Where we all belong: Rolling Gaelic Games out to everyone

Donegal’s Tanya Roberts Browne was appointed to lead up the GAA for All Workgroup earlier this year by new President Jarlath Burns. She tells Michael McMullan of her background in GAA, opening the door to everyone in Downings and plans for her new role

IF you need something done, ask someone who is busy. That’s what they always say. And Jarlath Burns certainly did that. Tanya Roberts Browne was already spinning enough plates but a call to oversee a national plan for GAA for All was right up her street.

After her son Oisín was born with cerebral palsy she got the wheels in motion for the Na Dúnaibh All-Stars, a GAA team based in the Downings area providing an outlet for players with additional needs.

A glance at her social media and you wonder where she squeezes time for her business, Rainbows preschool in Carrigart, and caring for her three children.

When Donegal PRO Sinéad Breen was looking someone to help her with the county’s brand, she punched Tanya’s number into her phone. Again, the answer was yes.

There aren’t many days without GAA but she wouldn’t have it any other way. On the afternoons after work, the laptop is out. Club notes, fixtures and social media. It’s all there.

“I’m a very supportive husband,” she said of Paddy’s help to keep everything moving along.

When she is on GAA duty, Oisín, Bobby and Lily Rose are never far away. After Donegal saw off Armagh on penalties, the Ulster final match ball was given to Oisín. It was Bobby’s 10th birthday. He has a claim on it too.

As club PRO and whiz with social media, getting the GAA for All message out into the ether is something Tanya wants to bring to her new role.

The GAA isn’t owned by anyone. She wants everyone to see the shop window. The end goal, to let every Gael know the GAA welcomes everyone. The level of ability is irrelevant. The door is always open.

Like everyone in Donegal, she is on the crest of a wave. Before that, she had an eye on Derry. And still does.

Her uncle Neil Doherty, winning co-driver in the 2012 Donegal rally, lives in Derry.

She jokes how her cousin Oisín’s goal dumped Donegal out of the u-20 Championship on a night Downings took their u-10s to see star forward Patrick McElwee action at MacCumhaill Park.

Her other cousins Conor and Mark were on the winning Derry senior squad that ended a 24-year famine for Ulster success in 2022. Their sister Erin helped Derry ladies to victory over London on Sunday.

“As disappointing as it was that Donegal lost out to Derry, I was delighted for Conor and Mark to get the buzz of winning an Ulster final,” she said. “My mum and their dad are brother and sister. So, they’re more Donegal than they let on.”

Tanya played football for Downings at underage. When the club reformed, just after Lily Rose was born in 2016, she popped back to play the following year.

There was a Gaeltacht championship medal in 2018 before missing out on a Donegal championship two years later when Susanne White’s 2-9 for Killybegs did the damage.

“It all stemmed from there, I just got back into it, back involved within the club and the rest is history,” she said.

GAA was always there. Her father Bobby looked after the men’s team for close to 15 years. Brother Eric and sister Jessica also play with the club.

“I suppose my whole life at the minute is just consumed by the GAA,” she said of a hectic schedule on all fronts.

WE DID IT…TITLE TIME…CROKER…Tanya Roberts Browne and her sister Jessica celebrate glory with Downings

“You just meet so many amazing people and they’re all just doing it for the same reason. We have a passion for our communities, our clubs and our county…it’s brilliant.”

During Covid, Downings minor board were hosting their online AGM, as was in vogue then. No hands went up to take the position of chairperson. The suggestion was bounced in Tanya’s direction.

“I said, yeah, I’ll give it a go and I have plenty of support around me,” she recalls.

With positive people in the wings, there is a satisfaction in seeing the wheels of change turn.

When the club launched their five-year strategic plan, Tanya weighed in behind chairperson Eoin Byrne and their committee with the aim of securing Club Maith gold standard by 2027.

“We are more than a football club now; we are at the heart of the community for young and old alike,” she told DonegalLive at the launch.

At the time, her involvement as PRO spiralled into a role with the club’s senior team with manager Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher tasking her to collate the stats as they added an 2022 intermediate title to their previous junior success.

Alongside Anthony Boyle, they coach the u-10s and had the current senior players from u-6 level. There is also her current role as the ladies team this year.

“The ladies were promoted to Division One in 2022 and won intermediate Donegal Gaeltacht title last year,” he adds. “That’s some achievement in seven years.”

Jarlath Burns definitely picked someone who was busy.


Oisín Roberts will turn 18 on Tuesday. He was born with cerebral palsy and autism. As a young mother, Tanya realised there wasn’t a range of sporting pursuits for him on their doorstep.

“That’s not a fault on anybody. It’s just the way that I suppose the world is and how the system works,” she quickly pointed out.

As the years passed, there was less to get involved in. A handful would head to Little Angels School in Letterkenny.

It got Tanya thinking and she pulled together a focus group of parents. Would they be interested in getting involved with Downings?

“Two of the boys there, twins Luke and Zach Cullen, have Angelman syndrome. They came down and their four older brothers were on the senior team,” she said.

From being at games, everybody got to know them but a direct club involvement was the next step.

By February 2023, the year of planning was complete. The Na Dúnaibh All-Stars were in operation. They recently played at half-time in Clones as Donegal ladies took Armagh all the way to extra-time in the Ulster final.

“That was unbelievable,” Tanya said. “I said to the parents when we were setting up, I have this goal, I have this vision of them being mascots for a county, for a senior team. Of everything I’ve been involved in within the GAA, that was definitely the highlight for me,” she proudly admits.

The group is made up of players from the neighbouring Milford and St Michael’s clubs.

“It’s brilliant when you see them travelling over for that and just to be a part of it,” Tanya continues, ”just to really get it out there that we do have a team.

“There are very few actual teams in Donegal and clubs that run it but you do see more and more getting involved, which is fantastic.

“We’re all part of the GAA for the same reason. We enjoy it and why shouldn’t everybody? It’s where we all belong.”

That’s why Ulster are lucky in having Shane McCann and Paul Callaghan – a 1992 All-Ireland winner with Donegal – driving the GAA for All concept.

Callaghan was across in Downings helping deliver the programme with any additional training. Equipment was sourced and they were up and running.

STARS..Na Dúnaibh All-Stars in Clones. Photo: Evan Logan

The most important commodity is people. The Downings senior players lend their hand with the All-Stars on a Friday evening. Giving back is the real GAA gift.

It gives the parents a break from a week of care and the hustle bustle of work. They can shoot the breeze over a cuppa. The volunteers steer the session. They are the additional gold.

“I like to give the parents that wee break for an hour or two because they might not have had a break all week and I know what that’s like too,” Tanya said of a typical All-Stars Friday.

The parents, while all living locally, might never get a chance to properly engage. Life’s fast lane is often way too fast.

And the volunteers have got to know the children inside out. They are just part of the Downings GAA family. That’s the success story. There is something for everyone – children from special schools or those in mainstream education who may attend an autism class. That’s also irrelevant. They are all Gaels.

Bobby and Lily Rose come along to help too.

“It’s just a great way for other children within the community, like our underage players, to get to know and get to meet the children that play for the All-Stars,” Tanya adds.

It’s about inclusion. The focus is on their abilities. It’s fun. More importantly, it’s GAA. The GAA is for all. Everyone just wants to play.


When Jarlath Burns touched base, he liked what he saw. His chair of GAA for All needed to tick various boxes. But there were two main ones. Integration and inclusion.

“I was jumping up and down when I got the message, I couldn’t believe it,” Tanya said when presented with the opportunity to support the GAA in something so close to her heart and the local community.

Since joining, she has been in Croke Park for meetings and to the GAA National Games Centre in Abbotstown. She oversaw a round of Ulster wheelchair hurling in Omagh on Saturday.

With GAA for All now moved under the coaching and games umbrella, it is a welcome move from previously being under health and wellbeing.

It symbolises the players are players in their own right rather than an additional group in the greater landscape.

There is a new level of recognition. When Ulster GAA launched their new jersey, wheelchair hurler Ciaran Bradley was pictured alongside Derry’s Brendan Rogers and Conal Cunning of Antrim. All three flanked Ulster President Ciarán McLaughlin under the stand at Glen’s Watty Graham Park.

In a short time, the new committee has been picking up momentum. Their nine-point remit can be summed up in a few lines.

They want to open their doors to everyone, champion diversity and provide opportunities. The big picture is to contribute towards the growth and success of Gaelic Games across Ireland.

Tanya is chairing a committee of 12 that includes Ulster’s Conor Watson (Down) and Karen Savage (Armagh). Tony Watene is the secretary and the link back to Croke Park.

“There’s two new members of the committee,” Tanya adds, “and the rest of them have been involved very heavily over the last 10 or 20 years.

“I suppose it was quite daunting coming in as chair to this committee when they’ve been so involved over the last number of years.”

They’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting but Tanya is keen to put her own spin on it. She wants to shout their terms of reference from the rooftops.

“I’m very much into social media and promoting,” she continued. “That’s really what I want to do. This has actually been up and running for the last 20 years, not a lot of people know that.”

From chatting with some of the players at a development day earlier this year, their needs were apparent.

“A lot of them do want change,” Tanya said of their messages. “They want to be recognised. They want their launches, ambassadorships, the different things that other hurling players and football players would get to.”

There is also a motivation to increase the visibility. Streaming games isn’t something Tanya is ruling out. Her message is consistent. Get the GAA for All out there.

There are other issues, just like any other GAA team. More volunteers are needed. Referees. Competitions. The essentials.

CROKER…Tanya Roberts Browne and her son Oisín on a trip to Croke Park

In Ulster, McCann and Callaghan have been pivotal in the drive of GAA for All. In other provinces, there is competition with sports like Special Olympics and basketball.

“Why shouldn’t wheelchair hurling be right up there as a national sport,” Tanya asks.

Now, it’s about continuing to beat the drum. Momentum, recruitment and spreading the word. That’s where it’s at.

In this week’s feature interview for the Gaelic Lives podcast she highlights a pathway for families getting involved in wheelchair hurling or GAA for All.

“If your club isn’t running it, touch base with your county board and talk to your games development officer,” she explains.

“See what information they can give you and if it’s not there, then take it provincially and get your information from there.”

If any club needs a case study, they should take a spin in to Downings. Hugging Sheephaven Bay in Ireland’s picturesque North West, it’s far for the big population centres. But they work with what they’ve got.

Their senior men’s team have backed Donegal junior success with intermediate glory.

A group of parents followed Tanya Roberts Browne into the Na Dúnaibh All-Stars’ family. With a handful of volunteers, anything is possible.

A video of her son Oisín went viral back in 2021. He wanted to get to Croke Park. The GAA made it happen. He was perched beside Sam Maguire, in the dressing room, deep in the bowels of the stadium. He got the chance to belt out the famous Hills of Donegal tune. Priceless.

Oisín Roberts and Patrick McElwee are exactly the same. They love GAA. They pull on the Downings jersey. Everybody knows them.

It’s a story every bit as important as any silverware hoisted into the sky during this or any summer.

The GAA’s tagline ‘where we all belong’ sounds good. But, without substance, it’s only four hollow words. Getting GAA for All into every home is the real gain.

Welcome to the world of Tanya Roberts Browne. The GAA’s door will always be open. It’s about telling people where to find it.

Check out this week’s GaelicLives podcast for a full interview with Tanya Roberts Browne. Link below…

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