For more than 100 national school pupils up to fifth class, it must have been the first taste of the big time in sport. A beautiful manicured pitch, a crowd, TV cameras and sports photographers, pep talks, Amhrán na bhFiann… The Féile na Peile Gael Linn Connacht finals in Páirc na bPiarsach, Gort Mór, Ros Muc, on May 15 and 16 was a step into their very own, exciting and tense All-Ireland Super 8 championship.
Under a bright sun, a cool breeze and with the Twelve Bens standing like neutral, lofty spectators, not giving anything away on the western goal end, eight schools from Galway and Roscommon which had made it through the pre-qualifiers, took a look at each other. Determination was writ large on young faces, whether soloing up the pitch or delivering uncompromising tackles, the mixed teams of boys and girls giving it mighty. There were goals, saves, bad wides, fouls, high catches and deft skills aplenty – but no cynicism, sweepers or lateral passing.
And joy! When the final whistle blew after a tense, close encounter, there was a pitch invasion as Ballinasloe’s Scoil Uí Cheithearnaigh savoured their first victory ever in the 16 years of the competition. Losing finalists Scoil Iognáid, Galway, will live to play another day. For Scoil Uí Cheithearnaigh youngsters celebrating a first taste of what it’s like to win a tournament, the euphoria could last a lifetime.
Words and photos: Seán Ó Mainnín