THE GUESTS were late.
As the clock ticked on in the gymnasium at St Joseph’s Foundation, Charleville, the guests awaiting Sam Maguire were happy enough, rocking along to choice vintage tunes such as Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Many of those strolling around the gym avail of the foundation’s services for adults and children with learning disabilities, and they were in bouncing good humour as they awaited the arrival of the organisation’s chief executive, who was to address them.
True, the prospect of a speech from the head honcho doesn’t usually have people singing along with Tony Christie’s Is This The Way To Amarillo.
If you knew that the chief executive is Cork football manager Conor Counihan and that he was bringing Sam Maguire, Donncha O’Connor and Michael Shields with him, the feel good atmosphere beneath the basketball hoops explains itself. As does the plethora of red and white tops, running the gamut from standard O2-branded jerseys to Barry’s Tea and bleeding into Munster rugby and a solitary soul wearing an Arsenal top. It’s a broad church.
When Counihan walked in with the All-Ireland trophy, he was met with stirring applause and a rousing rendition of The Banks. The speeches were quick and painless, and then the manager was prevailed upon for a thousand pictures. A thousand autographs.
He’d come from the schools in his home place of Aghada that morning, he said later, but now Charleville is a special place to the manager as well. When he stepped outside the gym doors for a quiet word, he admitted that a day like yesterday is a boost for everyone involved: “I suppose from a staff point of view, we all work together for the good of the organisation, and this is a great distraction from what can be quite demanding work.
“From the service-users’ point of view, people don’t always understand the enjoyment the lads get out of sport. You can see that – it’s clear the kick they’ve got out of today, and that gives everyone a boost.”
Counihan added that the disappointment of last year’s All-Ireland defeat communicated itself to all those in St Joseph’s, staff and service users alike.
“Everyone enjoys sport, and the lads we have are probably more enthusiastic than most about sport.
“They’d have been down through the bad days that we had last year as well – in ways they express their emotions in a more open way than many of us, they’re very open and honest about it, which is a very good thing to see.
“They’d have known the disappointment I’d have been feeling last year, for instance, they’d have gone away into the corners themselves because they were disappointed as well.
“It’s amazing how people react to that kind of disappointment appropriately, but that’s how it was last year.”
And then back into the gym, and the handshakes and the camera phones being held aloft. Back to what’s appropriate this year.
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