By Brendan McTaggart
Pairc Ui Cheallaigh played host to something special on Saturday evening with a charity exhibition for a packed to covid capacity crowd.
Bellaghy native, Frank Diamond put the pieces altogether for the day in aid of ALPS – the charity ‘All Lives are Precious’ and while it was exhibition of football, it was also an exhibition of what the GAA is all about.
The Portglenone venue was filled with a feeling of family and community as the best laid plans of Frank began to unfold in a quite superb event. Coined as the ‘brainchild’ of the founder of ALPs Ronan Gilchrist and Paul Heffron, it was Frank who pieced the wonderful day together. A task he relished and embraced while garnering the support of near and far. Sponsors galore with a commemorative match day programme with 72 patrons coming forward, Antrim GAA also adding their name to the list of beneficiaries with a presentation at half time of the ‘main event’. A half time break that included recently crowned All-Ireland minor football champions, Derry take centre stage before Rory O’Connor (Rory’s Stories) had some words of advice for the young Oak Leafers.
The curtain raiser on the day was the ‘GAA For All’ annual game with Antrim and Derry facing off once again. Special children and adults playing our beautiful game with a difference, their chance to shine. This was their All-Ireland Final and there wasn’t a person in attendance who didn’t watch with smiles and cheer with each score. It really is a special event which added to the day.
The cherry on top was an interview with ‘God.’ Finn Heaney from Antrim and Micheal Gallagher from Derry getting a few words with Peter Canavan. The Tyrone legend asking the question, young Finn and Micheal providing the answers. The crowd looked on, Peter ‘The Great’ asked all the right question, his ‘guests’ providing honest entertainment. A small piece of brilliance by the organisers that captivated the audience.
The main event was a mix of the beautiful game, flowing moves and quirky comments. Paul Mc Flynn telling Joe Brolly to ‘pass the ball to the shooters’ when he missed his lines for once a particular highlight.
The result of the match off course is irrelevant. The record will show a win for the ALPs All Stars with a score line of 4-13 to 3-9 after an hour of entertainment. Dermot Washington, Oisin McConville, Antrim manager Enda McGinley and Ciaran Brady with the green flags for the All Star select side. Charlie McLarnon and Tony Convery with majors either side of a Cahir O’Kane own goal. The Irish News scribe confirmed this one after the game as he made a rash decision to hang up his gloves. Let the moment sink in and dust settle before confirming the decision, Cahir.
The sight of Benny Coulter selling dummies and Peter Canavan linking play is worth any donations to ALPs alone along with the entrance fee. Watching Enda Muldoon and Conleth Gilligan play with the same telepathy they graced the playing fields of Ireland for years in the Ballinderry and Derry shirt will never grow old. The engine might have more miles on the clock but the guile and class remains.
The sight of Tony Convery haring up the middle of his home town turf, creating chances and bagging a goal like he did in his hay day for the Casements and Antrim caused for plenty to reflect on his sterling career while Kevin Madden and Kevin Brady still know where the posts are on a pitch. Terry Parke dictating play and Phelim McCloskey rolling back the years with his performance.
But it wasn’t about performances. It was about ALPs and getting awareness out there for the great work they do. As Frank said as he addressed the crowd at Pair cui Cheallagh, quoting Maya Angelon: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people won’t forget how you make them feel.
“We are on a journey together to try and end the stigma around mental health and ultimately save lives”
Saturday was a perfect day and ALPs is the undoubted winner on the day. The Casements club played the part of host to perfection, the event itself was perfection personified. The patrons who attended left with smiles on their faces and the message instilled, there is help out there. No one is alone and organisations like ALPs are worth their weight in gold.