Tyrone teacher promotes GAA in Coleraine

The Irish News Club & Volunteer Awards

WHEN Eoghan Rua, Coleraine made history by winning the Derry title in 2010, a local hack described the victory as “an incredible achievement for the McGoldrick brothers and their friends”.

Eoghan Rua's success certainly didn't emerge from a backdrop of success at schools level. None of the primary or secondary schools in Coleraine had a great tradition of participating in gaelic games.

But that has changed. Originally from Omagh, Kieran O'Neill, the head teacher at St John's PS in Coleraine, has placed a major emphasis on gaelic games.

When he started working at St John's 11 years ago, O'Neill admitted that the school's interest in the GAA was “minimal”. However, the Tyrone man welcomed the encouragement and interest which he was able to nurture from outside the school.

Speaking at The Irish News Club and Volunteer Awards event, where St John's PS were highly commended in the small schools category, O'Neill said: “With myself coming in with a big gaelic background, and with the club Eoghan Rua having big success in hurling, football and camogie, it was a culmination of the both factors, the school and club were keen to promote gaelic games to a greater degree.

“There was a great interest from within the local community. Some former members of Eoghan Rua wanted to see gaelic games rise again in the Coleraine town area.

“It was in that area of Coleraine where Eoghan Rua originated. We started off by involving the Ulster Council. We brought in their coaches.

“Derry GAA coaches also started coming in on a weekly basis. They are in every week. Eoghan Rua themselves also provided coaches. Then we had generous benefactors in the Eoghan Rua club, Sport NI and some local residents who gave us the wherewithal to buy the resources we needed to promote hurling and camogie.”

Forced to start with baby steps, St John's PS have since involved into a nursery school for Eoghan Rua.

“The Eoghan Rua U12 and U14 camogie, football and hurling teams would now have players who come from Coleraine town and the St John's area. They are representing that part of Coleraine. Ten or 11 years ago, that wouldn't have been the case,” said O'Neill.

Outlining the journey the school has made, the Tyrone native added: “After we got off the ground, we focused on participating in competitions. We made a point of attending the North Derry and all county blitzes. Where possible, we tried to have a team entered in those competitions. It was about getting the children the chance to play.

“It didn't matter if it was a five-a-side indoor competition or a nine-a-side outdoor competition, we tried to get a team entered. No matter the weather, we made sure that we got a mini-bus over to Owenbeg.

“All of the children from Primary One to Primary Seven, in some shape or form, will be involved in Gaelic Games. We start with fundamental skills then we move through to participation and after school activities for camogie, hurling and gaelic football once a week.

After starting off by introducing children to gaelic games, then moving to the stage where they were participating in competitions, St John's is now beginning to enjoy some success.

“This year for the first time our camogie team qualified from the North Derry INTO sevens. They got to the county final where they were beaten by Kilrea. Kilrea was a step too far, but it was a great achievement to do that for the first time. The girls made history for the school,” said O'Neill.


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