FOR a rare moment in my life, I appreciated the importance of participation as opposed to winning a medal.
A memorable experience that will last a lifetime.
Having just returned from a trip to Coventry, where I had the honour of managing the Cork girls soccer team that competed in the 54th International Children’s Games, I took time to reflect on what the games really meant to everybody involved.
Firstly, a huge thanks to Cork City Council who funded teams in soccer, basketball, table tennis and climbing to take part in the prestigious tournament in Coventry which had over 1,500 kids representing 32 countries from 80 towns and cities across the world.
Eighteen athletes, four coaches, representatives from the City Council, Cork Sports Partnership and the Cork Women’s and Schoolgirls Soccer League, along with many parents, spent six days experiencing what is best described as a kids Olympics.
From the moment they arrived at the superb facilities of Warwick University, the athletes were treated like professional athletes ahead of the major International sporting event.
There were two areas from Ireland that represented our country, Cork and Tralee.
Our Cork contingent competed in girls soccer, boys basketball, table tennis and climbing, and all did superbly in all events.
The competitions were held in venues that hosted the Commonwealth Games in recent weeks and this only added to the professionalism of the games.
As competitions kicked off, it was surreal to be competing in 34 degrees heat.
While it was nothing the players had experienced before, credit to all for performing in the manner in which they did.
The opening ceremony set the tone for the games as we as athletes and coaches walked through the spectacular streets of Coventry and spent the evening at the Assembly gardens where we met our very own Lord Mayor Deirdre Forde before the kids were treated to a night of music and fun.
It was a superb few days of competition where our athletes got to compete against players from all over the world.
As coach, I got to experience a lot from the line, none more so than the unbelievable heat that we had for the entire time.
And as coach, I was able to witness what the whole experience was like for the girls.
More importantly, I got to experience the true meaning of community spirit which for me, and as cliche as it may sound, was the real winner at the games.
Previously, I had been on many tours as a player with Wilton when we competed in the Portsmouth Royal Mail Cup.
While we won the tournament on a few occasions which was an unbelievable experience, I also knew that in the years we weren’t successful I got so much more from the experience.
I got to meet friends for life from other countries and this experienced I hoped the girls would also get.
As a competitive person, I would be lying if I said not winning the tournament in Coventry was disappointing.
Whether I’m playing or coaching, I go out to try and win every game.
However, looking back over the games, it gives me huge pleasure to see what impact the games had and will continue to have on all my players.
Yes, winning was something they all wanted also but it certainly wasn’t the be-all and end-all.
I had eight girls from four different clubs across Cork whom some met for the first time when preparations for the games began, and for me to see their friendships grow, was truly amazing.
Apart from the games, the girls got to mix with other teams, in particular forming a special bond with our boys' basketball team. They supported each other at their games and it was great to see.
We got to watch sports I hadn’t watched previously. Our table tennis competitors and climbers did superbly and added to our overall experience.
The basketball team featured Justin Raheem, Dylan O’Rourke, Tadhg Murphy and Daniel Burke.
The climbing group included Sean Henchion, Tara Henchion, Ailbhe Desmond and Jack Murray.
The soccer squad consisted of Keelyn Hegarty, Lucy O’Sullivan, Roisin McGonigle Walsh, Andrea Toye, Aoibhe Linehan, Lola Curham, Aine Crowe and Holly Fitzpatrick while the table tennis team had Megan O’Brien and Alex Healy.
As the games drew to a close, athletes began swapping their kits and jerseys.
This was one of the highlights as again it showed the friendships that had been built and it gave our athletes many mementoes of the games to bring home.
However, for us as coaches, it became difficult to find our players in a crowd, when not wearing their Cork colours.
Cork City Council’s sports development officer Laura Coady was thrilled with the event and hopes they can build on their participation in the coming years.
“It was a fabulous event for everyone involved,” said Coady. "Huge credit to all of the athletes and their coaches who represented our city and country so well at the games.
"We are all so very proud of their achievements. It was a superb few days where we got to witness some outstanding performances from all of the athletes.
“We are already planning for next year's event which will be held in Korea.
"We, in the council got to experience the impact the games can have for the kids and long may it continue.”