If you were looking for a young child in South County Dublin over the last three weeks the chances are they were down at their local GAA Club. This evening in Stillorgan and tomorrow morning in Dalkey the curtain will come down on weeks of planning and play in the Mini All Ireland competitions of Kilmacud Crokes and Cuala GAA.
Over that time and pretty much on every evening some 1,300 registered players from age 6 up have been hitting sliotars and bouncing footballs with the joy of playing the only motivation. Between the two mega clubs, you had another 1,000 kids lining out at Cabinteely FC for their Mini World Cup.
That’s some amount of kids, the entire population of some counties and that’s just one ribbon stretching across a part of the country more traditionally associated with rugby.
Both the GAA clubs have experienced County and All Ireland glory in recent years but it’s the foundation work that goes in at this level from an age where they can barely kick a ball in a straight line that is where the magic begins.
One of the beauties of the Go Games ethos under which both clubs run their games are that there are no losers, there’s a final for everyone, a t-shirt for everyone regardless of talent, and either a memento trophy at Cuala or their own football or sliotar at Kilmacud.
Páraic McDonald has been involved as the Head of Kilmacud’s Coaching team for over ten years and this year has a young lad playing in the Mini All Ireland allowing him to experience it as a parent as well as a chief bottle washer and everything in between.
“There’s a fierce amount of work that goes in but its spread across the whole club with so many pitching in and there’s never a moan or a cross word over the whole of the three weeks,” he told Sport for Business last night.
“The Mini’s was here long before I joined and it has just got bigger and bigger each year. I’d say that most of our Senior teams in both football and hurling have their own memories of having played these summer evening games and they are a big part of being part of the club.”
The biggest growth area in both clubs has been in the number of young girls that have been playing.
“The number of girls choosing to play has been a rising tide over the last four or five years and you’d be looking at them making up maybe 40 per cent of the kids coming into the academy this year,” said Ken Fitzgerald of Cuala.
The numbers are similar in Kilmacud where the girls play their Mini All Ireland in the first week, across Football and Camogie.
“It looks almost certain that we’ll have to stretch to four weeks next year and have a dedicated week for each code as we do with the boys,” added McDonald. “It’s a great problem to have with everything geared towards just giving them an opportunity to play.”
The games are refereed by kids, some barely out of playing Go Games themselves and at Kilmacud its players from the U14 teams that come back as coaches.
In Cuala they use it as a way to get parents that are more frequently on the sideline as spectators involved and one the bug has taken hold they are invariably more connected to their own kids and to the club.
All the star players drop by as well, often remembering their own time playing. Sean Moran and Sean Treacy, Con O’Callaghan and Jennifer Dunne at Cuala, Feargal Whitely, Paul Mannion and Cian O’Sullivan at Crokes, they’ve all played and they are all happy to return to cheer on the next generation.
Another thing that unites the two clubs is the substantial reach they have into the world of sponsorship. Energia may be more familiar as partners of Leinster Rugby or the Pro14 but they are the headliners at Cuala for the Academy, alongside Hunters Estate Agents. Tomorrow morning all those players, coaches, parents and club members will follow a piper through Dalkey Village and right past the Hunters window. Reaching out to that audience is a worthwhile investment and it’s good for the soul.
At Kilmacud Bank of Ireland is the main club sponsor and really throws itself into the festival atmosphere.
“Each of the sponsors brings something that adds to the occasion,” said McDonald. Bank of Ireland will have an ice cream van up at the club on each of the Finals nights and they provide us with the footballs and the sliotars that every child takes away. That’s a gift that will last the whole summer and beyond but wouldn’t be possible without their support.”
We’ve also got Sherry Fitgerald on board for the first time this year, Explorium had their tent promoting all the exciting kid’s stuff they have up in Sandyford. Spirit Motors and there Clayton Hotel pitch in as well.
“Their support helps us to put on a show, to dress the place as it would be on an All Ireland Final day and that’s what this feels like for the kids.”
“It’s the end of the first half of the season for them, the start of the summer and the best time to be involved in any way with what we all do as clubs.”
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