Volunteer of the Year Sarah Bloomfield throws heart and soul into coaching after illness cut short her playing career
ILLNESS forced Young Volunteer of the Year winner Sarah Bloomfield to give up playing football as a teenager, but the Clonduff GAC stalwart bounced back to become a popular and respected coach at the county Down club.
Sarah (now 22) had to retire at the age of 15 due to a migraine condition that left her temporarily paralysed down her right side. But she refused to give up her involvement with her beloved ‘Yellows' and is now coaching at club and county level.
“I thought ‘if I can't play, I'll still help out' and I've stuck with the club and stayed with the coaching,” she explained at the Irish News Club and Volunteer Awards ceremony.
Sarah is well known around the Mourne county as a Cul Camp mentor. She had also completed a course to become a linesperson but unfortunately was forced to give it up because of her illness.
Her involvement with Clonduff began when she followed her elder brother into the underage structures at the Hilltown-based club.
“We lived out in the country, so there was nothing else really to do and we all joined in,” she explained.
“Everybody played, everybody I knew and I started camogie when I was five and football when I was six and then, when I was about 12, I started helping out with the younger ones.
“Five years ago, when I was 17, I was asked to take the U12 ladies' footballers and I'm with them ever since. I did the U14s last year as well and this year I was asked to help out with the U13 development squad as well, so I was doing that too.”
These days Sarah spends Wednesday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings coaching the players and says that's “quiet compared to last year”.
“Yes, it can affect your social life,” she admitted with a laugh.
“You're not going to go out on a Saturday night and then go to training on Sunday morning, I wouldn't even consider it – I'd rather sit in.
“I love it, I really enjoy working with the wee ones and I think of them all as my wee sisters. We're all very close.”
Sarah, who also helps out in the social club bar and the club shop when required, admits it was a “big surprise to be shortlisted” for the coveted Irish News award.
“At trainings I would be quiet, but when it comes to a match you're a completely different person,” admitted.
“They say I shout – I would be the cross one apparently. I don't know where it will take me; I'd like to work for the Ulster Council or the Down County Board. We'll see.”
The panel of judges who decided on this year's award were impressed by Sarah's dedication to her club and the children she trains.
“This girl has immersed herself in volunteering – coaching and refereeing the club's U12 girls,” read the judges' comments.
“When she went to university in England she flew back every week in order to accompany the U12s to their games on Wednesday evenings and training on Sunday mornings.
”She can also be found at any activity in the club that needs a helping hand – social club bar, club/community clean-up, club shop, big breakfast and club tournaments.”