40 Years of On the Ball for The Killarney Advertiser

March 8th, 2013
by Eamonn Fitzgerald

Danny Casey was a voracious reader and back at the start of the 1970s he must surely have read the writings of Jonathan Swift, who said, "Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others," to which one adds that vision is also the ability to look at life and then proceed to see and grasp opportunities .His dream was that Killarney would have its own community newspaper. It would be local and it would be free for all and to all. Local businesses would defray the printing costs. Aspirational and laudable, but it also needed a leap of faith. He was well versed in risk taking; that was his day job based in College Square.

The seedling was planted and shoved its head above ground in the cold uninviting winds of March 1973. That was the first edition, but would there be a second? Like the brave snowdrops that dare to open their fragile flowers every year, come what may, The Killarney Advertiser just kept coming out every Friday and has been hitting the streets without fail for 40 years.

Danny knew very little about sport, even about rowing Killarney's oldest sport, which goes back to the 1830 Regatta, but he was perceptive and knew that sport was central to the psyche of the people of Killarney and of the surrounding areas. He knew of my interest in sport, its joys and its tribulations, titles to be won, obstacles and challenges to take on. That was as far as it went at that time, but sport has a deeper meaning. I realised it is the field of dreams where  the sinner can turn saint and where the local person we meet every day  becomes an unexpected hero, where the past and the future  fuses with the present and this deserves to be celebrated come Friday evening. Sport is human life in microcosm, setting goals, the uncertainty of going forward, practising, slipping and sliding, but always persevering. The tunnels of life may seem to go on forever, but when that light appears nothing else seems to matter. We all dream and some are realised, but either way we all discover ourselves in the process of competing. For some in the lone sports it is you against just about everything and everyone. In team sports you learn how to compete, train and live with your team mates. You may not even like some of them as people, but you are on the one road; co-operation and support brings its own rewards. Ar scáth a cheile a mhaireann na daoine.

This sports column first saw the light of day as Around the Clubs. Within a few editions it was renamed On the Ball. I'm not sure how that happened, but the name stuck and 40 years on it appears every Friday. Each week begins with a blank screen and a silent keyboard, but a mind teeming with ideas. The weekend games provide a fertile ground for the column. Only Boyle Roche's mythical bird had the properties of bi-location, so one can only see so many events. Club PRO's., that a wonderful group of people,  provide the facts of the contests and they work from the same ethic of voluntary contribution to a club/area that means so much to them and to me.

Once the facts are established the opinions are mine, solely mine, which I stand over. The facts are the same for all who attend the games; opinions are personal .I learned from Mick O' Connell that a newspaper account of a sporting event is only one person's opinion. On the Ball concurs and makes no other claims. Some readers do not agree with my analysis and report of a sports event. They and I agree to differ in perceptions. I accept other views, but I do not write to please everyone. Some readers do feel disappointed. However, one writes from what you perceive, never intending to deliberately hurt the feelings of amateurs doing something for which there is no monetary reward. Over the years, a small number of readers have exerted pressure for this column to be a mouth piece for their own frustrations. They want a piece written about how blind and incompetent such a referee was, costing the club the game, or some players having dreadful games. I have never given an opinion in print on a referee's performance, unless I have seen the game. Then I can and do offer an opinion on the performance, but never on the referee as a person; the  same goes for players. I learned that lesson from Micheál Ó Hehir.

The style of writing for this weekly column , is personal and constantly evolving. Con Houlihan has been a significant influence in that evolution. It even predated On the Ball. He knew how to bring it all back home, not unlike the much lauded constructivist style of teaching. Perceive, engage, and create. The greatest concepts have roots in the community. Nurture the roots and these become the canvas on which to create. Words, usually but not always, flow freely. Sometimes the imprecision of the English language leads me into the Gaeilge, where I usually discover the correct word, or phrase to say what I want to say. That is at the core of effective and efficient communication. Know what you have to write, then write it and let nothing come in the way to divert the reader .Con said to convey your thoughts in the language of the readers' known worlds. Then you're in and you have a captive readership. He was fastidious about syntax, even to the use of the semi-colon. Some typos occur, but one always strives to construct accurately. Shortly before he died I had the pleasure of a 2 hour engagement with him in St James' Hospital in Dublin, just the two of us. The mind was as alert as ever, but the body was frail knowing that even if he got over the last fence the long run up the torturous hill to the post at Cheltenham would prove too much. To thine own self be true.

The Killarney Advertiser, seen from the perspective of On the Ball lives on because Danny Casey took the first step on this amazing journey. Well over 2000 steps later the Friday night's editions hit the streets. This odyssey has been part of my life, Why do you do it and continue to do it? I am often asked.

Why does one breathe?

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