A sporting tale to warm the heart

NO SHORTAGE of topics this week, is there?

Another chapter in the sorry saga that is now the Leinster senior hurling championship — what will it take for people to realise that the current senior hurling championship structure is seriously flawed, perhaps even fatally flawed.

Then there was Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, all that drama. Great game, let it be said, great football played in the second half, and with one eye on the Leinster minor hurling final, one eye on the monitor of the RTÉ broadcast from Cork, it was one of the few times in my life where the football took over.

But, and there is a but, again there are issues. Seamus Scanlon, all six foot three or four inches of him, 15 stone plus, felled by the merest slap across the face, leading to the second yellow for Nicholas Murphy?

This aping by Gaelic footballers of the worst excesses of soccer’s histrionic heroes is really starting to grate. As for the sending off of Marc Ó Sé — atrocious refereeing. He did make hard contact with Seán O’Brien, who was hurt, but deliberate? It wasn’t even a yellow card offence, totally unavoidable contact in the conditions.

But that’s not what this week’s column is about. No, we move to matters far more positive. On Sunday last the RTÉ cameras went constantly back and forth between the field of play and Conor Counihan, the Cork manager up and down the line urging on his charges, his heart on his sleeve.

This Friday evening Conor will be in Curraheen Park in Cork, the greyhound track, the Munster senior football trophy in his grasp, along with Munster rugby’s Tomás O’Leary and their European Heineken Cup. The event? The 21st St Joseph’s Foundation annual Greyhound Benefit Meeting.

It reads glibly enough that, ‘The 21st St Joseph’s Foundation annual Greyhound Benefit Meeting,’ but behind is an uplifting tale of giving, of caring, of volunteering precious time, of all that’s best in humanity. Most of those involved are sports people — greyhounds, GAA, rugby, soccer, whatever you’re having yourself.

Like Conor Counihan himself, they are used to giving of themselves for causes such as this; unlike Conor, however, they are not used to any sort of limelight, no public recognition whatsoever of all the good work they are doing within their community.

“It’s phenomenal,” he says, “Sport is a huge generator of money for good causes and I think there’s a strong link there between sporting people of all organisations, the time they give to their own sport, that whole ethic they have of helping out, maybe more than a lot of other sections of society. What this group is doing is extraordinary, the money they’ve raised — over €600,000 to date, it has given great help to so many people, and long may that last.’’

‘‘I don’t know where they keep finding the enthusiasm for it but they do, and in fact it gets better and better every year. Nearly €70,000 raised last year, and there are so many clubs out there, so many organisations, all trying to raise funds for their own particular projects, yet they maintain that enthusiasm every year.

‘‘The money raised is solely for respite for children, for staffing the respite house. You have no idea what that means to parents. I don’t know if you know any family with children with special needs but it can be tough going, and to get a break like that, whether it’s just for 24 hours or for a weekend, is a huge help to them. What they’ve raised over the years is extraordinary by any standards.”

In his day job Conor is CEO of the St Joseph’s Foundation, knows first hand about those needs, knows first-hand also the work being done on a voluntary basis by so many people in and around the Charleville area, where the school/workshop is based.

People like Paul O’Shea, chairperson of the group, who himself passes on the plaudits to others. “I’d like to highlight the fact that a group of people, greyhound people, set about raising funds for this charity many years ago, and they’re still there, still at it. Some have gone to their reward, people like Bill Collins, Larry Jordan, John & Nora Lynch, John Leahy, Breda Fenn, Lack Morrissey, many members of the Founding committee are still very actively involved — Mick Walsh and Mary Walsh from Ballyagran, Helen & Mark Cussen, Bruree, and Brian Miller, while John Ronan, Billy Mulcahy, Tom Mulcahy and Liam O’Brien have been keeping the Ballyhea flag flying within the group.

JJ Sexton took over as Chairman following the death of Bill Collins, followed in 2006 by Lucy Murphy, and they ensured that each year this event continued to go from strength to strength. It’s a fantastic achievement, and I hope the sports people of Cork and Limerick will come out and support us on Friday evening.”

So there you are. If you want to do something good this weekend, something selfless, head to Curraheen Park for the racing. You’ll have fun, but you’ll have something extra.


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