It’s tough on all involved, but Roscommon GAA continues to maintain links with communities during lockdown…

It’s good that we have the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams but they won’t replace getting back out onto the pitch

While the current Covid-19 lockdown looks set to continue long into the spring, Roscommon GAA clubs have been busy taking steps to safeguard their links to local communities. Activities may have moved online for now, but members are working hard behind the scenes so they can be ready for a return to play.

As Chairperson of Roscommon GAA, Brian Carroll knows all about the challengers posed by Covid.

“The GAA is facing all kinds of challenges in the county,” he said. “With schools closed, children aren’t beginning to play the games  when they should and our Games Promotion Officers can’t get into the schools either to help with development.

“Clubs also face a huge challenge at the younger age groups, such as U-8s and U-10s, when new players are supposed to introduced to the games. They are doing the best they can but their hands are tied due to the lockdown”.

Brian also highlighted the limited options clubs have when it comes to fundraising and said getting creative is now the name of the game.

“Our development sides are struggling too but they’re using the likes of Zoom to keep them in touch with their teammates and management. All we can do is keep them together, and have them ready to get back out there when the time comes.

“It’s not just the development of football or hurling skills that suffers, but also the development of social skills. The GAA is how they get to know each other in their own parish and other parishes too. It also helps them to develop a community ethos.

“Clubs are doing the very best they can and our Games Promotion Officers are working with them in order to share ideas and put sessions together. It’s good that we have the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams but they won’t replace getting back out onto the pitch”.

At club level, Roscommon Gaels chairperson Teresa Hession says lockdowns have been a struggle.

“We just about managed the lockdowns last year but that was down to good financial planning. Clubs are facing into another year now with no major fundraisers and that’s going to be very challenging.

“At Roscommon Gaels we’ve just launched our online lotto through social media but it’s not reaching out to a large group of people like previous fundraisers.

“The social side is another huge part of the GAA club and without matches and training and our bingo and card games at the Hyde Centre, people are really missing the interaction.

“Matches and training sessions play a big part for kids and adults too and even parents and grandparents who may have socialised on the sidelines. It’s been really tough on club members,” she said.

Teresa added that the uncertainty of not knowing when Gaelic games will return has been tough too as the Gaels had big plans for the development of their clubhouse and facilities at Lisnamult.

“We’re still very busy off the pitch, planning and organising online training. But the excitement of last year is gone because our plans our now on hold. We will plough on but things are moving much slower now.

“Roscommon Gaels aren’t in this alone though and clubs across the county have been great at backing each other and their communities. We have reached out to our elderly members and neighbours and we also find that when we reach out, our members and other clubs are there to help. That’s what makes the GAA so special,” she said.

Meanwhile, the closure of pitches has meant that coaches must think outside the box and St. Brigid’s coach and Mayo Games Promotion Officer, Kieran Kilkenny, is using technology to keep Kiltoom’s next generation of stars on their toes.

“I noticed with my own lad that he was missing his school friends and the social interaction in January.

“I decided to start training sessions online and now we’re using Microsoft Teams so we can train the U-9s. We’ve done two sessions and we’ve had about 24 or 25 players so far. There has been a good response from both parents and kids,” he explained.

Kieran says the priorities are to keep youngsters physically active and allow them to have social interaction with their teammates.

“The sessions include fifteen minutes of body weight exercises suitable for their age group; fifteen minutes of basic skills; and then we spend fifteen minutes on a quiz at the end.

“You’re not going to make them a top class footballer but the key points are keeping active, social interaction and keeping them in touch with their friends,” he said.

Roscommon’s dressing rooms and playing fields may be quiet for now, but rest assured the county’s GAA action has only moved online as clubs and officials endeavour to retain the association’s famed sense of community.

Time will tell, however, whether creative fundraising and ‘games focussed’ sessions for underage players will become the norm for 2021 or if the fun and games can resume in person this summer.