As well as being all about endeavour and physical activity, sport is at its best when it embraces that most basic emotion of unbridled passion.
Rarely has that been more in evidence than in Santry Demesne yesterday, scene of last Saturday’s All-Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships.
A stiff North easterly breeze had dried the old woodland course, creating surprisingly good underfoot conditions. The challenging hills around Walled Garden Corner remained unmoved.
It made for a day of compelling competition eminently suitable for those who wanted it the most.
On the airwaves the dulcet harmony of Liam Moggan and Feidhlim Kelly created an atmosphere worth the entrance fee alone. As consumers we seek from our informer’s knowledge and humour.
Over the Santry speakers we got both in spades. The Old stadium beside needs this duet when summer comes.
By the time the Senior Boys race last of the day got underway you could smell the tension in the air.
It wasn’t fear of coronavirus. The dynamic here was all about Belvedere’s bid to end a famine. Never in their history had they won the senior title, despite many times looking the likely lads.
Those with long memories still recall the crack squad of 2001 (the Brady Babes) that was robbed of the ultimate glory when Foot and Mouth hit Ireland resulting in the cancellation of that year’s All-Ireland when it appeared to all their name was on the trophy, having built to it for over three years.
The man on the Mic, Feidhlim Kelly was part of that Squad. Now along with Ronan Duggan he was part of the management team driving this quest, with the towering presence of Phil Conway omnipresent in the background.
Ominously St Malachy’s Belfast, that great bastion of Schools Cross Country were there for more of what they deem there entitlement as well as the more recent stronghold of St Kierans Kilkenny.
When the starter’s gun let them loose it was Raheny’s Daniel Stone, leading the Belvedere charge by example. Stone went straight to the front, intent written all over his face and for 10 exhilarating minutes he dared to run the crack field ragged.
It evoked memories of the last Raheny man to win this race, Kevin Dooney in 2011.
Stone would eventually be hauled in, finishing fourth after a performance of raw courage. Most importantly he had led and inspired his team mates to go where no Belvo team had gone before.
The Raheny involvement did not finish there. The fourth Belvedere scorer was Stephen Fay, younger brother of current star Brian.
Fifth man home was Ruairi Walsh in 53rd place. None of the usual expert tallymen around the course were prepared to make a definitive call on the team race, so competitive were the skirmishes for places but the recent addition of technology by way of myrunresults.com took men of a certain age, normally more used to furtive tots on the back of envelopes out of their agony almost too quickly.
Queue amazing scenes of joy. The end of famine for Belvo. Huge joy for Feidhlim Kelly and Ronan Duggan.
Ben Brady, the man who cried tears of desperation back in 2001 when his dream was taken away from him was there this time with another lump in his throat, witnessing the coronation.
But most of all one felt happiest for the great Phil Conway, the man who arrived in Belvedere over 50-years and has spent an entire lifetime encouraging and build in a great athletic tradition in the College.
He may be retired from teaching now but his presence is as great and as evident as ever.
But most of all when the story of this great day are relayed and remembered around the halls of Great Denmark Street, it will be the contribution and sheer desire of Daniel Stone, the man who led from the front, that will never be forgotten.
Let us not forget either previous Past pupils with Raheny affiliations who once dreamed this dream. Men like Vinny Mulvey, Shane McDermott, Kevin Moriarty, Gavin O’Sullivan, Brian Fay and Feidhlim Kelly, co-incidentally all of whom have won national road relay gold on Raheny teams and now have played their part in the building of the tradition, along the way.
Not lost amidst the excitement was the fine performances of other Raheny athletes. In the same senior race James Hyland, running for St. Fintans finished a magnificent ninth, as a first year senior.
Hyland missed the entire clubs cross country through injury, has had a great schools season, third in North Leinster, eighth in Leinster and now ninth in Ireland.
At Intermediate level, Adam Condon, of Arc Scoil Ris had his finest run on the day that mattered most when racing to a fine fifth place.
What an improvement a year can bring. Adam was 28th in the same event a year ago.
It evoked Liam Moggan, himself a teacher and coach in Ard Scoil Ris in a previous career, to remind us that this was the highest placing by an Arc Scoil Ris pupil since the heady days of the 1980’s when the College were Intermediate champions and Brian Hayes was king.
Another Raheny athlete, Conal Rogers was 45th in the Intermediate race for Belvedere and surely will have found the whole experience of involvement in the Belvo camp intoxicating.