By Niall McCoy
BALLELA chairperson Louise Mackin has said that the club have made a conscious effort to ensure that a few positives emerge from the very big negative of hurling and camogie being prohibited during the latest lockdown.
In a congested GAA area dominated by football, the county Down outfit have linked up with local primary schools to lend them helmets and hurls so that the children can have taster sessions in the codes.
They have also used the opportunity to spruce up their home grounds ahead of the much-anticipated return to action.
“Obviously Covid has stopped a lot of things but it has allowed us to get certain things done as a result,” Mackin said.
“The maintenance around the pitch is getting sorted and the clubrooms have been painted inside. The pitch itself needed a good cutting and sorting out in certain areas. Then there was sorting out the weeding and little things like that that you can forget about.
“I have no problem asking people to help and I have roped a few in and they have been great.”
On those school links, Mackin said that it was important to remind people that hurling and camogie were still very much alive in the Banbridge area.
“We are starting to see a lot more young ones coming through, which is great. Ballela is a small area and it doesn’t have a primary school so we’re hoping to get more from Dromore Primary School and Annaclone Primary School.
“Annaclone GAC and ourselves would have good vibes with each other and a lot of our camogie team would play football with them.
“We got a grant for equipment and we have leant out helmets and hurls over to Annaclone to the school. We have applied for another one to hopefully let us do the same for Dromore.
“You can go out and kick a football and it’s not too expensive, but if you want to play hurling or camogie you have to get your helmet and your stick and other bits. The equipment is more expensive.
“The fact that we can put it into schools for them to try without having to buy is great. They can have a go at it for a while and then if they really enjoy it then they can pursue it.
“Our aim is to promote camogie and hurling in the schools in the area and to try and get the Down County Board to send some coaches into those local schools who maybe haven’t had it in the past.”
Mackin, for her part, made a bit of history at the end of last year as she became the first female chairperson in the club’s 120-year history.
She said that is can only be a good thing to see more females on GAA committees. Recently, incoming President Larry McCarthy said that his new set of committees would all have female representation, and Mackin believes clubs have already been leading the way in this area.
“I am the first female chairperson of Ballela,” she said. “This year I have a couple of girls onto the committee as well.
“It’s great to see females coming forward. Committees used to be predominantly male before, but it is changing.”
And on the female side of things, one of the club’s proudest moments last year was when Catherine O’Hare helped Down to the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie title.
In doing so, O’Hare became the first-ever Ballela camog to win an All-Ireland title and Mackin said that she is the perfect role model for the younger players in the club.
“It’s great to promote it and show the younger ones what they can achieve and it’s someone for them to look up to.
“We’re lucky that we have a few examples of that in the club. Catherine is an All-Ireland winner now, Ryan McCusker is on the Down hurling team, Johnny (McCusker) was on the hurling team before too as were a few others.”
Mackin has also reiterated that anyone who would like to get involved in the running of the club or to play, regardless of ability of experience, should get in touch.
“There is social media there, Facebook and Twitter, and we are always updating them.
“We would be more than happy to have anyone come along and help out.
“Over the last few years we have had a load of people come in who haven’t been involved in the past and that’s such a boost to everyone.
“They are now at the heart of it and that has been great for the club. We hope that can continue.”