THE ANNUAL Belvedere pre-season camp was a highlight for thousands of Belvedere players through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Mosney, or Butlin’s as some called it, was a holiday camp but this was no holiday for the Belvedere coaching staff
In reviewing the events of past coaching camps, the writer reserves the right to withhold names, but stresses that all incidents and circumstances described below are the gospel truth. Mosney was the ideal place to have a coaching holiday. There were pitches and training areas; there was food and beds; there was entertainment and female diversion; there was swimming pool, snooker, amusements, boating, golf, skating, and takeaways. There were also the knobbly knees, glamorous grannies, princesses, bonny babies and many more competitions. It was impossible to be bored in Mosney. The football was of the highest standard. Belvedere coaches, visiting coaches, and even underage international managers took part. The players played with great enthusiasm, effort and dedication. Many premier leagues and All-Ireland cups were won in pre-season in Mosney.
All Belvedere players, except those who might miss their ‘Ma’ too much, went on camp.
There were three or four different coaching sessions on each day. The last session after tea was the most enjoyable, when the age groups were mixed, and players from youngest to oldest played on the same seven-a-side teams. This was a very prestigious competition for Belvo players, and it fostered a great whole-club spirit. However, things did not always go to plan ... To say the accommodation was basic would be an overstatement. The whole operation had to be run on a shoestring budget, so the Belvo hired the oldest chalets in the camp. The largest spiders in Ireland were disturbed from their cosy webs. The hairiest blankets in Ireland covered the ancient fibre-filled mattresses. Beds were packed in, players were packed in, and we were ready for action. Booking the accommodation needed a miracle man, someone who could pay for 60 places, and manage to get accommodation for 90. Fitting 90 hungry kids into 60 places in the dining hall was a little more difficult. But the checkers at the entrance never had a chance. They were trying to hold back the tide of ravenous players, counting each head as he went in. They were just swept along in the well organized tide. The miracle man was working his magic. The dining hall was a noisy place. The clatter of crockery and cutlery, the chatter of thousands, and the huge cheers when something fell all added to the din. The menu of soup, meat, potatoes, and vegetables smothered in greasy gravy did not suit the Belvo boys. They went for the deserts. “Hey miss I got none”. The unfortunate students and schoolkids were run off their feet, bringing extra jelly and ice-cream to some who had three or four already. When the system changed to self-service in the 90s, the menu improved. With plates piled high with chicken nuggets, chips and beans, the Belvo marched to their tables. The appetite of teenage footballers is enormous, but there was still room for the three or four deserts.
Bad weather was the curse of the training camp. It never interfered with the training, but it caused the chalets to pong to the high heavens. Wet gear was stored under the beds, and left to fester there for four or five days. The lads carried on heedless and regardless. This was when they really missed their Ma. When the hard days work was done, and everybody was fed and watered, it was time for relaxation and diversion. The pong of wet gear battled the scent of gel and lynx as the Belvo got ready to head out for the night’s entertainment. Severe warnings about timekeeping, respect, and behaviour were generally heeded. Marty minded all the money. The lads came to him after tea to get their spending money for the night. He kept very accurate records in his little black book. The clever ones would only approach him later, when he hadn’t got his little book with him, asking him for money to spend, hoping he’d forget to record it. He must have lost a million pound over the years. The hard-pressed coaching staff headed for the sanctuary of the Theatre Bar, a kids-free zone.
The boys headed for the amusements, the junior disco, the snooker or the girls. The older lads needed some managerial assistance to gain entrance to the adult disco, ‘Shakers’. That was the place to be for the women, they said. Round-up time came all too soon. Coaches were back on duty herding all their charges towards the chalets. It was like minding mice at a crossroads. Getting everybody in safe and sound was not even half the problem. ‘Chalet Patrol’ fought a long and difficult battle every night to keep the kids contained. Heads would appear out of chalet doors, looking for an escape route. Girls would appear at chalet doors looking for Anto, Deco, or Steo. Worse still, girls had to be ejected from chalets, having been found hiding under beds or in wardrobes. No matter what time a head would poke out of a doorway, there was always a chalet patrol member, suitably shod in silent hush-puppies, to order him back inside. Eventually, when exhaustion won out and everyone went to sleep, the hard-pressed managers and coaches could take their well-earned rest for the night.
I will not mention the missing signed, blank cheque (safely found). Or the lads who escaped to Laytown for a few pints (heading session next morning). Or the lad with the suitcase outside the gates. Or the manager who always stood beside “two ugly fellas”, for the group photograph. Or the confrontation with the Northies. Or the thousand other tales of the wild, weird, and wonderful world of the Belvo coaching holidays in Mosney. When the coaching holiday was over, the whole club gathered in the car park, awaiting buses and cars to take us all home. There was an air of achievement, satisfaction and optimism coupled with despondency, silence, regret and exhaustion, and an odd joke or two. The Belvo boys were handed back to their parents and, according to reports most of them slept straight through for 24 hours. The coaching staff celebrated the feeling of survival for one more year.
Mosney will never be forgotten. Sadly, it has never been replaced.