It’s all to play for as GAA targets a healthy Ireland

Mickey Harte and star players tour country’s clubs to battle obesity epidemic

Aiming high: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with Seán McHugh (11) and Jamie Smyth(11), from Scoil Chiaráin CBS, at the Healthy Clubs launch in Donnycarney, Dublin. Photograph: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Aiming high: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with Seán McHugh (11) and Jamie Smyth(11), from Scoil Chiaráin CBS, at the Healthy Clubs launch in Donnycarney, Dublin. Photograph: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

 

The GAA is often seen as the cornerstone of Irish life, with communities all over the country coming together in the name of sport. Children start their sporting careers at their local clubs, while adults, raised on hurling, camogie and football continue to show their support to community teams and upcoming GAA stars.

Because the majority of the population has an affinity with the movement, there couldn’t be a better way to get a message across than through the clubs, members and stars of the GAA.

And from now until the beginning of April, representatives are touring the country to bring the Healthy Club Project (HCP) roadshow to the people of Ireland.

The project was created in 2013 to promote physical activity, healthy eating, health screening, youth and community development and to warn against the dangers of smoking, alcohol, drugs and gambling.

In short, with Ireland in the midst of an obesity epidemic, the GAA hopes its ambassadors will be able to deliver the message many people seem to be ignoring from health officials.

One such ambassador is Mickey Harte, the most successful manager ever of the Tyrone senior inter-county football team. Having led Tyrone to three All-Ireland titles and five Ulster titles, as well as various other important victories, his endorsement is important. He believes the programme is something which can benefit the whole country regardless of whether or not people are involved in their local GAA club.

Tyrone county manager Mickey Harte: “There was a time in the ’70s when you weren’t allowed to play, in inverted commas, foreign games and play in the GAA.” Photograph: Philip Magowan/Inpho
Tyrone county manager Mickey Harte: “It’s for everybody in the community, to help people improve their health and wellbeing.” Photograph: Philip Magowan/Inpho

“This is a very positive initiative and, importantly, not just for people who are actively involved in the club,” he says. “It’s for everybody in the community, to help people improve their health and wellbeing, and involves many different projects from healthy eating to walking groups. So this will help facilitate good health outcomes for every member of the community.”

Formative experience

Harte believes the project works because it involves whole communities, many of whom have fond memories of playing with local clubs as children.

“Often the modern world doesn’t cater for interdependence, but this initiative does because it brings people together and helps retain a sense of the past and a time when community support was a lot more prevalent,” he says. “Also we are becoming much more aware of our health – both physical and mental – and the HCP helps to bring people together and provide a support network so they are encouraged to get active, meet new people and even join activities like lunch meetings for older people or film and card nights.

“The GAA brings a lot of joy, whether you’re a spectator or a player. It also teaches young people lessons for life in relation to sharing, teamwork and appreciating the different skills people have – it’s really a template for life. The volunteering aspect and the heroes behind the scenes also help instil a sense of citizenship in our young people.

“And it’s this sense of community which sets the GAA apart from other sports. It gives people a sense of identity, a sense of place – you might move away but you’re drawn back to your community and club and this is what makes the GAA unique.”

Aoife Lane is chairwoman of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association and a member of the national GAA health and wellbeing steering committee. The Galway woman is also head of the Department of Sport and Health Science in Athlone Institute of Technology. As both a lecturer in the benefits of physical activity and a veteran camogie player, she would encourage everyone to get involved in the HCP initiative as each step towards fitness, no matter how small, is beneficial.

‘Fantastic opportunity’

“The HCP is a fantastic opportunity for people to become either more or newly engaged with their local community,” Dr Lane says. “The GAA club has traditionally been the hub of the community but has perhaps become less accessible [in recent times, for] various reasons. This project has opened the gates again and made the club relevant to all of the community.

Dr Aoife Lane: “Start small, set achievable targets, recruit as much support as possible and ask the experts for help.” Photograph: Brendan Moran
Dr Aoife Lane: “Start small, set achievable targets, recruit as much support as possible and ask the experts for help.” Photograph: Brendan Moran

“Being a member of a GAA club is so much more than participation in sport; everyone should have something to gain, and frequently something to offer their local club. Sport is the perfect conduit for health, from a physical, emotional and social perspective across the lifespan. My only tips are to start small, set achievable targets, recruit as much support as possible and ask the experts for help.”

And for those who have their sights set on bigger and brighter things, Harte says while reaching for your goals, enjoy every moment along the way.

“Success is relative but as long as you’re doing the best you can with the skills you have then you are succeeding,” he says. “For me, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

“Discipline is also very important – you must have a plan in place but you must be flexible to change and reflective to understand what worked and what didn’t work. Most importantly, you need to follow through on your plans as after all it’s the people who take action that get things done.”

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ABOUT THE HCP

The GAA HCP is working to empower clubs countrywide to support the health and wellbeing of their members and the wider community they serve.

The independent evaluation by Waterford IT’s Centre for Health Behaviour Research of Phase 1 of the HCP revealed its potential to increase membership, improve health promoting activities, create better opportunities to link the local community with club activities and open up new funding avenues, all while enhancing the health of the nation and ensuring a healthier future for everyone.

The GAA, in partnership with Irish Life and Healthy Ireland, is hosting free roadshows for all GAA clubs featuring an exciting mix of GAA stars plus local clubs that are already involved in the award winning project.

If you or your club is interested in finding out more about how it can become a Healthy Club, or you want to learn more about some of the topics laid out in the project, you can book up to four free places per club at your respective provincial Healthy Clubs roadshow by visiting gaa.ie/community.

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