Coping without sport… We all need it to give us a life

The Herald speaks to Harry McConkey, Ballinamallard Utd manager and former physical education teacher, on sport in Fermanagh. How he views the importance of sport in our county, how we are dealing without it and what lies ahead for us.

How important has sport
been in Fermanagh?
“I feel sport is in the very heart of our community. If ever we needed reminding of the importance of sport in our county then the wiping out of live sporting action since mid March has done just that. The old adage “you don’t appreciate it until it’s gone” bares true for many. Our local papers have filled their sports pages with some great memories from the past. I enjoyed spotting the stars of yesteryear, some old school pals, some teammates and some fellow sports people who you admired from afar in the 70’s.
It seems light years away since I got all dolled up for the Fermanagh Herald Sports Awards in the Killyhevlin Hotel in February. The room was filled with athletes, excited parents, coaches /mentors administrators and sponsors as well as of course the media and sports reporters .I sat back and truly enjoyed listening to and viewing the incredible achievements of Fermanagh’ sporting fraternity.
It was evident to all in that room that sport in general plays a great role in creating friendships and mutual respect.The stories and reviews highlighted wonderful life skills gained by our young people and the sense of great pride they were to their parents and their community . Clearly it was not just about the trophies, medals, league tables, record racetimes , etc but it was the thoughts and feelings of the athlete or the coach that captured the audience in the room. They wanted to know what sort of a person they were, their human qualities and this created an ambience of caring for the sports personality.

What about sport in the present day?
We are in lockdown and as I sit in my study I’ve just spotted a little flip card from Liz Morris at the School of Emotional Literacy. She suggests that we take a personal feelings check throughout the day . Ask yourself how am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling this way? What can I do to improve how I am feeling? She says by monitoring your feelings you can discover your needs (food, water, fresh air, and movement ) and improve your day. Well I’ve been working on all those and considering what our fantastic NHS workers and so many others in our essential services are facing I am very fortunate to tick those boxes . However I would be less than truthful if I didn’t tell you despite my good fortune and gratefulness I do miss my football manager’s Tuesday, Thursday Saturday routine .
They say rituals and routines make you feel safe and I do believe many coaches like Ryan Mc Menamin, Dom Corrigan, Steve Walsh, Derek Holland and Michael Kerr are all feeling a little disorientated in their days right now. In Dermot Crowe’s article in the Sunday Independent last week he quoted Waterford Hurling manager Liam Cahill “There is so much negativity out there that it is just so hard to pick yourself up . I really need something I am like an oul dog, I need the GAA , to give me some bit of a fecking lift.
In the past five weeks I have looked at and listened to many different scenarios and possible solutions to the complex problem of how we can return to any sport . After reading in great detail the thought involved in drawing up such protocols I started to feel a sense of real hope.
However then I would read the words …”but we will not put lives at risk , peoples health must come first.”
Sadly until we have no social distancing and a vaccine in place I do not see how we can return in the weeks or months ahead to the beloved Ferney Park, Mullaghmeen rugby pitches or Brewster Park.


So what do I feel about the future regarding our sport?
In adversity we learn so much and we can look back in order to move forward .The Belleek Pottery Fermanagh Herald Awards Dinner at the Killyhevlin tells me that the sports fraternity will flourish in the future using all the qualities that were on show that evening in February 2020.
We heard how tirelessly our sporting greats worked in our gyms , in our swimming pools , on our roads , on athletic tracks and cross country courses, on Lough Erne and our sports fields. I ‘ve told my soccer players over the years that “champions are made when nobody is looking”.
Fermanagh sports folk are a resilient bunch and are well drilled in doing things the hard way. As a collective of participants , coaches, managers supporters and sponsors we will find solutions as we evolve from this dark cloud of covid 19.
In time a vaccine will be found and it will allow us to return to our sports with an incredible appreciation and hunger to enjoy and embrace the challenges of sport and life in this beautiful part of the world .We will be ready.


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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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