Smiles on faces are a regular sight at Blessington All-Stars training sessions.
Smiles on faces are a regular sight at Blessington All-Stars training sessions. 

Blessington All-Stars are shining bright again


By John Harrington

There were smiles all around in Blessington GAA Club in Wicklow on Sunday morning as their All-Stars returned to action for the first time this year.

The weekly coaching sessions organised by Blessington GAA’s Healthy Club committee last year proved to be a instant success, and all involved from children, to parents, to coaches were delighted to be back in action on Sunday.

“It was brilliant, the kids loved it and so did we,” says Blessington GAA’s Healthy Club Officer, Lisa Jackson.

“It was great to have them all back enjoying themselves again, absolutely amazing.”

Members of Blessington GAA's minor team help with the sessions as part of their involvment in the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative. 
Members of Blessington GAA's minor team help with the sessions as part of their involvment in the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative. 

The initiative began life as a once-off event last September but was such a positive experience for everyone that the club immediately made it a fixture in their weekly coaching plan.

“It's an idea we’d been knocking around for a while but never really knew how to go about it," says Jackson. "When the GAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ger McTavish, organised the GAA's Diversity and Inclusion Week last September we said, right, this is it, we'll try to do something.

“The Healthy Club team put a letter together for our club executive who have always given us great support and they gave us the green light.

“We sent out an email to the local primary schools telling them we were going to organise an hour of coaching for children with additional needs such as Autism or Down Syndrome. We're lucky we have an enclosed astro-pitch, a very safe environment, where we could host the session.

“So that first Sunday in September we had our first session with 12 children and it was such great craic. We ran it the same way we run our academy for four to six year olds with the various little stations and goals.

“I'm on our executive committee and it was so good that at the next meeting I asked could this be something we do on a regular basis and they said yeah it was.”

Blessington All-Stars coaches and players get their multi-coloured parachute into action. 
Blessington All-Stars coaches and players get their multi-coloured parachute into action. 

16 members of Blessington GAA’s Healthy Club team have completed the Autism in Sports course run by CARA and the club have also drawn on the experience of local Special Needs Teacher, Julie Finan, for tips on what sort of fun games to incorporate in the sessions.

Players from the Blessington minor team also helping run the coaching sessions as part of their participation in the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative and it has been a hugely rewarding experience for them too.

Before the most recent lockdown, the Blessington All-Stars sessions had quickly become one of the highlights of the club’s weekly calendar.

“We were so lucky with the weather that we ran it right through Christmas and it got bigger and bigger to the point that we had 17 children registered for the sessions,” says Jackson.

“The children aren't just coming from Blessington, they're coming from Naas and other places. It's been a great success so far and it's only getting bigger all the time.

“The sessions are very much child-led. Wicklow Sports Partnership have been very good to us and they've supplied us with a big colourful parachute and other equipment.

“We start the morning off with simple games with the parachute and then we put that away and let the children take part in whatever game they'd like, no-one is forced to do anything.

“You take a stand back and look to see who might need a little bit of an extra help, and then we get hand-passing games and penalty shoot-outs going and little obstacle courses.

“It's absolutely brilliant. If anyone is ever feeling a little down they should come up to one of our All-Stars sessions because you go home with a lighter heart after being there for the hour.”