O’Reilly and his junior Bs on a winner

James O’Reilly and his pals on the Ballincollig junior B football team had an idea.

But, unlike many a junior footballer’s idea, it survived beyond the dressing-room.

They thought it’d be fun to organise a sports festival in the area, one which showcased sports from American football to softball and all the way back, a great day out that would draw crowds to Ballincollig on the August bank holiday weekend? They did, and Spoirtfest last year was a huge success in the satellite town to the west of Cork city.

Then O’Reilly and his men put their heads together again a couple of months ago: what if they organised a sports summit, with top speakers involved, that would offer answers to the financial challenges facing sporting bodies? They have, and the Irish Sports Summit takes place in the Oriel House Hotel on May 25, with a stellar guest line-up: economist Jim Power, Sarah O’Connor, Executive Director of the Federation of Irish Sports, Liam Harbison, CEO Paralympics Ireland, Jim Glennon, Noel Meade... the list goes on.

“We said we’d try to find something to do, something positive,” says O’Reilly.

“At one stage I was half-thinking of a protest march, to vent, but then I said ‘that’s all negative, why not do something positive?”

O’Reilly’s team-mates on the junior team rowed in. He saw them all as having different skills which could be used to put on the sports festival first of all, and when they got organised last year they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

“We learned a lot from that last year,” says O’Reilly. “The positivity generated was terrific. One thing we learned was just to go out and do it, to ask people if they’d come, and the response has been fantastic from people looking to get involved.”

O’Reilly credits that response to the fact he and his colleagues are trying to do something constructive in a negative environment (“it’s the major reason we’ve got so many people, I think”).

They’re putting together a sports business expo alongside the conference as well, with businesses getting in contact to book stalls and show off their wares.

“We can only measure ourselves once a year,” he adds. “That makes it difficult to see how well we’re doing, and it’s a slow business in the first place. We’re not a local authority, we don’t have a sugar daddy behind us, so it’s slow enough.”

The format of the summit pretty straightforward.

“When you’re trying to bring in so many different areas and so many different concerns it’s going to have to be broad enough by its nature in order to have something for everybody. But the way we’re planning it is to focus on the problems in the morning sessions, and hopefully someone in the room, when they hear about a particular problem, will say, ‘well, we had that problem and this is what we did’ or touch base with the people now dealing with that problem.

“Then in the afternoon we’ll address the big ideas, hopefully. We’ll be trying to look at the big picture and encourage people to think beyond the church gate collection or raffle tickets when it comes to raising money, for instance — MyClubFinances.com always do a good presentation in that regard. Even if you’re with a club, it’s worth maybe chasing guys who were part of the club twenty years ago.

“The broad aim is to increase positivity, to show that there are people who can share their vision of what’s possible and to tell people not to limit themselves, but alongside with the afternoon session, we’ll have a parallel session focusing on small organisations versus the international picture for bigger organisations.”

They’re not in it to make a profit, just to cover their costs and to help others along the way.

“We’re a small group, but we’d like to help people get past feeling they have to compete with other organisations and bodies, and encourage them to work together.

“In order to do that we need to get them in the same room, talking to each other, and while there may be people who are much more skilled at that, I think it shows what some junior B players out beyond the hub of everything can get done.”

If you’re interested in going along — who wouldn’t be? — then log on to http://www.irishsportssummit.com/ and put your name down.

And don’t swallow that ‘we’re just a bunch of junior B players either’. Last year they won their championship as well, for the first time in ten years. Taking care of business everywhere, it seems.

* Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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