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Ross Donavan is a key figure for Eastern Harps.
Ross Donavan is a key figure for Eastern Harps.

Ross Donovan enjoying Sligo coaching role


By Cian O'Connell

“You appreciate the time and the run up to it even if it has been a while since we experienced it as a club, there is a great buzz around the place and everyone is looking forward to getting out there on Sunday,” Ross Donovan continues to find joy in the Eastern Harps journey.

Returning to a Sligo SFC Final certainly makes the commitment worthwile. Donovan was involved when Harps contested four deciders in a row between 2007 and 2010, but they return to Markievicz Park on Sunday with gathering belief and momentum.

There is no denying the fact that holders Tourlestrane possess a solid outfit, but satisfaction is taken because Harps are relevant again.

“It is great to be back because it is amazing how quick those years go by when you haven't been competing,” Donovan says. “At the moment we have a good few young lads coming through. We have lads that have never played in a final which compared to when I came into the senior ranks, that was nearly taken as a gimme.

“We'd have been starting saying we want to push for the final, to drive it on. It is amazing how a few years go by and you don't get into them finals. You don't them for granted, but when we came through the quarter-final a little bit of momentum was coming with us.

“We beat Coolera and people were beginning to talk about the Harps and how would we fare against St Mary's. When we beat Mary's I never saw the club to come as alive with flags, bunting. We nearly took them for granted when they were up years ago, but it is great to see them all up now.”

Gaelic Football has always occupied a central role in Donavan’s life, especially following the decision to return to study in Sligo IT. When his three year Sport and Recreation course ended Donovan started work with Sligo GAA.

“Everyday we are in Primary Schools, we might work from 9.30 until 3 in the schools,” Donovan explains.

“We would have a block of schools to get through and our programmes. You are assigned a group of schools. It is amazing how many schools are in the county even though we are considered small.

“We get around to them all and they get 15 weeks of coaching each, at least. Between blitzes and everything and the games in the Cumann na mBunscoil they are all being ran off, you can see the benefit of it.

Ross Donavan in action for Sligo against Antrim in the All Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
Ross Donavan in action for Sligo against Antrim in the All Ireland SFC Qualifiers.

“We have after school coaching with secondary schools, you'd be going around coaching their teams, whoever needs a hand. At the minute I'm running a programme in the Ursuline, we do Transition Year courses.

“We do a GAA module with them, the Foundation Level coaching. The idea is that if they have an interest they can go out to help their clubs, helping with the underage, to continue coaching as they get older.”

Important coaching doors are opened for those interested in assisting juvenile teams in clubs throughout the county. “It is going on a few years now, a few more schools are getting involved,” Donovan adds.

“Each year there is a new dimension, in the schools I'm in we bring in a primary school for the final day of it so the Transition Year students get to coach them. That has only come in during the last two years, we have organised it that way. It gives them a hands on approach to the coaching while it isn't too severe or demanding.

“Even the TYs now, a lot of them get involved in clubs with Under 6s, 8s, and 10s in their own clubs. A handful I know are getting involved from TY year. The other side of it is that the programme gives them a bit of confidence.

“It isn't that you have to be qualified or anything to do Under 8s or 10s, it is really just to be there, to make sure the kids enjoy themselves. It gives them a confidence, they know the games aren't too demanding. It is based around the skills and games, it isn't too demanding.

“They will all have played the game themselves from a young age anyway so they'd have an understanding. It is really that they are there to bring the kids on so that they enjoy themselves.”

That sense of fun has helped Sligo improve the standards at Post Primary and in provincial underage competitions.

Either St Attracta’s, Tubbercurry or Summerhill have contested seven of the last eight Connacht Colleges Senior Finals. Sligo were beaten in the 2017 Connacht Under 21 Final and they have been involved in two of the last three minor deciders. That offers encouragement according to Donovan.

“Definitely, if you look at it over the last five years, we mightn't have won as many titles as we would have liked, but we are competing now,” Donovan remarks.

Ross Donavan played for Sligo in the 2007 All Ireland SFC Quarter Final against Cork at Croke Park.
Ross Donavan played for Sligo in the 2007 All Ireland SFC Quarter Final against Cork at Croke Park.

“If you went back 10 or 15 years you'd only have one or two schools competing at that level. Now we have a good few schools, albeit at their own level, we don't have too many operating in A competitions for the simple reason that the numbers mightn't be there.

“It is just the way our county is. St Attracta's are competing at A, Summerhill have done really well to win at A. It goes to show that when they get to that level they are well able to compete.”

Donovan is adamant that the standard of football in Sligo is improving. “I have noticed even with our Under 14s when they are coming through, and it has to be down to the work in the Primary Schools, they have left and right,” he states.

“They can turn, they can solo on each side, they can shoot with each side. If they are doing that at that age, it can only benefit them when they get to minor or senior level. Another big thing is that it isn't purely for the development squads that we are looking to improve, it is for club level too.

“When they go back to their clubs they are really pushing on the standard of football in Sligo. That can then have an impact on our county squads then.”

Hopes are high about the future of the game in Sligo, with Donovan highlighting the attitude and application of several clubs. “I wasn't involved with our club at minor this year, but I was the last two or three years,” Donovan says.

“I think this year's minor A championship is one of the most competitive we've had for four years. I was involved with Eastern Harps for two or three years previously, but I wasn't able to with work this year, it was too much.

“The level and standard of competition in the A is immense. Then you have the B where you have just as many teams trying to push on, to get to that level and hopefully compete at A the following year.”

Donovan admires those striving to get evolve and improve. It is an approach that has served him well in the Sligo and Eastern Harps jerseys. The next generation of footballers in the county are benefitting from his advice and guidance.

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