The Dads and Lads of Clann na Banna GAA club.
The Dads and Lads of Clann na Banna GAA club. 

Dads, Lads and even Grandads getting in on the action at Clann na Banna

By Kevin Egan

Like most GAA clubs during the summer gone by, weekday evenings are usually a hive of activity at Clann na Banna in Banbridge, Down. On Tuesday and Thursday nights the club holds nursery sessions for U-7 and U-9 players, with up to 100 young children togged out and eager for action.

After the next generation of stars make way, a familiar sight at the clubs pitches at Scarva Road were as many as 25 or 30 women getting ready to take part in the club’s highly successful ‘Gaelic for Mothers and Others’, and that in turn led many of the fathers there to pick up their children to feal a little envious that there wasn’t something similar for them.

Those whispers soon made their way back to club officials, and so when the GAA advertised games for ‘Dads and Lads’, they immediately expressed an interest. Never has the phrase “If you build it, they will come” been more apt.

Now, at 8.30pm every Wednesday night since mid-July, the clubs Dads and Lads group meet up and it has been incredibly successful. A playing pool of over 50 players has signed up, with 30 and more making it down for the session every week, and it has been one of many success stories for a thriving GAA club in the east of the county. Former players and new recruits to the sport of gaelic football have signed up, while others have gained a new lease of life by taking part.

“We only advertised it once on the club facebook page, and that was all we needed to do, straight away there was huge enthusiasm”, said club secretary Gavin Campbell.

“It seemed like everyone that signed up knew someone else that they wanted to bring along too.

“We got started on July 21 and we haven’t missed a week since, and the whatsapp group would be hopping after every session, full of encouragement, lads saying how much they’re enjoying it. Once people come down once, they never want to miss it.

“Obviously everyone has real life commitments with work and with family – one man missed it last week because his wife just had a baby, so we’ll give him a pass on that one! But this is ideal for that, people can come and go as it suits them and work around whatever else they have going on,” he said.

Wednesday evenings have seen large turnouts of Dads and Lads at the Down club. 
Wednesday evenings have seen large turnouts of Dads and Lads at the Down club. 

The mix of players was like nothing that would be seen in any other team. Campbell says that while there were several players that would still be well able to hold their own with the adult intermediate team, there were others that were coming back to the sport having last played as teenagers, while some were trying it out for the first time.

“A few people even came down without boots for their first night just to watch and see what was going on, and straight away they saw that guys were getting stuck in, having a great time while doing it, and they wanted to be part of it too,” Campbell explained.

“Rory Hill and Liam McCrum are the guys that take the training sessions and they structure the whole thing, starting off with some drills where they split the players up by ability. Then it all leads into a game, and again the teams are picked to keep it balanced, and everyone gets that competitive aspect.

“Around here, there are a lot of sports that are popular, including soccer, rugby, hockey, and when lads might retire, gaelic football didn’t really offer them the equivalent of tag rugby or five-a-side soccer. This fills that gap, and now everyone is loving it and itching for the chance to get a game, even if it’s a weekend away somewhere!”

Campbell, who’s 38 and is delighted to be part of Dads and Lads himself, says that the new venture has also lit a fire in one club stalwart, who has proven that this new activity has something to offer players of all ages!

“Garvan Bradley has been a member of the committee here in the club for as long as I can remember, I’d say he’s around the same age as my Dad. He would have played minor for Down back in the early 1970’s, and he was known as a man who enjoyed the physical side of the game. Now here he is, I’m not sure what age he is but I’d say he’s pushing 70, and he’s hitting boys in the tackle and loving every minute of it!”.

Dads, Lads, and even Grandads. All welcome at Clann na Banna GAA club on Wednesday nights, and if this example is anything to go by, it could be coming to a club near you very soon as well.

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