You know about the GAA’s fixture crisis, the funding pressures, the month of club fixtures...

No, no, and no. Come back. Challenges come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Chatting to former GAA president Nickey Brennan recently, for instance, he referred to the possibility of one of the major primary teacher training colleges dropping an elective course in GAA coaching.

This led us to challenges which may not feature in headlines:

1. Recognising the issue.

“It’s not a question of the whole thing falling apart if that elective course is dropped, obviously, but the bigger issue is that the GAA has been hugely fortunate in getting access to national teachers — and secondary teachers — when it comes to promoting the games,” said Brennan. “Unfortunately there’s huge pressure now on teachers, particularly since the advent of the ‘Croke Park hours’ (a public service agreement that provides for an additional 36 hours per school year at primary level).

“You could legitimately say that if a teacher is giving time to coaching kids outside of school, then it’s only reasonable to say those hours should count towards school hours. You’d also hear people say the odd time that there are so many women going into teaching that there isn’t as much coaching going on. I wouldn’t think so; the amount of coaching being done by women is huge, I wouldn’t be harping on about that at all. The GAA has been very fortunate in that regard. There are so many pressures out there, in general, with modern life, that teaching is facing a lot of challenges and the GAA — and other sports — must respond to those challenges and maybe take up the slack.”

2. Meeting the specific challenge.

Brennan adds: “When it comes to primary schools, I feel there’s an onus on the local club to make sure there’s a school liaison officer, a person who can come into the primary schools and help with teams, provide equipment and so on.

“Clubs which walk away from schools with the attitude ‘that’s the teacher’s problem’ are not looking at the long term. Bringing kids from primary school through to the club is a critical pathway and clubs need to pay particular attention to it.

“There’s a lot of competition for kids’ attention, and not all of it is sports-related either, with computers and tablets and so on. The first thing a club should do is make sure the school in the locality is supported.”

3. Those clubs also face challenges, though.

Brennan points out that it’s “not as easy today” to get people involved in clubs.

“With the improvement in the economy, there are probably fewer people on hand. It’s great that things are picking up, obviously, but when there was high unemployment, various schemes were in place for people who could pitch in with clubs on those schemes.

“The difference then was that people were time-rich, whereas nowadays it’s the opposite, with commuting to work and irregular hours of employment. The other challenge is the necessity for Garda vetting, which is very strict, and rightly so. A lot of work is being done in this area in terms of training clubs — my son does it here in Kilkenny — because you simply cannot have just anyone coaching kids, they must be vetted and accredited properly, and that’s absolutely appropriate, it’s the world we live in. It’s the same for all sports, but the other side of that is it makes it that bit more challenging to get people involved.”

KINSALE KINGPINS: Kinsale Community School players show their delight after beating Coláiste Choilm in yesterday’s Cork Post-Primary Schools Senior B Hurling final at Cork IT. Picture: Denis Minihane
KINSALE KINGPINS: Kinsale Community School players show their delight after beating Coláiste Choilm in yesterday’s Cork Post-Primary Schools Senior B Hurling final at Cork IT. Picture: Denis Minihane

4. The county board must also be involved.

As the body trusted with promoting Gaelic games in a particular county, the county board’s coaching focus is vital.

“Is it focusing heavily on primary schools?” asked Brennan. “You can’t exclude people, you must provide an outlet for fun and, yet, you also have to have a competitive outlet, which is why the primary schools competitions, the Cumann na mBunscoil competitions are so important.

“It’s not solely the remit of teachers, but it’s very much teacher-driven, which brings us back to the importance of the teacher again in delivering the GAA message to very young people. We have to remember also that primary schools are also the first places where a lot of parents who aren’t from GAA backgrounds interact with Gaelic games. They may not be from the country at all, they may have only recently arrived in Ireland, but when they have kids and want them to get out and about, getting active and healthy, the local GAA club is an obvious outlet for them, for the kids, but also for the parents themselves, maybe.”

5. The club then does more than coaching.

Brennan believes the GAA club can drive integration in the community: “It mightn’t be a bad idea for a GAA club, if it has kids from diverse backgrounds and nationalities coming down to play on a Saturday or a Sunday morning, to invite the parents down as well for a cup of tea or coffee with them. One helps the other. If those parents don’t have great English, for instance, then someone in the club might be able to help them with that. There’s no reason why the GAA can’t expand into those new communities, when we say it’s a community organisation. That’s not just about sport. Gaelic games are the focus, that goes without saying, but if you’re part of the community, you can help in other ways, as well, and that includes helping people who are new to the country to integrate by helping them settle in, to teach them English informally, to help them find their way around in terms of the locality and, of course, getting their kids to play the games. There are organisations doing that formally for newcomers to the country, but it would only help everyone if GAA clubs were able to do the same.”

Teaching again. Back where we began.


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