Famous faces put Community College through their paces

Boasting a teaching staff which features a smattering of inter-county players as well as the hero of the recent Roscommon Ladies SFC Final, Roscommon Community College is making great strides in underage coaching. Dan Dooner dropped in recently to check on the progress of the school’s sports stars.

“You’ve got to find the space and then get it back to me…beautiful!” Roscommon senior footballer, Conor Devaney, was busy leading a coaching session with young Roscommon Community College students when I showed up at the school recently. Meanwhile, Cathal McHugh was trying to figure out if a student had ‘borrowed’ a pair of his St. Brigid’s shorts.

  Elsewhere, Kilbride Ladies and handball hero, Siobhán Tully was showing her girls the basics of the pick-up and hand pass while, representing Galway; Paul Conroy was taking the sideline fashion approach of Barcelona’s Luis Enrique and Tom Flynn was training the hurlers.

  It’s fair to say that Roscommon Community College and principal, Frank Chambers, have been fortunate in terms of recruiting young teachers in the past few years. The sporting stars are joined by sports loving educators Fergal Timmons, Maura Connelly and Declan Kavanagh who realise how important exercise is for developing students and they are committed to offering after-school guidance.

  Cathal McHugh hopes the sports coaching will stand to his young students.

  “Myself, Fergal Timmons, Conor Devaney and Declan Kavanagh coach the senior boys. I was coached by the likes of Frankie Dolan when I was younger and the higher the profile the coach had, the more enjoyable the coaching was at that age. It certainly doesn’t mean we’re any better than Mr. Timmons or anyone else but it just means that the players see Mr. Devaney and the two Galway boys on the telly and Ms. Tully in the paper so this is going to increase their interest in sport. It also shows them that with the right commitment they’re able to balance both work and sport and if they can apply that to their education and sport then we’re all winning.”

  Mental health is also hugely important at this age and Cathal knows how vital sport can be in that regard.

  “They get out, they get their fitness levels up and it takes their mind off the books and reduces stress levels. There’s a lot going on in a young person’s mind. I always found it a great outlet and that’s what we’ll be encouraging here; that they’re able to balance it. At the end of the day they’re here for their education and that’s the emphasis, but if we can mix that with a bit of sport and exercise that’s brilliant.”

  Maura Connelly coaches young ladies with Siobhán Tully and she was also quick to highlight the importance of exercise: “It’s a great social aspect for them that they come out with their friends and they can enjoy a physical activity for an hour. It’s great to see that enjoyment. From first year up to third year we see inter-relationships between all those groups and that’s so important for young girls.

  “In an age where obesity has become a major issue and social media is huge for girls’ images, I think it’s great that the girls can come out and enjoy it with a fun aspect, rather than saying ‘I have to go to the gym’. They’re actually exercising in a fun environment where they’re not as self-conscious when they’re with their friends.”

  Siobhán Tully believes the presence of committed coaches means that more students are encouraged to be active.

  “The students are very aware of who’s teaching in the school and they keep an eye on them at the weekends so it gets them excited to come out, especially since the teachers are so good at giving their time up to come out. Students think ‘I can learn from them and I can develop’.”

  Ms. Connelly had the final word: “It’s not just the men over there. It’s brilliant to have someone like Siobhán to encourage the girls to get involved. We’ve 36 girls coming out to training, it’s fantastic!”

*If you’ve got a story from the local community you’d like to share, get in touch with Roscommon People.

Tipp top training for student footballers

Education is vitally important at any age but particularly so at secondary level where young minds are impressionable, easily led and easily distracted.

  Distractions weren’t on Fergal Timmons’ agenda though: “Look at me! We’ve a session going on here. Never mind the distractions!” The teacher from Tipperary was in full flow with his young charges.

  Photographer Andrew Fox wanted a ball for a photograph. “I’m using those!” Came the response.

  When discipline is lost, it’s hard to get it back and these part-time coaches are full-time teachers at the end of the day.

  I had to wait until the session was finished to speak with Mr. Timmons but it was worth it to see the passion he had for teaching and coaching.

  “I focus on the young students coming into the school. We get a lot of youngsters coming to the school who are not affiliated with local clubs for whatever reason. Sometimes clubs can only properly focus on the first fifteen, and the kids just want games. We’ve 22 first years playing football this year and seven of them are not aligned to clubs. That’s why we tend to  focus on the basics; today I was doing the block down with them.”

  Discipline is also important when teaching and coaching large numbers and Mr. Timmons employs effective methods in order to keep the youngsters focussed.

  “You’ve gotta have a bit of leverage over them! The one thing they love is going to matches – I don’t know they love going to matches or Supermacs more – I suppose a bit of leverage definitely helps with behaviour in the school. If they’re misbehaving, they don’t go to matches or on trips!

  “When I first came here about five years ago there was only 120 students in total in the school and as of now we’re up on 400 so obviously the management are doing a good job recruitment-wise!

  “When I started to organise after-school training five years ago I’d often be the only one out training. Overall, in the last couple of years we’d rarely get less than 20 for training!”

  Teachers like Mr. Timmons have a major impact on the development of young students and athletes. Strict discipline while encouraging young players to enjoy themselves is a fine line, but he walks it well.

From championship rivals to classroom colleagues

Roscommon senior footballer, Conor Devaney, and Galway midfielder, Paul Conroy, seem to enjoy working with young players. Devaney was stressing the importance of movement to the juvenile footballers during a training match while, on the sideline, Conroy was telling me that young players need to enjoy the game.

  “Personally, I try to make them enjoy it. If they’re enjoying it and learning at the same time that’s what you’re trying to do with younger players and then as they get older you can start introducing game plans and stuff like that. If they’re enjoying it that’s when they might start playing with the local clubs as well,” Paul said, before adding: “It’s important that they’re playing with clubs and not just doing their hour after school; that’s how their game will improve.”

  Conor Devaney took a break from running drills to tell me how much he was enjoying the coaching experience

  “I’m loving it. It’s great to be out here, we’ve all ages and hurling and football. We do about five evenings a week,” he said, before highlighting the importance of extra-curricular activities: “It makes a huge difference when they come back into the classroom and you know it’s great too as a teacher in terms of getting on with the students. The student-teacher relationship is a lot better when you come back to class, they know that you’re out there for the betterment of them. It’s a mutual thing, they get a lot out of it and the teacher gets a lot out of it too.”