In a recent Gaelic Life column, Cahal Carvill asked the question of GAA clubs in Derry city following the murder of Lyra McKee, what are they doing to help young people in the area?
One club, Sean Dolans are doing their level best to grow interest in the game, and despite the many challenges, they believe that they can appeal to the hearts and minds of the children in the Creggan area of the city.
“We want to create something that local children want to be part of.”
That’s the hope of the Sean Dolans club senior team manager Brian O’Donnell.
The Derry club are building themselves back from a challenging period in their history.
In 2011, the Sean Dolans club houses burnt down. A devastating blow for a club that had won the treble a few years before hand.
As O’Donnell said: “We had to build from the bottom up. We had to build a whole new senior team.”
After the fire, the senior team drifted apart, and O’Donnell had to go on a mission to find players who would come back and help them field, in some cases players who had been away from GAA for a while.
They have rebuilt their facilities, and have grown their underage structures, but their senior team is a work in progress. Unfortunately it wasn’t helped by the change in structure in the Derry leagues which saw seven Division two teams from last year drop down to junior level.
“I know what they are trying to do, and I agree with it. It just makes it difficult for us.
“We have had a couple of games where the scoreline was big. The intermediate teams (who have dropped down from junior) will punish your mistakes, the same mistakes that you would get away with last year.
“We have been putting it up to teams but we are getting beat by ten or 11 points. I am taking positives from the games but it is hard for the players.”
The issue for Sean Dolans is that they if they keep getting beaten by large margins then it is hard to motivate the players to keep training. And if the team loses players then their hopes of a run in the Junior championship diminish significantly.
It also hasn’t helped that the season stops for the mid season cups, to allow space for the county team to compete in the Ulster and All-Ireland series.
“We lost momentum because of that. But we are finding our feet.”
The club actually rescheduled their game against Doire Colmcille for Friday night so that they could have a competitive match in July, so that they can get back out on the field.
They were playing cup competitions but there were a few games which were conceded which left players without any game time which was frustrating.
But O’Donnell said that the team are still on course to achieve their goals.
“The junior championship is our focus this year. It is just junior teams. We got to the semi-final last year. We would hope that if we can get our boys going then we have a chance.
“If we could get to a final it would be a great lift for the club.”
A championship run is so important for a club like Sean Dolans. Their senior team is small, and is made up of players who work unsociable hours and who aren’t always available to play. Unlike the rural clubs sometimes the commitment to the team isn’t always there. But O’Donnell said that a championship run is great to instil team spirit.
He knows that if the senior team can stay together and grow for a few more years, the cavalry is coming.
The u-10 and u-12s are strong, as they have been bolstered by a growing interest in GAA in the city. There’s been a 500 percent increase in GAA participation in the primary schools. O’Donnell has been at the forefront of that as he is a GAA development officer in the city.
But he also knows the challenges.
“There are a lot of complex social issues in Derry. There are great difficulties.
“We are dealing with a lot of families who are not GAA families. In the schools you have to educate them on the history of the association. You have to teach them about the GAA.
“It is going to take time.
“There are great difficulties in the city of late. The death of Lyra McKee happened recently.
“There are lots of issues that are affecting these childrens’ lives.
“We try to keep that out of their live. We want to create something positive for them. Something for them to be proud of.”