The big news from the Redmond O’Hanlon’s club this year is their link with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
The club have created a formal structure within the club that they hope will lead to the production of a senior ladies team in the next few years. It is project that has excited the club.
Robert O’Neill is the current chairperson. He said: “We entered two teams into the LGFA for the first time at u-13 and u-15 level. We are really proud of that. Right from u-12s and up we would have a 50-50 split between boys and girls.
“We felt over the last couple of years that the girls needed their own space and teams. We worked very hard on it last year and we fielded our first two teams this year. We are really delighted with how that has gone for us.”
Their move could also be regarded as a success when you consider that two of the Redmond O’Hanlon’s girls are now on the Armagh ladies county panels at their age groups.
Before the girls teams were created the girls had to play their football on the boys’ teams.
“We had noted in previous years that when they got to around age 11 there was a fall away. The girls were less inclined to mix with the boys. That’s why we needed to rectify that. We didn’t want to lose the girls altogether.
“When we mooted the idea last year there was a great amount of support. But we had to do alot of fundraising as there is a lot of insurance and things like that that have to be raised.
“The girls are really happy, and they have got their own space now. They have got their own wee groups.”
The O’Hanlon’s girls teams have their own jersey and their own sponsor, which helps to encourage them to realise that they have their own space and identity within the club. It has worked out well for the club, but it has worked out well for the girls.”
There are 20 girls at u-13 and 18 at u-15 but in the group coming through at u-11, there are as many as 24. Next year they will be u-13 and they regard that as a good platform for the incoming season.
The next step for the club is to try and bolster their coaching staff.
“Coaching has been a big problem. It is hard to get coaches. This year was about getting the LGFA set up we feel like we have to put our focus on the coaching side of things.” O’Neill said.
They have managed to get a ladies coach in Sarah Gamble.. She plays for Lissummon, but is going to help the Poyntzpass club out with their underage coaching.
“It has been a great coup to get her on board and we are really delighted with that,” O’Neill continued.
“In the next five years we want to be fielding at every age group in ladies, from 13 right up, and we want to have our own senior team. It is a long-term project. We want to take a team up to the next level after ever year. We do know that there are girls out there who want to come on board.
“We think it is achievable but there is a lot of hard work there. We need a buy-in from parents and we need help from the community. Every time we have asked for help from the community we have gotten it.
“But we are going to need even more help in the future if you consider we are going to need a second committee. So we will need parents and members of the community to get involved.”
At Redmond O’Hanlon’s, one of the challenges has been keeping the senior men’s team going.
When success seems like something that only happens to other clubs it is hard for players to stay motivated.
What Redmond O’Hanlon’s have found is that their players had become disillusioned.
Club chairperson Robert O’Neill said: “We can’t determine success by winning things. Success for us has just been fielding, certainly for our senior team.
“We have had to struggle with our senior team for the past five years. We were struggling to get teams to come out and train. There was no momentum there. On a few occasions we only fielded 13 players.
“I went to the county board last year and put forward a motion that if a team fielded 13 players then they shouldn’t be getting penalised. That had happened previously. I just wanted to give the smaller clubs a hand.”
That motion was passed but it wasn’t going to be enough to help Redmond O’Hanlon’s. The club brought a man called Ciaran McGuinness on board. He had previously been involved with Mayobridge.
“He came on board and totally changed the ethos of where our seniors are going. He added a dimension of professionalism. He got them stripped out in proper training gear, had proper times for training, proper structures. Right up until we were stopped, in our last training session we had 21 players out. The whole mentality has changed and we are really delighted with the way that the seniors are going.”
The men’s team actually started their pre-season for their 2020 campaign in November. They brought in a boxing coach called Bernard McComiskey. He did core fitness with the players, and when they started their normal pre-season they had a base level of fitness.
The proper training gear came from the team fundraising together, they did car washes and last-man-standing events, all of which brought in money, but it also created a bond among the players.
“They transferred that onto the pitch,” O’Neill said.
Before McGuinness came along the situation, at O’Hanlon’s was actually getting very serious.
“We actually had a couple of very good footballers at our club who actually handed in transfers because there was no drive or ambition.
“So, at the end of last year we called a players’ meeting. We felt that the seniors were going nowhere fast so we called that meeting and told the players that they had to get behind us, that they had to weigh in, or we were going to lose our senior team.
“The senior players got together among themselves and said that they wanted to try to keep it going.
“There were a band of friends who agreed that they had to give a big effort. But they actually had a few requests for the committee. They said that we needed to go out and recruit more players. which we did. They wanted us to set up a new gym in the club, which we did. Everything they asked the club responded positively to. All we asked was that the players came out and worked hard, respected their managers, and they reciprocated.”
The club actually had a good season and ran Crossmaglen to a few points.
“There is a real positivity around the seniors. It is really a psychological thing. Ciaran has brought that edge that they didn’t have, that belief in themselves.”
The O’Hanlon’s committee are now looking to build on this year. Getting numbers is key. They were able to draft in some lads from Newry, who had left their respective clubs.
They would like to bring in some players from minor level, but that won’t happen for a few years.
The O’Hanlon’s underage boys play on an amalgamated team Patrick Rankin’s with Shane O’Neill’s and Corrinshego.
“The boys have been getting some good football. They went to the feile last year and played very well. but there are a few more years till the come through.
“The new successes for us have been our underage teams fielding, our new facilities, our link with LGFA. They are all success stories in their own right and they are helping to take us into the future.”
One of Redmond O’Hanlon’s achievements during lockdown has been kept under lock and key.
The enforced stoppage of club action over the summer months meant that the club decided to take on jobs that they wouldn’t usually have time for, in this case decoration.
Club chairperson Robert O’Neill said: “Our clubhouse was built 15 years ago. We had a budget there to put the shell up, and to get things in the club, like changing rooms and a kitchen.
“But we didn’t get any painting done or pictures up. So when we went into lockdown we took the decision to bring some guys in to get the clubhouse painted.
“We got some frames and we were able to put up pictures, and collages on the walls. We got new tables and chairs, and furniture. It has really transformed the inside of the clubhouse but because of lockdown no one has actually got to see it.
“No one has been allowed in to the clubrooms. But we can hold our heads up high to say that we improved that.”
And when everyone gets the chance to go inside they will be able to see the handiwork.
That work follows on from the improvements they made last year.
The club took a loan out three years ago to redrain their pitch, and they also improved their clubhouse.
On completion of that work last year they invited the GAA President John Horan and Ulster President Oliver Galligan to open the pitch.
“That was a huge day for the club. It was a major coup and a day that will live long in the memory.”
The club can also boast that their grounds are completely smoke free. They have signed up to a charter that prohibits all smoking on their premises.
On top of that, they are plastic free. All away teams who come to the club are told that they are not allowed to bring any single use plastics onto the site.
Redmond O’Hanlon’s are proud that they are very much a cross-community club.
Their underage players are made up of Protestant and Catholic children.
There is an old way of thinking that the Catholic children should play GAA and the Protestants play rugby, but that’s not the case in Poyntzpass.
Simon Best, a noted Ulster and Ireland Rugby player, has three children who play for the club.
The Redmond O’Hanlon’s club were actually preparing to host a day to celebrate Simon’s brother, Rory Best, who retired from rugby last year.
“We were supposed to be running a day for Rory Best. He is a Poyntzpass man. The day was planned for June 6. We had people involved from all sections of the community. This was going to be a cross-community event.
“It would have been a fantastic day. We would have had a lot of volunteers. It’s a pity that it didn’t happen because it would have been a great cross-community event. And that it was going to happen in the Gaelic club would have been a big thing for us.
“We were disappointed that it didn’t happen but it will happen.”
The club have players and coaches who are from the Protestant community, but according to O’Neill, religion doesn’t matter.
“It’s all about the football for us. We don’t get involved in the other stuff. We are so glad to have them.”
Every year they organise a game of two halves, where they set up a game for the two primary schools and put the kids together to play one half of rugby and the other of Gaelic football.
“Banbridge Rugby Club get involved with that with us. It is usually on culture night. We would do it every September.
“They get together six weeks beforehand to get up to speed with the different sports.”
The project highlights how the club understands that it must live in harmony with the rest of the community.
“Poyntzpass is a small community. The GAA is everything in terms of the community. We have reached out to the Protestant primary school to try and get their children involved in the GAA. For us it is about reaching out. We would love to get more primary schools children from Poyntzpass playing GAA. We would love more of their girls to get involved in GAA. We are trying to increase our numbers but we are also encouraging the cross-community element.”
There is another benefit for the GAA clubs to reach out from those who might be more used to playing rugby.
“A lot of our kids play rugby for Banbridge Rugby Club. So, from u-6 to u-13s, there are children from every age group and we see the benefits in terms of co-ordination.
“But it is also about breaking down barriers. People would have said that you have to be a Catholic to play GAA or you have to be a Protestant to play rugby. It is all about the sport.
“We like to think we are doing all we can to put the hand of friendship out.”
Redmond O’Hanlon’s feel themselves very fortunate this year.
The club made a decision last year that unknowingly would protect them during the lockdown.
Finances for clubs are tight, and they must have regular money coming in. So when lockdown hit, many clubs were fearful about where there money was going to come from.
“This year has been very tough. We had fundraisers lined up. They all had to be shelved. We were lucky because we decided to move to Clubforce. They are an online platform to do your club lotteries.
“We moved our lottery online (at the start of the year). That proved vital. Everyone who was paying a direct debit we moved them over.
“When lockdown hit we had to stop all our traditional fundraising. Clubforce proved to be so important. That has been what is keeping us alive. There are still bills that need to be paid in lockdown.”
The club also have to thank some of their bigger financial sponsors.
“We have two sponsors who gave us donations and we have three benefactors who gave us donations. That helped to tick things over.
“Fundraising is one of the big difficulties that we have. The lotto is the backbone of the club.
“I know other clubs who don’t have the online outlet for funding. They are losing out massively.”
The Irish language is an important aspect of a lot of GAA clubs, and in response to that, Redmond O’Hanlon’s wanted to grow that side of the club.
However, they took an unusual route to do so.
Club chairperson Robert O’Neill said: “In the middle of last year we wanted to start up Irish language classes.
“We wanted to give back to the cultural aspect.
“I knew Linda Ervine had got a library donated to her down at Turas (Irish Language project in East Belfast). So I contacted Linda and she was so helpful in getting us set up. She donated a lot of literature to us.”
Following on from that connection, the club then set up a match with the East Belfast Gaels, the club which Linda Ervine is the President of. However the game was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they hope to reschedule soon.