
“The pin, we hope, will keep Community Games in the thoughts of children during the winter and encourage them to return next year.”
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