KILCOO minor manager Dominic McEvoy believes that the young athletes in the club are staying on the straight and narrow as they’re determined to follow in the footsteps of their heroes at senior level.
The club has gobbled up eight out of the nine Senior Championships in Down, and youngsters in the area know they’re unlikely to make it in the long-run unless they show a serious level of dedication and commitment.
While it’s still been a difficult year for the kids in Kilcoo, there’s few external distractions and it’s obvious even to by-passers that they’re keeping themselves ticking over ahead of the long-awaited return to collective training on April 12.
McEvoy said: “We’re lucky in a way because we have a successful senior team. Kids know they’re not going to break onto that team unless they do something extra special, and that’s something we’re trying to breed into them.
“We’ve tried to look after them during the lockdown – if any child is struggling and wanted to go for a run or a walk, we enabled that on a one-on-one basis.
“They’re very dedicated – we’ve set them individual programmes and if you drive through Kilcoo on any day you’ll see them out doing their individual runs. We’re lucky in a sense, you probably wouldn’t see that in towns or cities.”
Kilcoo is a small, rural parish between Downpatrick and Newry with a population that comes in at just under 1000 people. The GAA club is the heartbeat of the village and surrounding parish, however, and McEvoy recognises that they have significant advantages over less tight-knit communities.
At the same time, he’s concerned that teenagers, unaccustomed to a more typical social life over the last 12 months, may get overwhelmed when night-life returns to normal – whenever that may be.
“In a small village like Kilcoo, everyone sees senior players out running and wee fellas want to emulate that.
“There’s no other distractions in Kilcoo, we’re devoted to football and that’s really it. I’m more worried for young lads who are between the ages of 13 and 17, who might never have been to a disco.
“It could be another year before they get to go to a disco and I am a bit worried that they could go completely off the rails. We were all mucking about at that age but you were eased into it, and I’d be afraid they could struggle.
“I’m constantly preaching to them that they need to be dedicated and that they need to see this through if they’re to make the grade down the line at senior level.
“To be honest, they are out mingling with each other, and there’s no point in saying any different. We’re abiding by the regulations but we try to take a middle ground approach and encourage them to take a ball with them if they are hanging out in the village. You can’t set lads a heap of rules, but we’re conscious that parents are coming to us at the moment and are worried about their children’s mental health, so we’re trying to help make things as fun as possible for them.”
McEvoy says they’re also encouraging kids to watch matches and video clips rather than spending hours dwindling away time on the Playstation.
“I’m worried that lads around the country may lose interest in football, but to be honest I don’t see it happening in Kilcoo.
“They’re still as committed as ever, and one of the benefits of living in a small village is that you know everyone and their families, and you know the traits of the young people.
“I’m not seeing any sort of detachment from football. For example at my age I never really worried about food, but the kids are watching what they’re eating, and they sometimes text saying ‘I’ve had a couple of bad days here, do you fancy going for a run?’ That’s how dedicated they are.
“We’re just trying to keep them off computers, and we’re encouraging them to watch as much football as possible. The 1994 All-Ireland final was on TG4 at the weekend and we asked them to watch that match and see how the game’s evolved, and you could see that they were messaging each other on their WhatsApp groups about it. Sometimes you’ll learn more from actually watching a game of football than training.
“The kids are knocking about and playing football together at the minute, there’s no-one coaching them, but you can see them working on wee training ground moves. We’re conscious of the guidelines, but we’re working within the rules as best we can, and you can see that the lads are itching to get back playing. I’ve a young lad of my own and he’s been asking me ‘daddy what are we going to do when we get back?’ You can sense how much they’re looking forward to it.”
McEvoy also said that communities are blessed in general to have the GAA, even if some clubs are more materially successful than others.
“I think we’re blessed here in Ireland that we have Gaelic games, I don’t think there’s any other sport in the world that that has the camaraderie that the GAA brings. We’ve a great chairman, Terry O’Hanlon, who follows the guidelines religiously, and the wee ones are towing the line.
“We’re lucky with the likes of Conor Laverty there too, a great coach and always been active. Whenever I started playing senior football, we went from Division Three to Division One very quickly. Things weren’t always rosy. We’ve a great saying at the minute that we’re making hay while the sun shines.”