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Mary Watters and Louise Duffy

Started in 2023, Dundalk Gaels All Star programme for children with additional needs returned in March this year and cousins Louise Duffy and Mary Watters hope to continue to build on a very successful first year. Our media team sat down with the two girls to give a better understanding of the All Star programme.

1. What is the All Stars programme?

LD: The Dundalk Gaels All Stars programme is for children and young people with additional needs between the ages of 6 -16yrs. The training sessions create a fun and safe environment for children and young people to participate in games, exercise and ball skills. The training is child- centred and the main objective is for everyone to have fun.

2. Why did you get involved?

LD: I wanted to set up this programme to create an inclusive and welcoming training session for all children and young people within the club. It is important that all children who want to get involved in GAA and become a member of their local club have the opportunity to do so.

MW: Louise approached Danny Watters (Previous Chairman of the Dundalk Gaels) about the inclusive club initiative - All Stars, to see if it would be possible to run the programme. I’m married to Danny & also cousins with Louise so I offered to help in anyway I could when I heard what was involved. I started learning more about the programme & registered to attend courses in order to upskill. Louise put together the set up & got the ball rolling for the drive for volunteers. Once the volunteers were bedded down, we then offered places to families. The young people & their families are truly inspiring. I’ve learned so much from them & it’s the most rewarding hour of my week. Being a part of something so special changes your outlook in life.

3. What has your experience been like running the All Star programme?

LD: It has been a brilliant and truly rewarding experience. I look forward to welcoming all the children and young people to training and seeing them have fun, exploring all the equipment and participating in different games and ball skills.

MW: I have been involved in various sporting & team events throughout my life & always love being part of a team. The joy I received from partaking in the GAA community is something that nobody should be deprived of. I first volunteered to help with the All Stars as I thought the concept was wonderful & only fair that these sessions were offered to young people with additional needs. I enjoyed all the courses I attended in order to upskill & began to quickly learn the vast importance of these sessions for the families in terms of enjoyment but also progression for the young people. Louise’s professional background & research made planning the sessions very easy. Initially, I thought I was there to help these young people but as the sessions went on & I got familiar with the young people & their families I started to learn a lot from them. We could all learn so much from their outlook on life, their problem solving abilities & their love for life itself. It’s very easy to get caught up in the rat race that is life but this hour a week puts everything into perspective & reminds me to: Live, Love, Laugh & the importance of family.

4. Who can help out and if someone wants to help out, how do they get involved? LD: The All Stars programme would not be possible without all our fantastic volunteers. The training sessions are set up so that every child/young person is paired with one volunteer. We are always looking for more volunteers - anyone who is over 16yrs of age can contact us about getting involved with the All Stars

5. What skills or experience do you need to get involved?

LD: All our volunteers complete Garda vetting and safe guarding training via the club and are supported by our All Star coaches during every training session. So if you enjoy having fun and spending time with children and young people then come along to the training sessions. There is also opportunities for volunteers to participate in Autism in Sport and Disability Inclusion training

6. When and where is it on?

LD: The All Stars training takes place in the Astro at Dundalk Gaels pitch on a Saturday morning at 11:30-12:15pm.

Louise added "Thanks to the support within the club, the volunteers, Louth Local Sports Partnership, to the other All Stars clubs in Louth and of course to the families and children/young people who attend the training, Dundalk Gaels is now in their second year of running the All Stars programme. Also a big thank you to Granted Promotions for sponsoring the All Stars training gear last season".

Dundalk Gaels Chairperson Ciarán Culligan "In the last five years our club has made massive strides to be more inclusive with the addition of ladies football, followed by the all star programme in 2023, this is something we are very proud of as a club. I have been able to attend a couple of the sessions this year and the joy and excitement in the childrens faces during the sessions really is a magical experience. I would encourage even more members to get involved moving forward".

"I would like to thank Louise, Mary and all the coaches for the magnificent work they do each week. Without our wonderful volunteers it would not be possible to run such a programme for the Gaels community and the wider town of Dundalk". concluded Culligan.

Anyone over the age of 16 and interested in volunteering can contact Louise Duffy - (087) 6869783 or Mary Watters - (087) 76992695

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