Physical Education students from St Mary's University College in Belfast have embarked on an initiative to coach gaelic games at schools and sports clubs in four Canadian cities.
The new coaching scheme is the successful outcome of a joint initiative involving Ulster GAA, the Canada Board of the GAA and St Mary's.
Seven students on the College's Liberal Arts programme will be promoting gaelic games in the cities of Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver to fulfill the requirements for Work Related Learning in their degree programme. Over in Canada it is former Tyrone Gaels Sean Harte and Angie Stevenson who are making all the arrangements for the students. The first team meeting was at 'Quinn's Steakhouse' in Toronto which itself underlines the strong Irish-Canadian connections.
Brian McAvoy, Provincial Secretary and CEO of Ulster GAA, spoke to the students at the launch of the initiative in Belfast and explained that Ulster is 'twinned' with the Canadian Board. He spoke about the historical context whereby Irish emigrants in the nineteenth century brought ground hurling to Canada and thereby contributed to what we know today as ice hockey. In more recent times, the Irish diaspora in Canada has established GAA clubs and competitive leagues across this vast country with considerable success. As with all sports throughout the world, it is the primary schools which are the nurseries for developing gaelic games in Canada and that is where the Physical Education students are contributing their knowledge and skills.
Brian added, "This initiative is an added dimension to our already strong twinning arrangements with Canada. It is an exciting development which will see some of our finest coaching talent pass on their skills and introduce gaelic games to a new generation of children. It is a great opportunity for the students to broaden their learning base and I commend St. Mary's University College and the GAA in Canada for their unqualified support for this venture, which will undoubtedly enhance the growing profile of Gaelic Games across the country. I wish the students every success in their venture."
The College's gaelic games coaches Paddy Tally (Senior Lecturer in Physical Education) and Gavin McGilly (Sports Development Officer) have put the students through a specially designed course to prepare them for what they might expect in Canada. Sport there has long abandoned a pedagogic approach which emphasized drills in favour of pupils learning through playing games. The St Mary's staff have encouraged their students to be open to new ideas and to be prepared to adapt to new challenges. The initiative involves a seven-week placement and started with a period of induction in the Toronto area, including a visit to the Niagara Falls, before the students headed off to their host families in the four cities.
The Canadian Board has been planning for the arrival of the students since a meeting was held in Croke Park with representation of St Mary's before last year's All-Ireland football final in September. Ulster GAA in association with O'Neill's have provided the College students with branded gear to mark the start of the initiative. Paddy Tally said, "All our Physical Education students in the Liberal Arts degree programme are required to undertake work placements and it is hoped to develop the Canadian connection in the years to come to provide more outstanding learning experiences for them."