Latton O'Rahilly's putting their club at the heart of their community
By John Harrington
The extent to which Latton O’Rahilly GAA club in Monaghan have blossomed off the pitch in recent years is a testament to the transformative power of the Irish Life GAA Healthy Club project.
The stated aims of the Healthy Club Project are ‘to embed a healthy philosophy in a club while integrating health into the day-to-day club activities in a sustainable way’ and ‘to place the local GAA club at the heart of the community, making it a beacon for health in the locale.’
On both points Latto O’Rahilly GAA club now score very highly, which is why they were such worthy recipients last week of the Ulster GAA Healthy Club Award.
Their Healthy Club journey started back in 2016 when they joined Phase Two of the project, which was the catalyst for Latton developing what has become a hugely popular walking track around the club.
“Yeah, that development has had a big impact,” says Latton club secretary and healthy club officer, Christina Weldon.
“We're in a very rural area and we wouldn't have had safe access to roads for walkers. So getting that walking track put in was the main thing and everything else has developed from there. People seemed to buy into it and it's been very successful.
“The main impact is new members. It has increased the membership of the club a lot. When I moved back home to live locally after college 25 years ago you would have seen the GAA club as just being for the footballers and a few families in the area, it was a close knit sort or thing.
“But it's definitely moved it from that perspective into involving much more of the community. It's very much part of the community as a whole now rather than just being a separate entity and I think the Healthy Club has been what's moved it most in that direction.
“We're up to 450 members now and there's probably 200 social members. And the social membership was guided by the members, not by ourselves. It was people who were using the walking track asking could they make a donation, and that in turn has funded some more social activities.
“That's been the main thing we've noticed, there's such a bigger buy into the club from the community. No matter what you're doing now, people buy into it and fund-raising has become an awful lot easier when you're giving something more than just football to people.”
Weldon has brought huge energy to the role of Healthy Club Officer, a fact recognised last year when she was crowned ‘Volunteer of the Year’ at the 2022 Monaghan Volunteer Awards.
Their busy walking track and enthusiastic involvement in the Ireland Lights Up initiative this year is just one strand of their busy Healthy Club output.
“At the minute we're also running a programme in conjunction with Monaghan Sports Partnership, we do a lot of work with them, and it's called Fit for February,” says Weldon. “It started this week and is running for four weeks.
“We're encouraging people with limited mobility to get back walking. It's something we've done before and we've brought it back again and had 15 people over the age of 70 taking part this week on our walking track.
“We have circuit training for men on Wednesday night, volleyball on Thursday night, and then a couch to 5k on Friday night. We're trying to target both men and women as well as different age-groups to get them all more active.
“We've also had jiving classes this year which were very popular and line dancing as well. It's about trying to get people doing exercise without knowing they're exercising! Something like volleyball is hugely popular because it's great fun but you'll also know you've done something after it as well.”
It’s not just their community’s physical health that Latton are actively trying to improve, they’ve also rolled out a range of initiatives designed to promote better mental health.
“We did a good bit of that during Covid especially,” says Weldon. “We did some online presentations and have also linked up with LA519 which is a local not for profit here in Monaghan.
“Barry Aughey set up the trust when his son Luke passed away and he does resilience talks and training around suicide awareness. He's done a few of those talks in the club with our 15 to 19 year old members, and they were very popular.
“We do healthy eating presentations as well. We've a nutritionist in the club and she comes in at the start of the year and talks to our younger members about what they should be eating before and after training. What time they should be eating at before they go training.
“And we get a great reaction to that too because our players are keen to maximise their ability.”
This week, like every week now, Latton’s club grounds will be buzzing. There’ll be plenty of action on the pitch, and off it things will be just as busy with people of all ages taking part in a wide range of activities.
The best GAA clubs should always be as much about community as they are Gaelic games, and that’s certainly true for Latton O’Rahilly GAA club.
“When we started a fundraising campaign a few years ago called the ‘Friends of Latton Initiative’ the motto was 'Latton O'Rahillys are the heart of the community’,” says Weldon.
“And it's become truer than ever in the last couple of years that that is what we now are. The Healthy Club really does put you at the heart of the community in a more real way.
"You can see there's always different sorts of activities taking place in the club and we’ve gotten a lot of publicity from our Healthy Club activities.
“People from other clubs are now getting in touch asking us about what we do and how we do it. Maybe we're encouraging other clubs to realise what can be done.”