Peil Óg is a club development initiative run by the Dublin county board to boost the numbers playing ladies football.
IMAGINE YOU’RE EIGHT again. Football mad. You spend hours and hours in the back garden, hammering the ball off the wall and perfecting your soloing.
You pretend to be your favourite Gaelic footballer, fists in the air as you score the winning point in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.
Did you ever get to meet those players though, the heroes that don your county jersey with pride week in, week out?
And just imagine being coached by them on a weekly basis? Learning from the best in the game.
Well, eight-year-old girls in Dublin don’t have to imagine any more.
Peil Óg is a new club development initiative run by the Dublin ladies county board. The main reasoning behind it is to try boost the numbers in clubs that are struggling around the county.
“We needed to deal with club development and development of the game in general in Dublin,” Dublin county board development committee member Fintan Keeling tells The42.
group Peil Óg participants with Dublin players Lyndsey Davey (Skerries Harps), Sarah McCaffery, Leah Caffery and Emer Ní Éafa.
“We identified a couple of key areas where we felt that ladies Gaelic football wasn’t reaching its potential. In particular, where clubs had been pretty strong and seemed to be weakening in terms of feeding senior teams from juvenile teams, and clubs which had just got started and possibly needed a hand if they wanted.
“That’s where we came up with Peil Óg.”
“It came about to represent football first of all, and youth, because the youth in football is where everything starts, and we’re springing up from there.
“We’re not trying to correct senior teams by recruiting senior players, we’re trying to correct the senior game by bringing them through the grassroots all the way up to the top.”
The target is girls aged 8-13, and they’re coached through a 90 minute session once a week by a host of Dublin inter-county players.
The idea was born in January, and after much planning the wheels were fully set into motion last month as the first pilot programme kicked off at the north side St Margaret’s club.
One of the Dublin inter-county players heavily involved is goalkeeper Emer Ní Éafa. Currently studying PE and Biology in Dublin City University, she was offered the position as coordinator and ‘jumped at the chance,’ as she says herself.
“You don’t get the opportunity very often to give back to your county,” the Fingallians player says. “They give up so much. We don’t get as many chances to give back as we’d like.
“We just took the approach that we try and get inter-county footballers in to do the coaching sessions to try and promote it, and give the inter-county girls the opportunity to coach.
“It gives the girls obviously who are participating too, a chance they wouldn’t normally get to be coached by inter-county footballers.”
Dublin stars Leah Caffrey, Lyndsey Davey, Sarah McCaffrey, Kate Fitzgibbon, Lauren Magee and Denise McKenna — as well as former inter-county player and St Margaret’s clubperson Sarah Stritch — have all coached to date
“They’re really enjoying it,” Ní Éafa continues. “They’re really getting to know the girls as well, they’ve developed a bond with them.
“One of the parents said to me last night ‘I’ve heard more about Sarah and Leah in the last three weeks than I’ve heard about anybody else!’ They’re the kind of relationships they’re developing with the children. They’re getting on well with them.”
“They love it,” Keeling — who’s been a juvenile coach with Fingallians since 2010 and currently coaches their junior ladies team — adds. “It’s great to have that experience on board, and also for prestige.
“Not enough girls at that age actually do recognise the senior players, and that’s key to any sport. Everybody knows Katie Taylor, but not everybody knows the Dublin senior football team.
“It’s good for their recognition. The more they do this, the more it results in a positive circle all the way around. Juveniles start recognising the players, the players will enjoy the attention and doing more.
“A small number of senior players are enjoying a strong profile recently in advertising campaigns. We are now looking to extend that to more of the panel, especially the new generation coming through.”
Ní Éafa’s role as coordinator sees her responsible for the Peil Óg coaching programme designed specifically for the age group and oversees the coaching at each event.
Keeling meanwhile lets Ní Éafa and the coaches take the reins, while he liaises with the clubs involved, from before the programme kicks off right through to when it finishes up.
“The biggest thing with Peil Óg is that we give them a kick-start for six weeks, but it doesn’t stop there,” he says. “We then hand over the reins to the club to continue going with the initiative.
“Whether they call it Peil Óg or not, we want them to retain and recruit more players. We assist with getting more numbers in the door, hopefully, and if they’re not associated with any club previously, the club is encouraged to recruit them and set up more teams.
“We also help the club to educate the coaches, to bring more coaches on board. One of the big things we found — you bring new players, you bring new coaches. New players bring parents, and maybe some of those parents will become a coach.”
In terms of finance, Peil Óg is heavily subsidised by the Dublin county board. There is a small fee involved — €2 per session – but that’s needed to keep the initiative running.
“It’s a very nominal fee. While the €2 fee in no way covers the outlay spent on the coaching and the time commitment, it is more than just a token payment.
“It’s putting a value on the coaching. If they want to look for some tangible return, they are given top level coaching, an opportunity to show their skills, and they will be given a t-shirt as a souvenir at the end of the course.”
“€2 isn’t a lot for an hour and a half of football,” Ní Éafa adds.
“Parents are glad to have their children out playing. The research that Lidl did last week supports everything that we’re doing. It helps us to back up what we’re saying, that we need this kind of thing in Dublin.”
The research referred to is of course the latest findings surrounding girls and sport released by Lidl and the LGFA on Monday.
Some of the main points of the research is that girls who play sport report having significantly better body confidence and mental well-being, but that by the age of 13, one in two girls will have given up sport completely.
“The fact that Lidl have actually said secondary school is a big turning point, I absolutely agree with that and it has been for a long time,” Keeling continues.
“We’re really targeting girls who don’t play football or more specifically, play football at school but don’t play with a club.
“Yes, we want them to play Gaelic football. As well as providing a healthy activity, it also has the advantage of the great community and volunteer spirit which GAA clubs have been providing nationwide for decades.
“It’s not just about being healthy, it’s about having confidence, it’s about being with other people. We’re entering a golden age of female sport. It’s all over the papers, it’s all over social media, and it’s really really positive. Becoming a regular spectator sport, we hope, not just on All-Ireland day.”
So, what’s next for Peil Óg?
After the six-week programme finishes up in St Margaret’s, they head for Ranelagh Gaels on the south side this September. It’s a club with huge potential for growth, according to Keeling, and planning is well underway.
“From there, development committee will review both pilot sites and plan then for 2018,” Ní Éafa says.
“We’re trying to develop it as well, so half the battle is getting participants and children in the door. Then, to be able to hand the club over something they can run with.
“We’re just looking forward to the next one!”
You can follow Peil Óg, and keep up to date with all of the action on Facebook or on Twitter
This Article, written by Emma Duffy, first appeared on The42.ie