Brian McGuigan – Charity begins at Ardboe
YOU CAN put a footballer onto any pitch in the world, and he’ll quickly adjust. Put him on a stage however and you find a man completely out of his comfort zone… and out of his depth!
Last Saturday and Sunday night, I was part of the Ardboe team which took part in the Just Dance for Autism event. The show saw groups from all the local clubs, ourselves, Moortown, Lavey, Loup, Magherafelt O’Donovan Rossa, Cookstown Fr Rocks, Naomh Colmcille hurlers, Rainey Old Boys rugby and Springhill Boxing Club Moneymore, go head to head in what was basically one big dance-off.
I must admit that going onto that stage last week, I was more nervous than I have been about anything for an awful long time. When we were originally asked to take part, it seemed easy, no big deal, but as the date drew closer the reality of the task really started to sink in.
After an extensive series of trials, auditions and fitness tests, we had selected our crack commando dance team. It consisted of myself, my younger brother Shay, his girlfriend Jodie Bloomer, club chairman Kieran Devlin, Stevie Coney and Michelle Downey.
Two girls came in and met with us a few times, got a bit of a routine together, but then you were let loose and you were on your own.
The judging panel was an intimidating one. Willie Anderson, former rugby international, Noel McGinn, Cahir O’Kane of the Derry Post, Carol Doey who is a playwright, and Ramona Nicholas who was on RTE’s Secret Millionaire a few weeks back. Their comments were great, and helped to add to the night. With Thomas Niblock of BBC as the MC on the night, the whole thing was very professional and that added to the pressure.
The weird thing for me was that despite how many big games you’d played in and how many big crowds you’d been in front of, this was totally nerve-wracking because you were doing something you really couldn’t do. You can kick a ball all you want, but trying to dance when you really can’t dance is a whole different story, and required a bit of alcohol consumption to get us through!
Our act started off with Dolly Parton’s Nine To Five, then moved on to Queen’s I Want To Break Free, before finishing off with a little bit of Run DMC. The first two parts saw me dressed up as a woman, something I don’t usually get the chance to do, not in public at least. Poor Jennifer had to tidy her wardrobe some amount of times over the past few weeks as I tried to find the perfect outfit.
One of the highlights of the night had to be seeing my former county colleague Chris Lawn prancing around the stage as a ballerina, complete with white leotard and tutu. It really was a sight to behold.
Chris was one of a number of famous faces from the county scene to lend their support. Kevin McCloy was magically transformed into a black man for one night only, doing somersaults across the stage. Cailean O’Boyle dared to step out in a pair of short, tight denim hotpants that would have put Daisy Duke to shame. But one of the biggest talking points was not PJ Quinn’s performance as Michael Flatley, but rather his body. Let’s just say the Moortown man earned himself a whole lot of groupies by the end of the night.
With a set of jerseys up for grabs for the winning team, and local bragging rights up for grabs, it was always going to be competitive. Yes, the craic was great backstage and we all had a good laugh, but make no mistake; every team was there not only to try and avoid making a show of themselves, but also to try and win the thing. In the end it was Loup on Saturday night and Lavey on Sunday night who took the spoils, making it a clean sweep for the Oak Leaf county, but the real winner was the Mid-Ulster Autism group.
Shane and Edel McFlynn deserve huge credit for organising such a successful event. Not only did they raise a good amount of money for the Mid-Ulster Autism group, but they also succeeded in raising awareness of the condition.
I must admit that autism was never really something I would have known about, but after reading and listening
There are currently over 20,000 individuals and families affected by autism in Northern Ireland alone. That’s an awful lot of people who are on the autism scale, affected by a difficulty communicating or coping in social situations, experiencing extreme anxiety in social situations, and having difficulty understanding social rules.
There were people who I had been talking to before who I never even knew had autism, and I think that now I have been given even a small bit of information about it, I feel much more aware of the condition and have a better understanding of what is involved.
Shane and Edel, as a result of their experiences with their own son, have helped create a situation where all GAA coaches in Tyrone and Derry will now be educated in how to work with autistic children, with the GAA at a national level having given their support to the project and promising to roll it out on a national scale.
Their condition should not be a barrier to autistic children being able to participate in Gaelic games, or in any other pastime they wish to be in. Yes, it might take a bit of time and a bit of an education process, but we must do all we can in order to help them to enjoy our games as much as any of their friends and peers.
A few weeks ago, Philip Jordan abseiled down the side of the Europa Hotel in Belfast to help raise money for the Oscar Knox appeal. He’s the little boy who is currently battling cancer, and is currently in America for potentially life-saving treatment.
I’m not saying that as Gaelic footballers we’re any sort of big celebrities, but if the wee bit of a profile you get from playing county football can be put to good use in helping to get people through the doors and raise money for good causes, then that can only be a good thing, and long may it continue, although I might just get myself a bit more dance practice in first!