From the Edge of Darkness

MH3 —  November 5, 2018 — Leave a comment

At the heart of who you are as a person, you will find what truly motivates you.

Is it happiness or sadness? Is it good times or bad? Is it success or failure?

Don’t rush to answer this question. You need to be honest with yourself… truly honest. Think hard about what genuinely motivates you to create change.

My suspicion is that your initial response will be that you believe you are motivated by passion, by achievement, and by belonging. That you are an eternal optimist. A glass-almost-full kind of person.

I don’t believe you have dug deep enough if that is your answer. Try again.

When you dig deep, and truly understand yourself, you start to expose the rawness of what truly inspires you. It is an exercise worth doing, andI believe it is a powerful practice for you when developing your next marketing campaign. (Hopefully, I didn’t lose you with that sharp left turn).

Last week I opened the Infopresse RDV Sponsorship and Event conference addressing this topic. My talk, titled From The Edge of Darkness, is my take on how pain, tension, and suffering can be powerful fodder for the best storytelling.

First of all, I believe a marketing story should do three things: it should Entertain, Educate, and Inspire. The Inspiration is crucial, as it will lead to action.

To create a great story you need many components. You need a heroine faced with a significant challenge. You need stories about how that heroine battled adversity. You need a triumphant moment when they succeed or fail. Then, you need to wrap it all up in a neat and tidy package.

But how do you communicate that great story? I believe that in order to tell a powerful story, you must first know and understand your own. Next, you need to understand the pain and challenges of the person who you are telling that story on behalf of. Lastly, you need to understand what is troubling your audience.

This requires a new approach to briefing, creating, and producing.

Your brief needs to talk about the true pain your audience faces. Why do you care how old they are or how much they make? Wouldn’t you rather know what it is they fear?

Once you know that, it is time to talk about the tensions between your audience and the brand. The first step is to take some time to understand the pain of your coauthors, both personally and professionally. Adding self-discovery to the process will spark new thinking. With the pot now stirred, mine the tension that exists between all the parties – You. The brand. The audience. The brand owner. The agencies and partners. The consumers. The distribution channels.

Finally, it is time to write your story. It should be a movie script. Full stop. Writing a movie script, and sticking to that principle, will ensure you tell a great story. Not just an ad with a nice twist.

Consumers today want brands and companies to operate with a purpose in everything they do. Marketers today claim to be responding to this demand. I have my doubts.

Marketers today claim to be creating authentic content. The words that comprise that sentence disprove this claim.

Marketers today claim to be in touch with what consumers needs. Yet they shy away from things that truly matter.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.”

I don’t have to show you the NIKE Colin Kaepernick creative to secure your agreement that this was a story truly written from the Edge of Darkness.

There is nothing more powerful than a story well told.

To Be Coached Is To Be Loved

MH3 —  October 16, 2018

I borrowed this quote from USC football coach Clay Helton as the title for my blog this week.

Today it has multiple meanings for me. It applies so well to many aspects of my life: To my volunteer football coaching. To my role as an entrepreneur. To my role as an investor in a startup. To my new role as a not-for-profit board member. To my role as a boss conducting performance reviews.

Coaching. Managing. Leading. They are roles that are so subject to criticism these days, it’s become an epidemic. I am puzzled as to why.

People need to be held accountable to standards. However, they like to complain if they perceive being micromanaged. They like to complain if they feel their boss is too hard on them. They like to complain if their boss changes their mind.

Why all the complaints?

Perhaps the boss is micromanaging as a result of your demonstration that you’re not yet ready to lead. Perhaps business circumstances have changed, meaning that direction and strategy need to follow suit. Perhaps your boss isn’t being hard on you, but merely raising expectations because they believe you have the talent to do more.

While people like to complain about being managed, lead, or coached, they are also quick to seek out “mentorship”. Everyone wants a mentor these days. An older advisor. A soul mate. A pal.

Mentorship today has become a cop out. It’s a place where people can seek feedback that they can pick and choose from, based on what suits their liking. Sure, the best coaching, managing, or leading includes mentorship. Being a good mentor is as simple as being a good listener. Equally as vital for a good boss. A bad mentor, and a bad boss, doesn’t listen or hear your point of view.

But make no mistake, being a good listener doesn’t mean your boss is always going to agree with you. They usually have information, experience, or insights that you don’t. So let’s stop being so offended when they set a direction or a course of action. Very few bosses are picking a course of action to be intentionally stupid or mean, as you no doubt have accused them of behind their back.

Today I borrow Coach Helton’s words to reframe the discussion. Instead of finding a reason to complain, you should be grateful that your boss, coach, leader, manager is taking the time to provide you direction. To me, nothing could be worse than being ignored.

Love,

Mh3

sponsorshipXOXO

Administrator —  August 27, 2018

Dear Whistler;

Thank you for being such an enchanting hostess for sponsorshipX.

 

“This was the 3rd sponsorshipX conference I attended and the best one yet. The workshops were insightful and the networking opportunities were second to none. In addition to establishing some great business contacts, I came home with a few new friends”

Your twin mountains embraced my sponsorshipX friends with passion.
Your rugged beauty and massive peaks challenged our souls.
Your endless skies, filled with sun and smoke, inspired us.

 

“It was an outstanding conference hosted in an amazing part of our country. I thought the topics were incredibly relevant, presented by engaging individuals.  I learned a lot and made many great connections.”

You were the perfect hostess.

Perfect because your mountains provided an apt metaphor for our conference theme. Perfect because your mountains provided an arena for our delegates to become bikers, hikers, and zip liners. Perfect because you challenged every person at sponsorshipX to challenge themselves in new ways they never thought possible.

“…this was the most impactful conference that we’ve been to. Everybody was excited to be there, open to chat and learn, and generally easy to engage with.” 

When I decided two years ago that you would be the first ever hostess of sponsorshipX, my only hope was that you would speak to everyone, the way you did to me. I was wrong about that. You sang to them. You sang to them in a way that the lyrics they heard were different for each of them, yet the tune was familiar. You made it personal. You made it powerful. You made it real.

Dear Whistler. I know my thanks are something that would be shared by all of our sponsorshipX guests. You can see the gratitude in these pictures I have shared. You can sense your impact in the words that I have shared. You can feel the gratitude in this message I have shared.

“Many thanks to all of you, and the entire T1 team for pulling off such an incredible and engaging conference… was off the charts and think you nailed not only the spectacular venue, but the approach to snack sized content was ideal.”

All I have to left to say is that I can’t wait to come back to you.

xoxo

Mh3
Head Coach, sponsorshipX

I’m With Chuck

MH3 —  August 7, 2018

In the 1990’s the administration at Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto decided that the sport of football was no longer worth the share of the school’s budget, almost killing a tradition that had been a major part of the school since 1937.

What the administration didn’t count on was running into the passion and fervour of a young alumnus named Chuck Richardson. A former player, and at the time I believe a volunteer coach of the Panthers, Chuck quickly rallied his former teammates and those that came before him. Golf tournaments, fundraisers, donations, and protests all quickly ensued. Chuck led his band of rebels with a righteous tone and t-shirts that read “I’m With Chuck”.

The Lawrence Park admin had unleashed a storm they couldn’t control.

Upon saving the program, Chuck worked like mad to ensure it’s survival. He founded the Lawrence Park Football Alumni Association, created alumni lists, started annual golf tournaments, invented an annual exhibition game between Lawrence Park and North Toronto called the Parn-Reynolds Cup, and began selling to anyone who would buy into his vision in order to get them to help.

 

I was one such person. In 1998 Chuck recruited me from another school to take over the reins at Lawrence Park. Though he loved coaching and was great at it, Chuck wanted to focus on fundraising, his career, and his health. The plan was for me to help him for a year and then assume the head coaching role. But as fate would have it, Chuck’s plan to ease back from football was thrown through a major loop. That year, the teachers adopted a work to rule protest and once again Lawrence Park football was on the brinks. Not just at our school but all schools in Toronto.

Chuck and many others around the province jumped into the void. He created the Metro Toronto Wildcats, got a permit for the field, and loaned the Wildcats the Lawrence Park equipment since it was actually owned by the LPFAA.

The rest is much more than history.

Chuck spent the next twenty years of his life devoted to the Metro Toronto Wildcats. He also coached junior and senior at Lawrence Park for as long as he could, regularly helped fundraise, and worked hard to keep the legacy of the Parn-Reynolds Cup alive.

I am personally grateful for his introducing me to Lawrence Park football which ranks closely behind my family and my business in my personal pecking order.

But my voice of thanks is just one compared to the thousands of lives he has impacted through the Wildcats. Boys, girls, parents, coaches, and volunteers by the thousands owe it to Chuck. He created opportunities where only dust existed. All who were given an opportunity to experience and love the game the way Chuck did. He found a way for the talented and the clumsy, the rich and the poor, literally the black and the white to bond together. He produced NCAA, USPORTS, NFL, CFL, and even GFL players. (Trivia question – what is the GFL???)

 

In short, Chuck created a community of which he was head cheerleader, head coach, and mayor.

Unfortunately, that community lost their leader on July 24th when Chuck passed away (suddenly) at the age of 54.

RIP Chuck.

But this blog shouldn’t be about the final whistle to Chuck’s career. This blog should be about doing something for the community and kids in your neighbourhood. This blog is about fighting for what is important. This blog is about impact.

While we didn’t always get along or see eye to eye, after all, what would sports be without some disagreements, there is one thing I want you to remember. “I’m With Chuck.”

T1 @ 24

MH3 —  May 16, 2018

Hello.

I am not sure how many of you know what today is?

It’s our birthday! Yep, the T1 Agency is twenty-four years old today! Let me say that in Canadian, we are Two-Four.

On May 16th, 1994 I had hair, a beagle named Buddy, an office in my home, a bad suit, a Macintosh Duo computer, a car phone, a CompuServe email address with an empty address book, a business card with an embossed Trojan head as a logo, a green BMW, a large mortgage, a staff phone directory of one, and a blank client list.

Today, thanks to you, I have no hair, a Cavapoo named Prince, a 10,000 square foot office, a trying too hard t-shirt, an iPad, an iPhone X, a LinkedIn account with 10 569 connections, a Trojan-less brand, a black BMW, a real liquidity ratio, a staff directory of dozens, and a blue-chip client list.

But in reality I have much more than that. I have everything I ever dreamed of. I love what I do, who I do it for and who I do it with.

Saying my baby is twenty-four years old, doesn’t make me feel old.
It doesn’t make feel dated.
It doesn’t make me feel finished.
It makes me hungrier than ever.
To be clear I plan to see this enterprise through go at least it’s golden anniversary.
That’s right, twenty-four down, twenty-six to go.

I was once a short, yappy, too cocky, adopted halfbreed from Orillia who brought a pissed off with everyone personality to everything he did.

Today, I am not much different.

Except I have channeled my pissiness into passion, my cockiness into confidence, my yaps into questions, and my shortness into fatness.

For that I have all of you whom I have worked with along the way to thank. You taught me more than I have ever, or will ever, give you credit for!

Mh24

I thought the 2018 Sponsorship Marketing Awards, staged by the Sponsorship Marketing Council of Canada, were a big improvement over previous years.

A much better venue. A timely, compact program. Some interesting speeches. Some politically inappropriate comments. Some great winners. Some exciting work.

Don’t worry I’m not suggesting they were perfect. The pre-awards reception was poorly planned. Soft drinks only? The onstage presentation of awards was awkward. The opening bit by the guest speaker earned him the title “Captain Obvious.” The awards and the winners all still seem very Toronto centric to me. Oh and not winning anything sucked for my clients, my team and me, but I will rant on that later.

Okay, let me rant now. Naw, maybe not. I want you to keep reading.

Winning and losing should not actually be the focus of an awards show. I believe with all my heart in this contradictory statement. All of it.

Award shows, industry events, and conferences should be about one simple thing. Driving the industry forward. We should focus on advancing learning, building new relationships which will improve the quality of the sector.

I am going to steal a sentiment I literally wrote for another blog a few minutes ago. (For just $9.95 you can read that one also!) But it’s a comment well worth repeating.

Marketing circa 2018 is witnessing an unprecedented importance placed on brand experiences. Whether those be transactional experiences, shopping experiences, marketing experiences, digital experiences, or referred experiences; their impact is driving brand consideration, brand adoption, and brand love.

A Sponsorship Marketing initiative can be one of the most powerful approaches to experience-driven brand building. The elasticity of a sponsorship to stretch across all forms of internal and external stakeholders connections is unrivalled. In the last five months, I have been front and centre at industry events in Asia, America, and Europe. It’s the same conversation in different languages. Live is king. It drives media, content, conversations, and sales.

However, there are still many many executives, board members, and business leaders who are willing to ignore sponsorship. Or worse, they plow millions of dollars strictly into online or mass media. Slightly better, but still problematic, are the leaders who drop significant money on rights but don’t understand the need for activation. The disbelieving segment of the business world is the true competition to those of us in sponsorship. Not each other. But sometimes we act like we are fighting one another.

For the record, in case you are unsure of where I stand on this. Despite my desire to win ‘Agency of the Year’ or’ Best in Show’, I have no greater desire than to see every other agency in the sector do great work for their clients. It comes only a close second to ensure my agency does so. I have no greater desire than to see every other property in the sector provide a great return for their sponsors and clients. I have no greater desire than to see every other conference (except one maybe…) to provide great value for their delegates.

Why?

Because we need a robust industry for all of us to be successful. I didn’t invent sponsorship or experiential marketing or integrated marketing communications. Neither did you. However, we both benefit from being in this business. Let me rephrase that. We benefit when our client’s benefits. Our clients, your clients, your brands, your priorities should benefit most times. If we/you/me do it right.

This shit is powerful. We need to use it.

We need to use it and report back to our clients and ourselves how great it is. But we need to use it right and we need to be honest about it. I am sick and tired of properties who fudge numbers, claim everything was amazing, and annually announce that this year’s (fill in the blank big annual event name) was better than ever. It’s not true. It is what it is. But don’t lie about it. You are hurting yourselves and all of us.

I don’t know why, but we have an industry that has a hard time telling the truth. Clients can count. You can talk all you want about your event attendance, but the client knows how many orders they received on their website.

Industry awards should encourage us all to not be afraid of the truth.

Industry awards should also encourage us to work together. I had lunch last week with an agency that has about a thirty percent overlap in services with us. I was thrilled when they asked if we can work together on something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I will try. I have had similar conversations with other agencies and it has petered out after one or two conversations. It isn’t going to be easy. It is not always going to work for the first time. People, especially me, can change their minds. But it is worth a try.

Industry awards should encourage us all to embrace cooperation.

I have one competitor who refuses to speak at my conference, sponsorshipX. Years ago certain members of the SMCC were mad I had my own conference. Who fricking cares? We can both have conferences. They can both be great! If my biggest competitor had a conference I would die to speak at it. I would also buy front row passes for ten of my people to glean, learn, and absorb all they can.

Industry awards should encourage us all to learn from one another.

Recruiting for talent these days is so hard. I have recently lost out on two hot digital/creative tech people. In both cases, I thought we had them only to be outbid/out offered. In one case, the largest competitor in my field scooped a talent that I really wanted. Yes, I am displeased. Keeping talent is also tough as you know. Some people think it is crazy to pay for my team members to be at industry conferences and awards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always on my mind, but so is this. Very few people are going to spend their entire lives working at one brand, agency, or property. But the colleagues who leave you should be the biggest fans of you. It has taken me far too long in life to learn that. I have some exes who are haters out there and some exes who are lovers. Memo to the haters, my toughness was about the work, not about you. Putting me aside for a moment, yes it is possible for a brief moment, our industry needs more stars, more geniuses, more talents. Everyone working at Shopify right now should be working for you.

Industry awards should encourage smart passionate people to join our industry.

I view everyone in the business as being on the same team. Yes, we compete for dollars, talent, creative, profile, properties, naming rights, and clients. But we are also interdependent. We are also part of an ecosystem. We are also all related by heart. The heart and the emotion that is central to every great sponsorship program. The heart that pumps faster when it experiences an amazing event. The heart of the consumer that loves our brands even more for helping them enjoy something they love even more.

Industry awards should show the love to everyone in the industry.

Thai Magic

MH3 —  April 25, 2018

I’ve come under the magical spell of Thailand and its people.

Magic is an overused expression. But I use it today to best describe my recent seven-day business trek to Bangkok. The city, the people, the sights, the sounds, the culture swept me away.

I am not here to write a travel blog. I want to share with you some reflections on a way of life that gave me time to pause. Time to pause and think about my own conduct as a human being.

I loved the way Thai people communicated in the most simple forms. Hello. Good Morning. Thank-you. Please. Handing over your check. I have become addicted to the poetic bow and clasping of hands that accompany the greetings. Men say “sah wah dee khrap” with a short and sharp finish and women say “sah wah dee khaa….” in a drawn-out manner.

This greeting is not said quickly or taken lightly. It’s ceremonial. It’s purposeful. It’s intentional. It makes me embarrassed in the way I mumble hi or grunt good morning. Often to the most important people in my life. For people in Thailand, hello feels like it means much more.

It was hard for me not to feel reflective in Thailand. No, I am not about to become Buddhist, but the public and powerful way that Thai people worship was nothing short of addictive to me. Thai people pray and reflect in gorgeous temples, in parks, at street corners, and shopping malls. Everywhere one turned was a shrine, many of them the size of hot dog stands, others statuesque. Opportunities to light oils and candles, or places flowers or other decorations are a part of their daily life.

I have to admit sitting on a bench outside of one temple and just being overwhelmed. I knew nothing of the prayers being shared by the people on the mats. There was no way for me to interpret the conversation of the monks walking past me. The symbols and emblems did not provide any signals to me. Yet I knew I was somewhere else other than inside my flesh and bones. At least for a moment.

The power of the pause is sometimes foreign to me. To pause and listen to the world around me. Not just the endless voices. Knowing there is something more substantial to hear. Maybe I am dreaming, or have been fooled by none other than myself. But I don’t know. There is something to be said for a spate of reflection.

I know the moment of Thailand I saw, was somewhat illusional. I was a tourist in a land that while it is still reinventing their economy, places an exceptionally high level of importance on tourism. The service levels were amazing. But more importantly, people everywhere seemed in great spirits. The buzz and energy of their street markets, floating markets, and food markets was undeniable. It’s such a unique way of life, that isn’t feasible in cold weather North American markets, but I wish it was. Just walking through the markets in the mornings and watching families walk and feed their children breakfast at the same time was a joy.

I also know the moment of time I was in Thailand was magical. I was there during their New Year’s celebrations, it is now 2561 BE (Buddhist Era) in Thailand. They take New Year’s in Thailand very seriously. Days of partying, water gun fights, and spending time with family are enjoyed. Water gun fights? Yes, the Songkran Festival is a nationwide water fight. For decades, people have been equipping themselves with buckets, water balloons, and massive blasters to douse each other in the happiest organic event you will ever see. It happens all over the country and Bangkok has several massive events, one covering over 5km on a single street!

Songkran 2018

The spraying of water is also symbolic in Thai culture. The water represents respect, blessings, purification and a fresh start. In essence – magic.

My Words For Maggie

MH3 —  April 8, 2018

Last night I had the honour of attending an amazing party in honour of Maggie Hermant. All funerals should be like this.

Four hundred people stuffed into a Rogers Center suite. Where else would Maggie want her party? Hockey beaming from a dozen screens. Sports jerseys of all variety being worn in honour. Normal food served as per her wishes. An incredibly wide swath of family, friends, friends who were as close as family, work associates, clients, and old classmates. Included in that group were her grief stricken parents.

Maggie was a good friend of our agency and just a few weeks ago she was visiting our office to talk about the next phase in her career. As she was leaving, and I was arriving, we had a brief chat. She was beaming, as always. Quick with some sport highlight, not surprisingly. Behind her was the warm wake she always generated.

Now she is gone.

I left her celebration selfishly wishing that I knew her better. While I accuse myself of being selfish, it’s a a criticism I’m very willing to wear. Maggie was that type of gal. The speeches and memorials to her proved that. The party was organized around the start of the hockey game so the attendees could sing Oh Canada and witness the puck drop. Both of which were crucial to Maggie’s live hockey ritual.

Of course last night’s hockey games were the unfortunate stage of another memorial. Tribute after tribute was being conducted for the Humboldt bus tragedy. You couldn’t help but feel the additional heaviness of this national moment being brought to bear on Maggie’s moment. Magically they complemented one another. As the broadcast showed the powerful unity of the NHL player jerseys all bearing the Broncos name on their backs, the solidarity of the many Ohio State (her alma mater) jerseys at Maggie’s night was equally impactful. There was no question that the moment of silence requested on Hockey Night in Canada, and honoured by us live, was the soundtrack for paying our respects to the junior hockey team while also reliving our individual Maggie moments.

There was a moment early in the evening that I wish Maggie could have witnessed. As the broadcast went to an unexpected commercial, Maggie’s younger sister (and emcee for the evening) realized that there would be a gap in the presentations. Quickly she asked the gathering to sing one of Maggie’s favourite songs. The theme to Hockey Night in Canada. The orginal, and only, one.

The words were not past her lips before the song broke out at full volume. Everyone, even the non-sport fans, knew the tune. So amazing to me. We have an entire nation raised on a song. A sports song. Our true national anthem. There may be nothing more Canadian. A close second may be riding the team bus to a hockey game.

I think we belted that song out to celebrate Maggie, mourn the loss of members of our hockey family, and remind ourselves that when times are painful we are part of a bigger team than perhaps we ever realized.

RIP Maggie

Dreaming of Dr. King

MH3 —  April 3, 2018

Twenty years ago I got extreme altitude sickness while hiking in Peru with my wife. Thankfully she was there to advocate for me with our guides because if I had been on my own, the odds are high that I would never have made it. I was so loopy that I was unable to explain to our guides, who spoke very little English, that my lungs were filling with fluid and my brain was losing functionality.

Being saved from major illness or worse is not what this blog is about. It’s about the fiftieth anniversary of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. The connection? A dream that I had over and over the first night that the altitude sickness was really impacting me in Peru.

That dream, which I feel like I had dozens of times that night, was short and bizarre. In the dream, I burst into the rooming house where King’s assassin James Earl Ray was staying. Each and every time I am a split second too late to stop the fatal shot from being fired. The countless repetitions of this dream almost drove me insane that night.

I’m reminded of this odd moment in my life as I consider the tragic half century marking of Dr. King’s death. Why would a Canadian, who has never truly felt the pain of serious racism, be dreaming about an assassination that can’t be undone? Was there something significant in my dream, or was it a fluke?

Dr. King had a dream that almost everyone in the world has heard parts of. His dream was to end racism. His dream was for people to not be judged by the colour of their skin. His dream was to end bitterness and hatred. His dream was for society to follow the idea that all men are created equal.

The world is killing the dream.

I fear that if Dr. King were alive today it may have killed him as well.

In Canada, we have unarmed indigenous kids being killed by white men who are being acquitted on grounds that it was an accident. Did the gun get loaded by accident?

Across Europe, we have countries closing their doors to Syrian families who are being forced to leave a country they don’t really want to leave, but a convoluted and unwinnable civil war has left them no choice.

In Burma, rape, murder, and arson are being utilized to chase out unwanted minorities.

Don’t even get me started on the United States. “The land of the free”.

“The land of the free” where a professional football team thinks it is okay to use a nickname that at one point literally meant the scalped head of a Native American. Oh, and by the way, the reward for each carcass was $200, about the price of a good seat in the stadium.

“The land of the free” where people want to fly the flag that represents the enslavement of four million of my ancestors.

‘The land of the free” unless you’re a Dreamer which means you’re one of nearly a million young people brought to America by your parents, albeit illegally, who are now being threatened with deportation. That’s right young lady, you were brought here at two years old by your parents, but now despite your university degree, your good job, your loving partner, and your cute puppy – we want you to leave because you seem like a threat.

I do believe in signs, symbolism, messages, and yes even my dreams. Though I can’t explain that night in Peru, or why when I sat down to reflect on MLK why this memory came flooding back. For whatever the reason, I know there is a reason. So with that to consider, I leave you with three thoughts:

I wonder what it will take for the world to fulfill Dr. King’s dreams.
I wonder if our children will live in a world where they can fulfill their dreams.
I wonder what part of you, me, or even a perfect stranger can play in that most important calling.

Do you have a dream?

The Pride In His Eyes

MH3 —  March 21, 2018

The pride in his eyes told the story in full. The eyes belonged to a man whom I had just met at fabled Croke Park in Dublin. Home to decades of Irish history, much of it of the sporting nature, but sadly not all. Here this man and I were randomly introduced at halftime of the All Ireland Gaelic Athletic Association Hurling Club Championships.

The pride in his eyes became a personal highlight reel. This all came about when I asked if he had ever competed at Croke Park. The accompanying smile and voice quickly told me the story of how he and his mates captured two All Ireland medals in years gone by. Two Gaelic Athletic Association championships that mean more to an Irish sportsman than I could ever have imagined. Triumphs that were years in the making and many more years in the retelling. He remarked to his adult daughter that these wins came before her time on earth. A reminder that his telling of the story wasn’t just for this Canadian stranger.

Cuala Fans Celebrating Victory at Croke Park in 2017

The pride in his eyes provided a tour through a unique sporting history. The Gaelic Athletic Association administers two sports – Gaelic Football and Hurling. The games are played and coached exclusively by amateurs, players even at the highest of levels are not compensated for their playing. Founded in 1884 by a group of Irishmen who realized the importance of making organized sports more accessible to the masses, the GAA brought a revival of traditional and indigenous sports to Ireland. Today there are over 2,200 clubs in 32 counties in Ireland. With the GAA being deep-rooted in Irish tradition and pride, it’s not unusual to witness a sold-out crowd of 82,300 at Croke Park for the All Ireland Finals.

The pride in his eyes grew during the course of the day. It was the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, a religious holiday in which Irish people come together and commemorate the death of the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. In Rugby, the Irish team had just trounced England at Twickenham to win the Grand Slam 24-15. Now that the professionals had made their country proud, the focus was squarely on the amateurs playing for national titles. The hurling featured a back and forth game between Cuala and Na Piarsaigh. With absolutely no time on the clock, the man’s side (Cuala) was down by three. But a foul from Colm Cronin, put Sean Moran on the line to attempt a goal, his success sent the game into overtime. In overtime, David Treacy scored a long point from a free, which tied the game again. In a tradition I have never seen before, the game wasn’t sent to penalty shots but rather a second game was scheduled to break the deadlock.

Cuala and Na Piarsaigh Face-Off in the All Ireland Senior Club Hurling Final

The pride in his eyes was pure Ireland. A country that has overcome oppression, famine, terrorism, and civil war. A country that is cautiously recovering from economic disasters. A country that today, is as welcoming as you could imagine and as optimistic as any. A country that cheers on its amateurs with the same voracity as its pros.

The pride in his eyes will always be remembered by mine.