Stepping up to help out at your local GAA club

Stephen Barry talks to the Cork football captain on why it takes a village of volunteers to raise a Paul Kerrigan.

I spent many childhood hours in empty GAA grounds. Not as many as my father, mind you, but enough to see the work that goes in during off-peak hours.

Opening up the pitch, lining the field, putting up the kids’ goals for us, meetings. Selling lotto tickets, collecting tickets, distributing tickets, more meetings.

It just goes to show it takes a village of volunteers to raise a Paul Kerrigan.

Not everyone is going to be the next Cork football captain (I certainly wasn’t, and not just because I’m from Tipperary either), but around the country volunteers don’t discriminate between those with the magic in their feet and without.

Every club has them. From children’s teams to adults, and as they grow from one to the other.

“You go through so many training sessions as a young fella. Thinking of U12 all the way up, the amount of people that have helped you through every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday over 20-odd years,” says Kerrigan, a SuperValu ambassador for the retailer’s #BehindTheBall campaign, designed to help increase volunteer numbers.

“It’s all about getting volunteers back involved in their clubs in any capacity, be it coaching or fundraising or watching the kids, anything like that to build up the volunteer pool. It’s probably the people you forget about. Usually you think of trying to get kids to play and the senior teams at the top end, and maybe the people in the middle are forgotten about.”

For Paul, before Nemo Rangers, it all started with his father Jimmy. Parents keep the young teams on the road, but he had a football legend driving the bus.

Like Jimmy, Paul has become a Cork captain. A county champion. An All-Ireland winner at U21 and senior.

“He played right down to Junior C, until 40 or whatever,” says Kerrigan Jnr. “He got involved with us about U13 or U14 all the way up to U21, and he was a senior selector one of my first years on the team. He took a few years out but he’s back involved with our Junior hurlers now with Dinny Allen [former Cork dual player].

“They could be training another club down the road if they wanted for a few bob but they’re in our club because they’re enjoying it.”

All those years later and he still has a role model in his father. Almost two decades after he first coached his underage team, Kerrigan lines out under Dinny and Jimmy for the Juniors. Role models abound for involvement after playing days end.

The club’s facilities have transformed too, from their overgrown former home, hidden behind Douglas Road terraces, to their ultra-modern Trabeg facility.

That change would’ve been impossible without the contribution of volunteers.

“We’ve so many volunteers who look after our four pitches and our Astro. The club would fall down if it wasn’t for them. If I went down there now, I could definitely meet a dozen people who are doing different jobs for free, just because they love the place.

“If we’d a Cork match, I’d go down to the club for the couple of pints that you’d have every couple of months. I’d make sure to go down there and meet the older lads. It’s great to have a chat with them and it’s probably where you feel most comfortable.

“The place is just as important for an older person as a seven-year-old going out and kicking the ball off the wall or into the goals.

“What would’ve been the strength of the club (before the move to Trabeg) was we’d one pitch and only average floodlights at one side, so you would’ve had the minors, juniors, seniors all training on the one pitch. There was a little patch out the front where you might have had U12s.

“You’d get an awful battering, the pitch would be in shit and the volunteers would roll it and you’d think, ‘It’s like Croke Park again’. We’re very lucky to have such great facilities now but I enjoyed the old place as well.”

Kerrigan still gets to see the old Nemo field from the adjacent Coláíste Chríost Rí pitch, where he teaches, and trains the school’s senior team.

It’s turned full circle for him, from player to coach. The school believes in a holistic approach, shaping the youngsters on and off the field. That example was highlighted when Kerrigan recently signed a letter to the Irish Examiner editor, entitled ‘We commend County Board for Confederate flag stance’.

Kerrigan, along with former manager Peadar Healy, camogie captain Rena Buckley and manager Paudie Murray, got a call with the idea for the letter which condemned the flying of “a divisive and racist symbol” at Cork matches.

“The population in Ireland is so diverse now as well so you see that right through schools,” says Kerrigan. “Even young fellas playing in different teams now, you look at a programme in a school game and you could have lots of different names, not just the traditional Irish names. That’s important.

“It’s just the way we’re going and it’s the way people have to think, and not be living in the past.”

Filling the leadership role inside and outside the white lines, that’s what Kerrigan wants to see happen through #BehindTheBall. Another generation of parents on the sideline, keeping long-time volunteers in the boardroom, and getting locals through the gates.

The more the merrier.

As part of their recently launched #BehindTheBall campaign, SuperValu’s Volunteer Camps are designed to encourage and increase volunteer numbers in GAA clubs. The retailer has confirmed camps for Castlebar, Skerries, Midleton and Trim. Those interested in taking part they can register in their local SuperValu or on Facebook. SuperValu are distributing 55,000 ‘First Touch’ footballs to clubs and will host a GAA volunteer camp in Midleton CBS on Saturday, September 9 at 11am


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