GAA Rounders exhibtion in Croke Park in 2011
GAA Rounders exhibtion in Croke Park in 2011

Home Runs Galore as Social Rounders Gathers Momentum in Kevin’s and Further Afield

By Jamie Ó Tuama

The game of rounders can be traced back centuries. In 1884, when the GAA was founded, it was included in the original charter alongside football, hurling and handball as the main games of the Association.

Over the years thousands and thousands of children experienced rounders in some shape or form at school and many were lucky to experience the game at Community Games level. As children grow older, however, they often chose other sports over rounders and their journey with the game often comes to an end at an early enough age.

Great strides are being made at present to attract people to the game, however, through social rounders, an initiative that attempts to attract and to reintroduce people in their 30s and 40s to rounders. caught up with Daithí Ó hAoláin, PRO of Kevin’s Hurling and Camogie Club in south inner-city Dublin, and with Ronan Kiernan, PRO of GAA Rounders, recently to learn more about rounders and about how the concept of ‘social rounders’ came about in 2019.

''It started out as a healthy club initiative really'', explained Daithí. ''We tried social hurling first. That was a success, but we recognised the fact that most parents are not going to take up hurling or camogie in their thirties.

''We did see a low uptake of female participation in social hurling, so we basically said lets try social rounders.''

Daithí explains further how increased participation in Kevin’s was one of the driving factors behind the initiative.

''There were probably two key drivers certainly for Kevin’s anyway and I suppose we recognised the fact that every club would be different. Certainly, for Kevin’s one of the key objectives was to get parents participating. When kids see their parents play sport, I believe that it encourages the kids to play sports.

''We recognised the fact that parents aren’t going to start playing hurling in their 30s so let’s get them playing rounders, let’s get the parents playing some sport. Let’s let the kids see their parents participate in some sort of sport.

''The other reason we tried do it was we recognised the fact that Kevin’s is in a very diverse area and we recognised that hurling and camogie won’t be everyone’s number one sport. So, if you are not from a hurling county or if you are from another country who has never seen hurling before it would be quite daunting.

''Rounders would be internationally recognisable through baseball and softball. People are more likely to take it up. We got over 50,000 people living in the area and there are a lot of, I suppose, non-Irish nationals or people who are from non-hurling counties living in the area. By starting up social rounders we are basically reaching out to the community and saying to come and get involved in our club.''

The ‘social rounders’ initiative was an overnight success in Kevin’s and it was not long before Daithí realised that the club was on to something. The next step was to bring the concept to the next level.

''Basically, once we started up social rounders, I suppose GAA Rounders saw the benefits and saw how we had progressed from social rounders into competitive rounders. They realised there was something in it. The GAA Rounders Ard-Chomhairle members saw this as a great opportunity to develop the game. It is another way of encouraging teams to come into GAA Rounders.

''The reality, from the research I did, was they are really the only group that have the expertise to drive this. So, a member of the Ard-Chomhairle came to me and said why don’t you propose this at the AGM. We believe there is a lot of support for this.

''We pulled together a proposal at the AGM, Kevin’s first motion ever at a GAA Rounders AGM and it was passed unanimously. There seems to be great support and a great interest in the concept of social rounders.’’

Rounders going from strength to strength in Kevin's
Rounders going from strength to strength in Kevin's

Daithí continued;

''One of the ways we have developed social rounders, and acting in my position as Healthy Club Officer for Kevins at the time, was that we engaged with the Dublin Health and Wellbeing Committee who have shown a great interest in this initiative. Also, the Healthy Clubs in the GAA have also shown a great interest.

''They asked me to present on this, so we have done a presentation to the Leinster GAA Healthy Clubs and we have also done a presentation for Dublin GAA which is now on youtube.

''What we found was that we were getting very positive feedback from clubs and the reality is a lot of clubs said ‘we all played rounders as kids’. We never actually thought of doing this.

''So, there is a number of avenues for social rounders. One is to develop it as a Healthy Club activity similar to what Kevin’s have done – increase the membership, increase the participation, get parents involved or they could also use social rounders as an entry step into competitive rounders.

''Some clubs might not have the commitment to get involved in an All-Ireland tournament, but they could learn the game through social rounders and could then decide the following year whether or not they want to take it a step further.

''One of the things that we found through social rounds was that it helped the GAA club, certainly our club, to add a bit of diversity and to add in new drills into their coaching.

''Social rounders has great benefits. It’s not just about promoting the game of rounders. It is a great benefit to the club itself.''

The concept of social rounders has progressed and spread rapidly in such a short time. We asked Daithí what was next for the initiative.

''Obviously, our focus is on Dublin, but we are aware of interest from clubs in Meath, Monaghan, Sligo and Roscommon. When we ran the Dublin GAA-Dublin Health and Wellbeing talk we found that there were actually clubs attending from the likes of Monaghan and Meath.

''There is interest throughout the country. We basically think this has great potential because of what it does. It offers GAA clubs an opportunity to promote a non-contact sport and we have to realise in the GAA community that not everyone is into the mainstream sports of hurling and football or camogie so what rounders does is that it offers a team sport and that is non-contact.

''With that in mind we believe it has great potential, but it is really up to each of the counties or each of the provinces to develop it themselves. Certainly, what we found from the recent talk in Dublin is that there is a lot of interest. We plan to develop what we call a ‘social league’.

''We are trying to get somewhere between six and ten clubs to get together, play rounders in a fun social environment and then develop it further and play a blitz at the end of the year, have a bit of craic with it and I suppose get out there and enjoy the sport. That is really what it is about.''

Like all others in the GAA world, GAA Rounders has used lockdown to reflect on the current state of the game and huge steps have been taken recently to promote the game and to recruit more clubs.

In November 2020 social rounders was officially recognised and since then has been used effectively to recruit new players, members and clubs. Ronan Kiernan, PRO of GAA Rounders spoke to me about the positive effects social rounders is having on the game and echoed a lot of what Daithí had to say.

''The social rounders initiative was originally set up about 18 months ago and it is our feeling that it is the way to go for a new club coming in. It gives them a chance to bed in, learn the rules, get the equipment, and get their pitches and stuff sorted with the view to playing competitively in the next year or so.

''I think it very important for a new team, that they are not coming in and getting beat every week. Socially, they will learn a few tricks of the trade to help them in the future and help produce maybe a bit of longevity from clubs where in the past they would have fallen away fairly quickly.

''We are hoping that this new initiative is going to give new clubs the space to grow before they play competitively and it’s a great thing for every club to have as well in their locker. They have something to offer people who maybe don’t play football or hurling or handball. Its gives them something new.

''For struggling clubs as well, it is going to give them a chance to show that they have different options within their club and that it is not just football, hurling or handball. It is good to have all these options. Not every child is going to be a good footballer or hurler but maybe they are going to be a good rounders player. That is a big thing for us as well, the inclusion of it and we are hoping that project is going to be massive for us in the coming years.''

A rounders exhibition game in Croke Park from 2015
A rounders exhibition game in Croke Park from 2015

Due to Covid 19 restrictions there has been no on-field action for over half a year but that has not halted Ronan’s or GAA Rounders’ drive and enthusiasm in promoting the game. They have been very active on social media in particular.

''Over the past six months or so we have been quite active on social media and other platforms,'' said Ronan. ''I suppose we are just trying to build up a bit of a profile for ourselves. I felt that maybe we weren’t getting out there enough and to get us to the next level I think we need to be doing these things.

''The podcast has been very interesting to give people an idea of how things work and where we are at really and who is involved. It has really helped. There are a lot of questions coming in from people and there are people interested in taking the game up. I think that is very important for us.

''The other thing is that we are hoping now to live stream the next set of finals that are outstanding from 2020 on our social media platforms and we are hoping that that is going to give people an idea of how the game works because there is not a lot of coverage out there of it. It is very hard to find a full game of rounders that is done professionally so that you can actually see what is going on. So, we are hoping that is going to be another big plus for us.

''We have a new set up for the development now. We have open development meetings where representatives from every club are invited to it. Anybody can join in and if you want to get involved it’s kind of the way to go. You can see what happens at those meetings and what the future plans are. Where we want to go.

''I think there is definitely a big appetite for the game now at the minute.''

There are different levels of competition in rounders and there are also mixed teams. Ronan gave us the run down on the different levels and competitions in the game.

''As well as social rounders there is a new intermediate competition in the ladies that only came in last year. That will help new clubs that want to come in and play competitively. There is a good mix of teams in that and it threw up a lot of interesting games last year. That was a massive success. It was the same in the mixed competition as well. It’s very similar. It is not as daunting as it was.

''Unfortunately, in the men’s there is just senior. There were ten teams in it last year. We would be hoping if that were to grow by another three or four that in the future there would definitely be an intermediate in the men’s as well.

''Also, there is a one-day competition for new teams. We call it the ‘novice tournament’. It has been hugely successful over the last couple of years. We are hoping that a lot of the teams that enter socially are going to play in it every year. It was very successful in the last season.

''It gives teams a level playing ground as well just to see where they are at before they think about entering something else, maybe the men’s or the mixed or the ladies’ competitions. I think it is important to maybe get that out there – that those competitions are there.

''Also, a big plan of ours this year is, we didn’t have anything competitively for the kids last year with Covid but we are hoping that we can push on this year’s at some stage and get some of them played. It is very important that we keep ourselves out there at youth level as well. That is something we probably struggled with in the past but we have got a lot of new teams in there and a lot of clubs very interested in taking that up so there will be a big push with that sort of stuff again this year as well.''

The GAA will be 150 years in existence in 2034. I asked Ronan where he envisaged the game by that stage.

''I suppose our vision would be that if we had a team competing in every county in Ireland it would be a big plus for us. Obviously, a Games Development Officer would be a massive thing for us too so we would hope to have that in the not too distant future.

''I suppose, it’s a long way off yet, but I would like to think that we could have a Centre of Excellence at some point, and it would be the view of the Ard-Chomhairle that we would be working towards getting something like that in place and pushing on with more teams. Hopefully in the next few years we will have a lot more teams.''

To find out more about GAA Rounders and about ‘Social Rounders’ in particular visit their website HERE. You can also keep up to date with all the latest news and action from the world of rounders on the @GAARoundersoffi social media platforms.