By Ciaran O’Donnell
Last weekend, former Letterkenny-based garda, Gerry Davenport, was re-elected unopposed as Community Games President at the rescheduled annual general meeting in Limerick.
“Cancelling last month’s agm that was fixed for Sligo five weeks ago proved somewhat problematic. While the weather wasn’t too bad up around here, we thought it would not be right to have people travelling from other parts of the country that were much more affected by the snow, frost and dangerous conditions,” Gerry said.
Gerry’s first term as head of Community Games began in 2002 when he took over from Mick O’Brien from Cork. His predecessor died suddenly in August, and Gerry stayed in the top position until 2006. After a six year break, he took on the presidential chain for a second term in 2012 and has been in place since.
A member of the gardaí for almost 32 years, Gerry called time on his career in September 2011, having spent most of his years in the community policing unit.
“I really liked being out and about and working with the various local groups. I got to know so many good people, and of course the characters about Letterkenny. I also found it a great way to get into sport in the area,” commented the Culdaff native.
Gerry ran with Letterkenny Athletic Club and went on to serve as chairman. He also became a member of the Errigal Triathlon Club that was set up in the 1980s.
“I came from a strong soccer background growing up in Culdaff. Cycling was probably my most preferred sport, as I wasn’t that great of a swimmer and a mediocre runner. I trained with Mick Jennings, Michael Parkinson, Keith McClean, Patsy Doherty and Kevin Hennessy, who was the man who introduced me to triathlons. They were different times back then, but they were good times.”
These days, Gerry’s a regular walker along the water at Bunagee Pier. He’s actively involved with Culdaff FC and was manager of Donegal underage teams who have excelled at the sportshall finals in Manchester in recent years.
A lot has changed in Community Games since the life-long Leeds United fan first volunteered to help out with Community Games.
“Community Games now has a CEO in the form of John Byrne. We also have seven full-time staff and our own offices in Athlone. Community Games has certainly come a long was since it was first established in Ireland in 1967.
“Last year saw us celebrating our 50th anniversary and it really was a big year. We rolled out our golden volunteer award in conjunction with INM which recognised people who were involved down through the years. We also had special events organised at county and area level to mark the occasion.
“When Community Games was set up initially, there were very few sporting opportunities for children. But 51 years on, children and well catered for by a lot of national organisations. I suppose we are competing with a wider range of sporting organisations now than ever before – and that is a challenge for us,” he said.
“Given that nearly every child from a certain age has a smart phone or a mobile phone, the challenge for society is to create a culture that gets them away from the hand-held devices. We always try to give children an opportunity to take part in different sports to see if they like it and move on. Community Games has opened the door for a lot of children to go on and be successful, and not necessarily in the sport they first started out in in Community Games.”
It’s 25 years since Gerry first got involved in Community Games through his daughter, Sinead. She was a member of Swilly Seals who trained at the old swimming pool off High Road. Not one to stand idly by, he got active at county level and things took a natural progression thereafter. The late John Kelly from Falcarragh was one of the main driving forces behind Community Games in Gerry’s early days.
“Patsy McGonagle was involved at the very start, as was Fr Con Cunningham. Then there was PJ Buggy, the late Michael Logue, May Logue, the late Hugh Gallagher, the Hagans in Milford and the Crossans in Letterkenny. Some of these are still involved at a local level,” Gerry said.
The Community Games has found itself moving home over the last decade, and securing a permanent base for its annual festival has taken up much of Gerry’s time and effort. 2008 saw its national finals hosted in the famous Mosney holiday camp in Co Meath for the last time.
“Mosney had served its purpose, so we knew we had to look for somewhere different. Athlone was our home for the next eight years before we went to Abbotstown in 2017. We wanted to come back to Dublin for the 50th year and to where it all began. We have since signed a three-year deal with the University of Limerick, and this will be the first year to host the national festival there.
As Gerry reflects on his time in Community Games, he has many fond memories.
“I suppose seeing my own children competing would be a high point, and then seeing my grandchildren coming along and also competing was equally pleasing.
“Being president when seeing in the 50 year celebrations was another highlight. We got a slot on the Late Late Show last year which helped promote Community Games in a big way. It was great that RTE saw fit to recognise the milestone and we have made great strides at national level.”
Gerry said being Community Games President is a labour of love. If he wasn’t enjoying it, he wouldn’t be there, he added.
“I do get a lot of satisfaction out of it. At times it’s not easy to chair any organisation, never mind a national organisation. We are at the start of the sixth decade of Community Games and a strategic plan is being drawn up to bring us forward. Community Games is not about winning medals and trophies,” he insisted.
“It’s about community spirit, having memories and sharing experiences. If we can continue with that belief, we will be a major force in sport and cultural circles for another 50 years.”
By Ciaran O’Donnell