Given how far Kildare camogie has travelled in such a short space of time it should come as no surprise that one of their most prominent players is encouraging the next generation to get their running shoes on.
Róisín O’Connell, Johnstownbridge camogie player and Ballykelly footballer, is PE teacher at Oaklands Community College in Edenderry who were recently named as the fittest school in Ireland following the Avivia Health Schools challenge.
The competition had over 8,000 first and second year students and 200 schools competing but thanks to O’Connell’s skills, her school took the overall award.
“I entered them into the Aviva fitness challenge which was basically to do the beep test. They were recorded and then six weeks later we did it again the improvements were measured. We would have 20 minutes aerobic activity before the start of every PE class before we went with the rest of our class. On other days we would have went for runs in the canal and different walks and things like that. The first time we did the bleep test the results we very high and the second time the results were even higher. Some of the kids are very active outside of class but some of them don’t so they all had to make a conscious effort to do something active outside of school as well,” she said.
“I never thought anything of it after getting the award but I got a call to tell us that we had won. Last Monday we were up in the Aviva Stadium all day and we had a photoshoot on the side of the field. The kids met Bryan Cullen and some of the professors from DCU who had analysed the results. The minister of health and Eamon Coughlan were also there to meet them,” she said.
The school picked up €1,000 worth of equipment from Elvery’s Sport for winning the compeition but O’Connell is much more interested in getting young people active than any prizes on offer. O’Connell feels so strongly about the subject that she is favour of introducing PE as a subject for which students can get points for in their Leaving Cert.
“A lot of students don’t do anything outside of their PE class, lots of issues have been brought up as bringing PE in for fifth and sixth years as an actual subject that you can get points for in the Leaving Cert. I would definitely be on for that. At the moment, some schools have PE for fifth and sixth year and others don’t. Lots of kids go to school for sports and may not be interested in the academic side of things at all but this would give those lads a chance to shine as well. Also being physically active and fit brings physical and social benefits, it’s a big area,” she said.
“Offering points in the Leaving Cert would obviously influence those who are into sport first of all and it would give those a chance to shine. They have to have PE in fifth and sixth year. Even in my own school, they don’t have PE after transition year, that’s just the way the timetable is. I’d love to get it into the school. My hope would be that some day they would have performance and project work and they would actually have their PE class as well and then they get a greater insight into their mind and body and how they are all linked. I think people these days aren’t aware of what effects their body,” added O’Connell.
Obesity among children is a growing concern within the country and O’Connell identifies computer consoles as one of the biggest contributors to the problem.
“Aviva said they paid out 7.5 million euro last year and the big problem was obesity. I think with kids these days, their thumbs are getting more exercise than their legs with Playstations and all these different things. Technology has taken over and it’s having a negative influence on young people and how active they are,” she said.
It’s vital to get the children active early in their lives.
“You have to get them at a young age. Some of the primary schools are doing a lot with the kids and then a lot comes from the home as well. Even when we get them in first year, some of them have the right idea and then we would have to twist the arm of a few others. I would find it difficult myself, some kids are not interested in sport and have no interest in doing PE but what I have to do is to try find something that they like do, I try to cater for everybody. It’s great that I have lots of sports stars in my class but at the same I have to cater for those who aren’t active already so that they won’t have to combat obesity in a few years time or have to deal with heart problems and stuff like that. Prevention is better than cure and rather than giving out all this kind of medical care, a lot of the problems can be that people aren’t physically fit and healthy,” she said.
It will be on O’Connell’s turn to be active on Sunday when the Kildare camogie team bid to secure a place in Division 1 for next year when they face Limerick in Birr. O’Connell has been around the panel for a number of years now and can barely believe how far the team have come during her time with the squad.
“This year we were using the league as a step up to the Championship because that really is what our eye is on this year. I don’t think anybody really expected us to make the league final but we have been training hard and working hard. The beauty about it is that we have the same group of players bringing the team the whole way through. Tom O’Mahony was with us the last four year and Karen was with us before that and now Jim McMullen has taken over. Between the three of them they are after bringing us a long way. To get to a Division 2 final is massive for us and for the county. Hopefully we can do the business next Sunday. It’s been a learning process for us along the way but we are delighted to be where we are now,” she said.
It’s a position that the team could not have imagined they would be win a few short years ago.
“When we started off in Division 4 we could haven’t have imagined being this close to Division 1 camogie, we were just taking things a day at a time. Now that we are here, it’s great to be in this position. We really have our eye on the prize and it’s a great boost for us before we step into the championship as well,” she said.
Jim McMullen has taken over the managerial reins this year after excellent work by Tom O’Mahony over the last few years and O’Connell is delighted in the manner in which he has picked up the baton.
“Jim is getting on very well and it’s a very professional set up. A couple of new players came in this year but we are all gelling very well. It’s a credit to Jim and his backroom team, he has Liz O’Donoghue from St Laurence’s and also Mark Sexton from Moorefield, they are looking after us very well,” she said.
It’s a good time to be involved in Kildare camogie with a lot of work at underage level starting to pay dividends.
“A lot of clubs are putting in a massive effort at underage and it is starting to show now. The minors are in an All-Ireland semi final this weekend against Laois. It’s all the Mammy’s and Daddy’s in the clubs and people who have given up their free time to put a lot of effort in, they are bringing things on. That’s where it has to start,” she said.
O’Connell is desperate to win Sunday’s final and clinch Division 1 camogie but she sees the league as being ideal preparation for the real business to come in the summer months.
“At the start of the year we wouldn’t have dreamed of a Division 2 final. This is an extra bonus and it will give us a lot of confidence for the Leinster championship and the big one, the Premier Junior competition which is what we have our eye. This has been a great experience for us to play against teams playing in the intermediate championship,” she said.