Sports campaign didn’t quite find the right pitch

WHO says kids aren’t politically clued in?

“There’s Eamon Gilmore,” says one of the underage soccer players at Croydon Gardens, home of Marino AFC, in Dublin North Central yesterday.

Alas for Labour, the party leader isn’t universally recognised.

“There’s Enda,” another kid shouts just a few minutes later.

Indeed, Eamon might prefer to be in Enda’s shoes right now because, for all the flak that the Fine Gael leader gets, his party is running away with this election, as the polls indicate.

Labour, by contrast, appear to be running out of steam. But Gilmore’s having none of it, resorting to old sporting cliches to suggest his party can still recover.

“No match is over until the final whistle,” he says, adding that the campaign is only half way through and it’s — wait for it — “a game of two halves”.

Gilmore is in Croydon Gardens to launch Labour’s sports policy, which envisages making sporting facilities more accessible to communities and broadening participation “from the bottom up”.

He’s joined by the party’s sport spokesperson, Mary Upton TD, and Cllr John Gilroy, who contributed heavily to the document, hence his presence a long way from his Cork North Central home, where he is on the election ticket for Labour.

They’re hosted by the Labour candidate in Dublin North Central, Cllr Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who also has a special guest in tow: football legend John Giles.

And in contrast with Gilmore, all the kids — and their parents — recognise Giles and queue eagerly for pictures with the former Irish international.

“This is Conor from the Marino academy,” says his proud mum as she introduces the four-year-old to Giles. “He’s going to play for Ireland some day and score a hat-trick on his debut.”

Giles happily poses for snaps and signs autographs and offers words of encouragement to all the kids.

Nattily dressed in blazer and tie, he seems immensely comfortable in his surroundings, and is his usual honest self when asked if he is a life-long Labour supporter.

“No,” he says, declaring that he’s not even registered to vote in Ireland, because he lives in Britain.

He proceeds to explain that he’s here to support Ó Riordáin, whom he’s known for several years, and the sports policy, because he thinks it’s a good one.

He goes on to speak of Ó Riordáin’s accomplishments as an inner-city school principal and his work for local communities.

“A terrific lad,” Giles says.

Now there’s an endorsement for the campaign posters.

Later, Giles has a private word with Gilmore away from the cameras, in which he appears to be apologising for being unable to trot out a bland assertion about voting Labour in the election. Gilmore assures him that he “wouldn’t have expected it”, and tells him not to worry.

And indeed, Gilmore does just fine out of the event, as Giles is happy to pose in photos with the Labour team.

As Gilmore takes his place for the photos, someone hands him a mucky wet football to clutch. He duly makes a quip to Giles about how the soccer veteran has experience with “slippery balls”.

A bit like Labour’s campaign right now, it didn’t quite find the right pitch. The Gilmore Gale has softened to a puff.

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