Anna Geary 'blown away' by impact of the GAA's Healthy Clubs Project
By John Harrington
The GAA has always meant community for Anna Geary, which is why being an ambassador for the GAA’s recent Healthy Clubs Provincial Roadshow felt like such a natural fit.
Created in 2013, the aim of the Heathy Clubs Project is that every GAA club will become a hub for health and wellbeing, and in that way become an even more integral part of their local community.
Each participating club is helped make their club healthier by exploring a variety of initiatives in the areas of physical activity, emotional wellbeing, healthy eating, addiction education, and activities for the younger and older members of the community to name just some.
The Provincial Roadshows showcased the exceptional work undertaken by the 60 clubs involved in Phase 2 of the Healthy Club project with the help of Healthy Club partners Irish Life, Healthy Ireland, the HSE, the National Office for Suicide Prevention and the Public Health Agency.
Even for a died in the wool GAA person like former All-Ireland winning Camogie captain Geary, the scale of what has already been achieved through the Health Clubs Project was eye-opening.
What struck her most about its impact was the way it brought people into local GAA clubs with little or no previous involvement in Gaelic Games.
“The concept for me was the reason why I got involved,” says Geary.
“The GAA has been really good to me down through the years and I've seen the benefits from being involved in the GAA.
“I grew up in a GAA family so from a young age I understood what the GAA did. What I liked with this initiative was that it reached beyond the realms of sport and out to the greater community rather than just to people who already an interest in sport.
“I know I have a lot of friends that aren't in the GAA world and they often comment on the sense of community that's in a GAA club, but sometimes when you're on the outside looking in you mightn't feel that you're privy to an entrance into that community.
“For me the very first roadshow was up in Castlebar and one of the women who was interviewed there was from (Monaghan GAA club) Castleblaney Faughs.
“She really hit the nail on the head when she said that previously in Castleblayney you were either a Faugh or you weren't a Faugh.
“You were either involved with the club or you had no business being there. I suppose that's probably indicative of a lot of GAA clubs down through the years. The attitude that you have no business being part of a GAA club if you don't come from a GAA family or play Gaelic Games.
“GAA Clubs are embedded in the hearts of most communities across Ireland and often when there's a tragedy or adversity in the community it's the people from the GAA club who really rally everyone together. If it's a funeral they're involved in organising parking, refreshments or whatever is needed to be done.
“I just wanted to show that side of the GAA to people who aren't involved in Gaelic Games. To show them what else the GAA does.”
550 club members attended the four provincial roadshows where 18 participating Healthy Clubs showcased what they were doing in areas such as healthy eating, physical activity for non-playing members, mental fitness, community engagement and smoke free initiatives.
St. Colmcille’s of Meath were one of the 18 participating Healthy Clubs, and Geary was so impressed by what they’ve achieved she profiled their work for RTE’s Today Show.
“I was really blown away by what they were doing in terms of fitness classes, art classes, Irish classes, mindfulness classes and their Men’s Shed group,” says Geary.
“What I loved was that they opened it up to the community so if four or five or six people came together and said we'd like to see you host ballroom clasess, then they'd go about seeing how they could do that.
“They allowed the community's voice to be heard, and ultimately the community decided what classes were going to be run which was brilliant. I think they're starting a gardening class next week.
“They're not reneging on their playing duties by running all these activities, as a club they've also been hugely successful on the pitch in recent years.
“That's really positive, because it shows you can be a really successful club in terms of how your teams compete, but you can also give an awful lot to the local community by opening your doors.
“Many GAA clubs are locked up during the day, they're only opened at the evening times for training and that's it.
“The Healthy Clubs initiative broadens people's perspectives about what GAA clubs can be used for. For a lot of rural communities, having a place to meet is the most important thing.”
One of the aims of the Healthy Clubs Provincial Roadshow was to inspire new clubs to get involved when Phase 3 of the Healthy Clubs Project is opened to any interested clubs in 2018.
And having seen at first hand just how much the clubs in Phase 1 and Phase 2 benefited from becoming a ‘Healthy Club’, Geary is urging others to follow the same path.
“It's a no-brainer for GAA clubs as far as I'm concerned,” she says.
“Their premises will be used more often and they'll potentially attract more volunteers who could help out with the club, they'll get more ideas because when you get new people involved they'll have new ways of looking at things and new ideas from a fund-raising point of view, from a community perspective and even from a players point of view.
“For a lot of clubs it means a better perspective financially too because you're getting more people to join as members.
“It's an incentive for club, it's a value added aspect that a club can have.
“It doesn't have to be a big massive undertaking. You could start off with something small using the resources that people have in their community.
“Whatever it is it's just about finding about what's right for a community and then just going for it.
“If you don't feel like you know what you're doing or where you're going it can be quite daunting. But what I love about this is that there's a plan that people can follow.
“There are massive support structures already in place which makes things a hell of a lot easier if you're going to undertake this.
“You know you're just an e-mail away from the GAA's Health and Community Department or you know another club in the area that have done it and you can reach out to them too.
“Again, that just reinforces the idea of the GAA clubs across the country being a support structure for people in the wider community.”