St Maurs All-Stars celebrate three years of happiness
By John Harrington
In two weeks time St. Maurs GAA club in Rush will celebrate the three-year anniversary of their outstanding All-Stars team initiative for players with additional needs.
It all started from the suggestion of a parent that the club quickly backed through their excellent Healthy Club committee headed up by Selena Carthy.
The key step was appointing Ann Murray as head coach, who has years of experience in a variety of sports of working with children and adults with additional needs.
What started as a once a week training session in St Maurs has now blossomed into a wider community venture that includes an outreach programme and, soon, weekly sessions in local primary schools too.
“It's being going brilliantly,” Murray told GAA.ie “We have two programmes within the club. The first one is the original All-Stars which is for the quite high support players who require two on one coaching.
“We have brilliant volunteers who are Special Need Assistants and also members of the club in a variety of roles - parents, GAA for Mothers and Others, senior players, and minor players.
“Saturday morning is for our high support group. The club are great, we always either get the all-weather pitch or we're indoors. We're treated like royalty!
“It's a really nice session and it's very sociable. Our players have responded really well to it, none of them have left us in the last three years so we must be doing okay!
“I remember when we first went in one of our players couldn't walk more than three steps without struggling, but now she runs around the place. And another one of our players who is in a wheelchair most of the time is now exercising for 45 minutes without support.
“You can really see the positive impact. The fact that we haven't lost any players is the best testimony you can have, in my eyes.”
Murray’s tireless volunteerism is something extra-special and a real force for good in her community.
After getting the St. Maurs All-Stars on a good footing she then set up an outreach programme with Prosper who are a service day centre for adults with an intellectual disability in North County Dublin.
“I went down there and started with a couple of taster sessions and that kind of escalated,” says Murray. “So now we have an outreach programme where I go in and coach in Propser on the pitches beside each centre. We alternate between GAA and football, it's multi-sport, depending on what's coming up.
“So, when the All-Stars Inclusive Day was coming up in Croke Park recently, we focused on GAA for six weeks.
“We have high ability players and the plan now is to go in and start training with the St. Maur’s third team because they want more of a challenge.
“I've had these players for three years and they're emotionally ready for that now. We've had a few anxiety issues and with intellectual disabilities there are certain triggers, so you need to learn them before you put them in a situation where you can avoid those triggers.”
Dunne has already set up a very successful outreach programme with the FAI where teams of players with additional needs play one another in regular blitzes.
She hopes that if others can follow the lead of St Maurs that something similar could be done with GAA clubs in the area.
“I have a meeting at the weekend with the club's senior committee to see what support is there and is there any club doing this that we don't know about,” she says.
“The thing you have to realise is that you have to own this if you're going to start this. You have to stay with it you want it to succeed. Whoever takes it on needs to know you're more than a volunteer here. Sustainability is always an issue and I think we're on the right path.
“You need to kind of know what you're heading in for and have a good sub-committee behind you first.”
Last year St Maurs held a hugely successful blitz for their All-Stars to mark the GAA’s National Inclusive Family Week and hope to do something similar for this year’s, which begins on September 23.
“We had a player who turned 18 so we did the blitz on her birthday and our senior players came out and played our players,” says Dunne.
“Dublin footballer Ciaran Archer was one of those who came down to play so there was great conversations for months about how our players were going to stop Ciaran Archer from scoring against them!
“We went into the schools that week as well to give them a taste for their special needs section.
“I'm actually going to be doing a session once a week now with our local schools Rush NS, St. Brendan's Loughshinny NS, and St. Catherine's NS and then the idea would be to invite them to get involved with St. Maurs as well.”
Dunne and her fellow coaches have put a huge amount of work into the St Maurs All-Stars over the past three years, but she’ll tell you they’ve gotten so much from the experience in return.
“It's great, I absolutely love it,” she says. “You're helping people who live locally and that's really nice. You get an awful lot back from it, all our volunteer coaches do.”