Coaches, role models and craic: the ingredients to Ballyhegan’s youth success

By Kieran Lynch

BALLYHEGAN may not be the biggest club, or one with a deep pool of players to choose from, but with ongoing exciting development at youth level, they’re certainly on the right track.

Their Youth Officer Stephen Tiffney spoke to Gaelic Life about the excitement in the club surrounding the underage scene, with approximately 180 underage players, the dedication of the coaches involved, and why having role models is so important to the next generation of players.

“We’re like many other rural clubs – it’s a numbers game for us,” said Tiffney.

“About 10 or 15 years ago, a number of our club members decided that if we were going to get ourselves competing at senior level, we would need to be bringing more numbers through.

“So, we set up our Go Games structures and set aside Wednesday night, as we have our mini Davitts, our u-7s, u-9s and u-11s all training on that night, and it’s something that we’re quite proud of, to be honest. To have such a large number of kids coming, despite it being a small rural area.

“With the kids it’s all about having a bit of fun and a bit of craic, and if it is fun maybe it’ll spark that interest that stays with them as they get older. Ultimately, the goal is to get as many of these kids playing on our senior teams in the future as we can.”

Whilst the underage development of new players is the foundation of any club, it wouldn’t be possible without the time and effort of the coaches, and Tiffney paid tribute to the hard work of those who put in the hours bringing the next generation through.

“They’re truly remarkable in terms of the opportunities which they give. It’s not just the amount of time they give up, it’s money and all of the other things which are needed for this all to go ahead.

“A lot is owed to the personality of our coaches, to keep kids from walking away. We have people who the kids look up to. They keep it fun and keep it fresh, because kids can maybe get bored very easily.”

Furthermore, kids need role models, and they are not in short supply at Ballyhegan. Paddy McKeever and Paul McGrane were integral members of Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winning side, whilst current day players such as Grace Ferguson and Eve Lavery on the Armagh ladies’ team, and young talent like Peter McGrane and James McCormack looking to break into Kieran McGeeney’s side, Ballyhegan truly are a club which punch above their weight.

“I can’t stress the importance for our youth of seeing these players progress at senior level onto the county panel.

“The kids can see, ‘this person who was walking past me on the field last Thursday night is now wearing the Armagh jersey.’ The eyes are bouncing out of their head!

“Paddy and Paul are obviously the main attractions, they led the way with the success that they had, plus Paul Courtney was on the county panel for a while.

“Peter McGrane (Paul’s nephew) is starting to break in, having played u-20 football for Armagh with James McCormack. We’ve had Caoimhe Morgan, Grace Ferguson and Eve Lavery with the senior girls, and we have had other ones who have fed through to that.

“We’re a small club, but we’re definitely punching above our weight.”

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