By Niall McCoy
FOR Pádraig Sáirséil coach Michael Gerard Doherty, the 2019 season provide a moment that reinforced his belief that GAA clubs must do all that they can to provide their young children with a positive pathway not only in sport, but in life.
The club’s minor team were on an incredible journey that had secured a semi-final spot against kingpins Cargin and the match was only days away.
A team meeting was called to discuss the encounter, and as Doherty watched his players file in to a local community hall, he saw them say hello to groups of youths who were partaking into some underage drinking outside.
It was a stark reminder of the crossroads the players had faced. But here, kitted in out in Pádraig Sáirséil colours, they were part of a group of players with the world at their feet.
Rather than chat about Cargin’s strengths and weaknesses, the players and management spent the next few hours discussing what the club meant to them. What that sense of belonging brought to their lives, and how it provided a positive pathway towards a better future.
The month after that meeting, and a few weeks after they had given Cargin a scare before the Erin Own’s men pulled away in the final stages, new data was released that revealed that over a five-year period west Belfast had the second highest suicide rate in Northern Ireland of 26 deaths per 100,000. Nearby north Belfast’s rate was 31 per 100,000.
So, when the club approached Doherty to create Gaelic games booklets to help children coming through the club, both parties agreed that it would have to go a lot further than just describing how to toe-tap or swing a hurl.
And the end products certainly reflect that. Flip through the books – one is produced for football and the other for hurling and camogie – and you will see a combination of skills and participation.
A chance to learn, but also a chance to bond. Part skill sheet, part photo album, part scrapbook – it provides the chance for kids and their parents and mentors to chart the journey together.
It promotes an anti-bullying message and ways in which all players can feel involved. There are games outlined and the overarching theme is very much learning through fun. It is a reinforcement of the positive impact Gaelic games can have on a child’s life.
“Owen Mooney (Dublin learning and games development coordinator) and Philip Kerr (Derry games development committee member) were such a help in producing this, they provided invaluable advice,” said Doherty.
“I didn’t know Owen but I spoke to him for an hour and 20 minutes on the phone. He kept asking me why I was doing this. I’d say ‘I don’t know’ but he’s keep badgering me.
“Finally it hit me, and I said ‘because I care Owen, I care.’
“To go to the deeper end of the thing, there was an epidemic here ever before we had a pandemic. There is an emotional well-being situation, I don’t really like using the term mental health because when people hear the word mental they think of something negative.
“In west Belfast there is a serious issue. For me, what Gaelic games has done for our lads coming through has only really registered in the last few years.
“I have taken our group right through from u-8 to minor, we finished up last year, and a few things happened in the last year or two that made me consider things.
“I realised that I wasn’t going to be with this group anymore but there would be other teams coming through the club and we needed to try and set a tone from the minute any child enters the club until they are 17 or 18.
“I saw the connection our lads had with the club and ourselves, and we want to have that for every player coming through.
“It goes beyond sport. If we can get children, and all the adults around them, speaking more openly about their feelings, then that will be a success. This booklet hopefully can be a starting spot.”
Doherty said that he has the full backing of the Pádraig Sáirséil to produce a resource that would extend beyond the football pitch.
“We’re very fortunate in our club that there is so much emphasis put on the community side of things and the pastoral side of things as there is on the pitch.
“I would say that we have put more emphasis onto that side of things because it has taken priority in the club.”
MICHAEL Gerard Doherty is offering clubs the chance to win a personalised set of ‘Live, Learn, Love’ booklets when they are launched virtually next week.
The Pádraig Sáirséil coach has created the positive pathway literature for his the west Belfast outfit, and he plans to create personalised booklets for any club interested.
One lucky club will be presented with their own version when Doherty hosts his virtual launch night on Tuesday, April 6 at 7.30pm.
Anyone who tunes in will have their club entered into the draw for the free books.
For more information on the launch, you can follow on Twitter (@livelearnlovegg), Instagram (@livelearnlovegg) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.