Young players getting an opportunity to shine at the Faithful Fields
By Cian O'Connell
“The Faithful Fields is just a centre of activity at the moment,” Offaly GAA coaching officer Carina Carroll says proudly.
This weekend it is the turn of nursery players, aged four to six, to get an opportunity to enjoy a few hours at the Offaly GAA training centre.
It will conclude a hectic spell following the successful staging of events for U7, U9, and U11 footballers and hurlers recently.
Ultimately, though, it simply follows a plan that Offaly implemented in the juvenile ranks. “You'd think that in September it would be fading away, but I don't think it is because we have let them all know that we will start them when the clocks turn and finish them when that changes,” Carroll adds.
“People aren't ready to finish anymore the minute September hits. They are going until Halloween.”
That is how the GAA year has unfolded at underage level in Offaly according to Carroll. “I was chairperson of Coiste na n-Óg last year and this year I was elected in as coaching officer so I swapped over,” she explains.
“What we decided to do was we joined our Coiste na n-Óg and our coaching and games together which led to a 20 person committee with a representative from all of our underage clubs.”
So a games programme was implemented throughout the county. “We decided that after the spring hour - from the start of April, that would be the start of our Go Games programme,” Carroll comments.
“The kids would play every Saturday until the clocks changed in October. Our season then is from when the clocks change, that is what we decided to work from with the families getting the Bank Holiday weekends off.”
Affording players and coaches regular fun matches is the objective. “We have hurling, then football, hurling, then football every weekend,” Carroll says. “The idea to finish it up was for four Saturdays for U7s, U9s, and U11s that they would play in the Faithful Fields.
“So for the last four Saturdays we had about 1500 kids between them age groups, they played matches. Everybody embraced it to play their matches, you had 94 matches each Saturday in the Faithful Fields. The idea was that when they were back in school the clubs kept their nursery going.
“We felt if we put something on at the end of September that they would keep their nurseries going until then. Not really training the kids for the day in the Faithful Fields, but just having something to look forward to, it gives them something to have their nurseries going each week for. That was the idea.
“The overall aim was that every child who plays hurling or football in Offaly from nursery to U11 gets to play at the Faithful Fields.”
Next weekend young children will relish the chance to be involved in all of the activities. “The nursery day is for kids from four to six,” Carroll says. “It is not just hurling or football, we will have stations with games.
“Glenisk will also be there. For the last four Saturdays when we had the U7s to U11s, they gave 1500 yoghurts, 10 of those had WIN on the bottom of them. If the child got that yoghurt they got an Offaly jersey, the golden yoghurt that is what they were calling them. It will be the same for the nursery day.”
There is a sense of hope and optimism that Offaly are beginning to make an impact again on the national stage. “We had 1500 the days football were on, and we had 1300 for the hurling days,” Carroll adds.
“They were mostly boys, some clubs would have to rely on girls to bring the numbers up. The first day was a really hot Saturday in the heatwave, it was just unbelievable. Our committee is so good between the 20 of us with parking and stewarding we got the fixtures done.”
People throughout Offaly are aware what is happening and that is a significant help too. “The PROs - the two of them in Offaly - they have really got behind the underage,” Carroll stresses.
“I'd say that Offaly promote way more underage stuff on their senior Offaly GAA social media than anybody else from nursery to U7s and u11s.”
Different projects have captured the imagination. “Our goalie initiative ran for 12 weeks,” Carroll says. “Anybody who wanted to become a goalie in Offaly had 12 weeks training in the Faithful Fields.
“That finished on Saturday too. It has ended up that everybody is playing in the Faithful Fields, the 12 week goalie programme had 90 goalies. We had about 45 football, 45 hurling, we arranged different guest coaches every week.
“The coaching and games staff were there too, that was a 12 week programme. They all did it, they were happy with it. Last week it was amazing to see them all finishing up on the Astroturf when all of the U7s, U9s, and U11s were hurling away.”
Crucially a connection is being forged too with Offaly GAA which adds to the feel good factor. “Definitely, we brought out some of the minors last Saturday because the younger kids know the minors train there,” Carroll says about the attendance of some of Offaly’s All-Ireland minor hurling finalists.
“There were so many kids there, the boys went around and took selfies, and we sent them on. The minors loved that. They came to the Faithful Fields at 10, they went to play a match for their own clubs, and they came back after to take pictures. They loved it too, they are only kids themselves.
“A lot of people remark about when they are driving in. You have four pitches at the Faithful Fields, when the U9 is on you have four matches at each pitch. That is how many you can fit. Just imagine that looking in from the road, the colour. It means you have 16 matches going on at the one time for U7 and U9. We announce when we are starting and finishing, but the coaches ref the games, then the next groups come on.”
Carroll remains enthusiastic about the future with the approach earning praise for keeping players involved in Gaelic Games.
“There is a massive buzz, but I do think a structured timetable is very important for when people join a club in any sport,” Carroll replies.
“Then they just know what is going on for the whole year. You cannot go week by week. The Go Games plan went out at the end of February so people knew what they were doing for the whole year. I think then they look forward to the Faithful Fields at the end.
“What is the biggest change? I would say that there is a Go Games fixture every Saturday morning. Then you have different initiatives on top of that, like going to the Faithful Fields. The main idea behind the nursery is that clubs don't stop. The main aim of this committee is to extend the season, to extend it correctly so it is structured and people understand it.”
The hard work continues.