When Munster rugby star Donncha O’Callaghan visited Clonakilty as part of a new RTÉ series, 10 young schoolboys not only gave up their Sunday to teach him the skills of orienteering, but did it all in front of a television crew.
The group, aged between 7 and 12, are pupils at the town’s Scoil na mBuachailli, which has not only won a string of prestigious orienteering awards at both national and county level in recent years but has produced two members of the Irish orienteering squad.
All of those who taught O’Callaghan are experienced at the demanding sport which, says teacher Grace O’Shea, requires good thinking skills as well as a high level of physical fitness. They were well-equipped to put the elite athlete through his paces.
“The boys were initially star-struck by Donncha and a bit awed by the television cameras, but after a few minutes they got into their stride and forgot about everything except the orienteering,” says O’Shea.
From 9am to 4pm, the boys taught O’Callaghan map reading and how to use a compass, and the special ‘punches’ for ‘control posts’ before allowing him to try out his newfound skills — first on a special course on the school grounds and then in the picturesque woods of nearby Castlefreke.
The programme will form part of a forthcoming series, What’s Your Game, scheduled to be broadcast on the RTÉjr channel from November 3.
The series consists of several short programmes in which O’Callaghan visits a number of schools in counties including Tipperary and Limerick to learn about a variety of sports such as tennis, horse-riding, sailing, gymnastics, and GAA.
“The boys had a great time,” says O’Shea.
“They really enjoyed it and were thrilled to teach somebody like Donncha O’Callaghan a whole new sport — they were very excited about the whole thing and will be writing about their day for the school magazine.”
The eight-part series is aimed at pre-school children, explains producer Paul Golding: “The idea is that Donncha is a big rugby player and is always up for a bit of craic — and that he doesn’t know anything except rugby, so children will ring him up and offer to teach him a new game. The programmes are only about eight minutes long.”
The film crew were struck by the enthusiasm shown by the pupils of Scoil na mBuachailli for their favourite sport.
Golding said: “There was great enthusiasm for the sport. The boys were very good in front of the camera and there are certainly some young TV stars there, considering they don’t have any experience of appearing on TV. They were very relaxed and professional and displayed a huge passion for their sport.
“It was a great day, as we were also able to get out into the beautiful countryside around Castlefreke.”
This was the second phase in the production of the programme on orienteering. Last spring, the camera crew initially visited Scoil na mBuachailli to film the boys talking about why they love the sport, and demonstrating the necessary orienteering skills at the course on the school grounds.