This week saw the return of underage players across every discipline return to training after the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Among them were the young stars in West Clare who are keeping the tradition of hurling and camogie alive in the heartland of football country.
With stalwarts like Mick O’Neill and Paddy McDonnell having been central to the revival of the small ball game in the seaside town of Kilkee, the Kilkee-Bealaha hurling and camogie club has grown from strength to strength over the last number of years.
Tina Roche is another of those who is a key member of the club and she outlined that the development in recent times has been great to see.
“We have been hurling for six years at underage level and we are now into our fourth year of underage camogie. We started with the hurling to test the appetite, and the girls were allowed play with the boys up to U-12. After that, they had to play under the camogie banner. We found that there was enough interest there from both the girls and boys to operate under the one umbrella in the one club so both represent Kilkee-Bealaha. The younger players come to training together and that makes it easier for the parents too with only having the one taxi run to make. It also gives the children more of an outlet to try a variety of sports if they know that they have hurling or camogie training on a given night. It also helps us in getting access to pitches if we know we have it on a set night too” she explained.
The club has fielded a camogie team at adult junior level in recent times, while a junior men’s team is expected to participate this under the watch of Mick O’Neill. There is now a solid underage structure at the club with 91 U-10 players, both boys and girls, registering with the club in 2020. Tina outlined they are hopeful of a similar level of interest this year.
“We are catering for up to U-9 at the moment and hopefully those kind of numbers will come back us again. We have a number of coaches who have experience in both hurling and camogie themselves which is a great asset to the club. We are also building at the adult level which I feel is important for the younger players to see, so that they know they have that outlet to work toward. We are always recruiting coaches so if anyone wants to get involved with us we are always glad to have them” she said.
Tina, who is a native of Donegal, has been living in Kilkee for the last 13 years and said it was providing an outlet for her own family that was her motivation for getting involved with the club.
“I have two girls and it was great to get them involved, so I wanted to get involved too in order to try and help the club succeed and build. It is that parental support and engagement that is so important in running any club. You need that participation to build solid foundations. We hope that parents will see the benefit of the sport being back this week, and we are actually getting back ahead of time compared to last year when it was July that we got back on to the pitch. We are hopeful that the parents and children will come out in force to get back playing sports because it is so important across a number of areas” she noted.
Clonbony GAA club are also preparing for the return of underage activity to the club, with Covid-19 having halted initial attempts at reviving juvenile activity.
The Miltown based club, who cater for players from all the surrounding clubs, have put structures in place for training at U-7 and U-9 grades, which is due to get underway in the coming weeks.
Club chairman Patrick O’Loughlin outlined that is a positive development that will hopefully see future stars for the club emerge.
“We are setting up an underage hurling academy which will be a great benefit for the future of the club. It is going to develop hurling in the area and that is a positive news story. We had good numbers when we went back first a few years ago, with Sean Malone and John Tierney doing the heavy lifting on it. We were getting up to 35 players at the time but then once Covid hit, it all had to stop. It was great to see that number of young people taking an interest, but what was also encouraging was to see the amount of parents who wanted to get involved and give a hand. That is key really if you are going to get the full benefit of it” he explained.
O’Loughlin feels that parental has positive benefits even when the training sessions are over.
“If parents are there watching the training, they can see what skills are being worked on and will probably go out in the lawn at home then to keep working on it. It is all training and that is how children learn. All the big intercounty stars started out like that and having those roots and the interest at home plays a big part in it too” he noted.
The club plan to begin training for players at U-7 and U-9 levels on Sunday May 9 with their base at the astro turf facility at Jones’ Supervalu in Miltown. O’Loughlin, whose father TJ was a prominent GAA referee in Clare for a number of years, feels having a pathway for players within the club is vital for development.
“That is what keeps any club going and we were lacking that for a few years. It is nearly 15 or 20 years since we had any underage structures and it is the last cohort that we had at U-16 and minor level that are still involved in our adult team. That can only last so long and you need the underage players coming up along. That is what will secure the future of Clonbony and all this is going to help to do that. It is also great to see children out playing sports again because they have gone through a lot too throughout the Covid-19 pandemic so it is great to see them back out again” he said.