Coaching cuts to primary schoolchildren make no sense: Down boss Paddy Tally
THE GAA and IFA joined forces at Windsor Park yesterday to make impassioned appeals to politicians and the civil service not to cut its coaching programme for primary schoolchildren.
New Down manager Paddy Tally was invited to speak alongside Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill at the latter’s squad announcement for next week’s friendly international with Republic of Ireland.
Both managers used the opportunity to explain to the assembled media the importance of retaining the coaching staff in both codes who will lose their jobs next month.
The Department of Education funds the hugely successful Curriculum Sports Programme but it will come to an end in mid-December due to “pressures on the education budget”.
Tally, who has spent a lifetime coaching Gaelic Games at various levels, said the decision to cut the programme “makes no sense” and that not enough emphasis was being placed on the health and well-being of our children.
“The programme was giving children an extra hour’s activity in a structured fashion,” said Tally.
“It was a great bolt on to the PE programme in the primary schools and everybody was a winner in the school.
“The fact that it’s being cut doesn’t do anything for the problems we have in society at the moment, with under-activity in children, especially from two to 12-years-old.
“All those health problems are coming down the line and this programme was one way of offsetting some of that.
“It just does not make any sense for it to be taken away. And what is going replace it? What is going to be done at government level to ensure that children are going to get the required amount of physical activity in school?
“Is there going to be money for in-service training for teachers to skill them up? There seems to be nobody about to answer those questions which is disappointing.”
Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches and the IFA 28 for over 400 schools, with 36,000 children benefitting from the coaching in 2016/’17.
The faint expectation is that money will be found next year but by that stage the coaches are likely to have sought other employment and momentum would be lost.
“The most vulnerable people in society are children,” Tally added, “and those are the ones being deprived of the things they love; they love playing sport, they love the games and the fun and enjoyment of it.
“They get all the benefits physically, emotionally and mentally out of playing sport. It is so crucial to get it at that early age, an environment which is safe and has the children’s best interests at heart.”
The IFA has been equally vociferous in supporting the Curriculum Sports Programme that has been in place since 2010 at a total cost of £11m.
In a statement, the FA said: “The Irish FA, along with our colleagues in Ulster GAA, will continue to lobby for the continuation of this programme in the 2019/’20 financial year and we will impress on key decision makers the positive benefits that this programme has for pupils, teachers and schools right across Northern Ireland.”
Late last month, Newry City manager Darren Mullen, who has witnessed the programme at first hand, condemned the funding cuts.
"[It’s] disgraceful that funding can’t be found to continue it,” said Mullen. “My own solution would be to take it out of the salaries set aside for our dormant MLAs."