The recent Cork GAA Open Nights provided proof positive of two things – children still enjoy the simple things in life, and local heroes are as important as ever for us all.
Brian Hurley poses for a ‘selfie’ with a young fan! Pic: George Hatchell
This is the third year that the GAA has required counties to organise these Open Nights, and their value in Cork has been questionable to date. It’s a busy time of year here with first rounds being played in the County Football Championships, preparations gathering pace for Senior inter-county competitions, and usually a minor team or two involved in Munster Championship action, so adding another demand on players’ time has not been easy. On top of this, Cork players are generally quite accessible for fans, and as the county normally has a protracted run in at least one code each year, there are many opportunities to watch and meet the players, and perhaps for this reason, these events have not been particularly well supported by fans either.
The freedom this year to organise the Open Nights during a given week was a huge improvement, as it meant we could schedule them to coincide with normal training sessions, thus maximising the number of players present and not adding any extra demands on their time. Following the less-than-enthusiastic responses to past efforts, this year’s events took the form of a simple invitation to come and watch the teams train, with the promise of meeting the players afterwards for photos and autographs. No face-painting, clowns, enthusiastic MCs or anything like that; just the invitation to ‘Meet Your Heroes’. Autograph cards and pens were supplied, along with some goodies provided by our sponsors, but apart from that, the approach was simplicity itself.
Of course, it was organised chaos, but what wonderful chaos it was!! Fans, young and old, arrived well before the scheduled start of training, laden with hurleys and sliothars or footballs as appropriate, and the evening was punctuated by the slap of leather against the old concrete walls of the tunnel under the stand. Bright-eyed enthusiasts observed the training sessions, carefully noting what might or might not be done differently at their own Under 8 or Under 10 trainings. The sense of anticipation grew as the evening progressed, and when it was finally clear that the training session was coming to an end, the crowd spilled onto the hallowed turf of Páirc Uí Chaoimh as if the final whistle had just sounded in an All-Ireland Final! Fearless, they singled out their targets and closed in with camera phones, hurleys, jerseys, autograph cards and anything else that could be signed. This was what they had travelled from far and near to experience, and they weren’t going to be denied!
The players dealt admirably with being mobbed by enthusiastic fans, showing their customary courtesy and appreciation of the support. Anthony Nash was the last hurler to leave the field, while football star Brian Hurley recalled his own childhood delight at meeting the Cork heroes of an older generation. Some older fans were determined not to let Jimmy Barry-Murphy out of their sights, remembering what he had done for Cork both as a player and in an earlier incarnation as manager.
Pic: George Hatchell
Despite the chaos, the less-than-clement weather and the lack of high-tech entertainment, the enjoyment is written all over the faces of the children in these photos. The parents were delighted, the children were delighted; meeting their heroes was what it was all about. Maybe, after all, the best things in life really are free – and don’t necessarily require wi-fi to be enjoyed!!