Two Cork GAA clubs have joined forces on an innovative project aimed at inspiring young children to play Gaelic Games.
Bishopstown and Blarney are together funding Games Promotion Officer (GPO) Fachtna O’Connor who admitted he has been "blown away by the support" of the local primary schools.
Brian Cuthbert, who is Bishopstown GAA chairman and principal of local boys’ school Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh believes the scheme will have a wide range of benefits.
He outlines the background: “Two years ago, Cork County Board through Munster Council made an application to the National Coaching Games for funding for initiatives.
"One of the projects that Cork was looking at was a shared GPO model between two clubs. We came together with Blarney and we made a proposal. That proposal seemed to be stalled, nothing happened. So we said, 'why don’t we just try and do this ourselves?'.
"We are sharing the resourcing of the project. It is a burden because it is finance but it is not a burden insofar as we have a full-time GPO shared between the two of us. Fachtna is two and a half days with us, and he is two and a half days with Blarney serving our national schools.
"Ultimately, it is an attractive nurturing and retention module we are trying to build. He is the glue that binds it all together.
This project is sourced 50/50 between the two of us. It is a big spend but at the same time, the return is huge.
"At the moment, we are funding it ourselves but the hope would be that eventually finance will be released from national funds through Munster.
"Because our project is up and running, it should have a good chance of finding favour when the money is delivered.
“The role is going to grow and change over time but right now it is targeting the boys and girls who are four, five, and six in primary school to get them to the club. Once we get them to the club, we think we can do a good enough job in retaining them.
“The Cork County Board has decided this is a project they would like to support and they have put out to tender who wants to apply.
"That process has happened. They are waiting on funding to come from Munster to support the clubs. But we have jumped the gun in a way.
“I would like to think the Board will look at us and say because we are leading the way that these two clubs need support. We are showing how to create a connection between the club and the locality through the local schools to get children up to the clubs a bit easier. In the past, we were relying on tradition, but this is a bit more wide-ranging than that.”
O’Connor holds a BA in Business Studies and Sport Management from Limerick IT and plays football with his local club Cullen.
He sees this as "the dream job and wants to make GAA the hottest ticket in town for young boys and girls".
“I did my college placement with Cork County Board with GDA Pat Spratt in north Cork. That is how I got into it. I did that for nine months and absolutely loved it. I then graduated from college and continued working with development squads for the last three years. So I have lots of coaching experience. I was PRO for Cullen as well.
“I have been doing a lot of work with development squads and have been working with Conor Counihan for the last year which was brilliant. I was with the Cork U15 footballers last year, Conor was the manager and I was one of the selectors and coaches with him. That was a great experience, I learned a lot from him.
“I am working in three national schools in Blarney and three in Bishopstown and I have been blown away by the support. The teachers and students, they are all mad for road. It is more fun games at the moment and getting them moving.
“The main task in the job description is wanting to get fundamental movement like running, jumping, hopping, all of this. Kids don’t really do this anymore outside of school. Things like crawling and throwing. Simple skills you might think every child can do, but most kids are struggling to hop on one leg. You have to coach them how to do it.
“As we go on, we will try and bring in the football and hurling skills. I am working off the national school PE curriculum so there will be days when we will be doing other stuff. It is all about having fun .”