Clonakilty native is spreading the gospel that sport is for everyone

Nick Harrison covers the Munster region for the FAI
Clonakilty native is spreading the gospel that sport is for everyone

The FAI’s Nick Harrison speaking to participants at a blind football training session at St Joseph's School for the Blind in Dublin.

FORMER West Cork League defender Nick Harrison’s FAI role has grown in importance due to the ongoing pandemic.

Harrison is an FAI Football For All Development Officer and responsible for working with people with disabilities in the Munster area.

Using their football coaching skills and qualifications, the former Clonakilty AFC central defender along with fellow FAI colleague Chris McElligott (Leinster Development Officer) have made a huge impact on the people they have worked with over the past number of years.

Most recently, Harrison and his colleagues utilised the FAI’s Football For All HomeSkills initiative to help people with disabilities over the Christmas and New Year period.

Former Republic of Ireland international Damien Duff leant his voice to the campaign, narrating a series of online football skills video clips. The videos were published on the FAI Grassroot’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube social media accounts.

“The mainstream FAI HomeSkills programmes first happened last summer but we realised very quickly that people with disabilities who played football needed access to them as well,” Harrison told the Echo.

“So, the idea with the latest HomeSkills programmes was to get on to the FAI contacts involved in Blind football, Amputee football, Powerchair football and all the other disciplines that we cover. From there, we got people to produce their own video clips of players performing various skills and put a script together explaining how to carry out those skills.

“Then, the FAI Communications department got involved and did all the necessary editing and audio-video work. Finally, a new batch of HomeSkills videos for people with disabilities were released through the FAI’s social media channels as part of a nationwide campaign.

“In terms of hitting the mainstream and making people more aware, we are still waiting to see what kind of response there is going to be to this latest initiative. For the people involved in putting the HomeSkills videos together, it was a very important role for them but everyone enjoyed themselves. 

"They all did a fantastic job.” 

The FAI’s Nick Harrison taking part in a blind football training session with children at St Joseph's School for the Blind in Dublin.
The FAI’s Nick Harrison taking part in a blind football training session with children at St Joseph's School for the Blind in Dublin.

According to the FAI website, Football For All’s central aim is to deliver football opportunities to people who may not ordinarily get the chance to play the ‘beautiful game’.

A restructuring of the FAI’s country-wide DO (Development Officer) responsibilities may change former Clonakilty AFC player Nick Harrison’s role over the coming weeks. Those changes are part of a reorganising of their entire FAI grassroots structure.

Irrespective of any personnel alterations, the association’s Football For All Programme will continue its Trojan work despite being limited by the current pandemic. 

Nick Harrison and his colleagues’ responsibilities remain unchanged in facilitating a clear pathway to cater for players with various disabilities.

“We have a Football For All club programme including mainstream clubs like Bandon AFC and Skibbereen in the Cork area,” Harrison added.

“Those clubs have a team made up of children with certain disabilities. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, none of those indidiuvals have been able to go back training with their club’s underage teams. March 2020 was the last time those children would have been out on a pitch training. None of them have been back since.

“In the interim, we (FAI) have done bits and pieces with them including online video training sessions with the children while they were at home. We have also run coaching sessions for the kids’ coaches including Football For All coaching workshops. I’d admit that it has been very difficult to get anything else going due to the lockdown restrictions.

“Typically, we would run football blitzes involving some of the adult services like the COPE Foundation. That hasn’t been able to happen and been paused because of what’s going on with Covid-19.” 

ON HOLD

It may be some time before the children Nick Harrison coaches and the clubs those players represent are back out on a pitch. The same is true of the FAI’s international teams.

“We are no different to the mainstream football teams in that we are waiting for the all-clear to get our various programmes back up and ruining but within in a safe environment,” the Munster FAI Football For All Development Officer added.

“It will be gradual process for the children involved. Some parents and children may look to hold their kids back. For example, children with intellectual disabilities, who have an issue understanding social distancing, might be a little bit later in returning.

“At the other end of the scale, our international teams have also been affected. A lot of scheduled UEFA and FIFA events have been postponed until next year or even 2022 in some cases. Chris McElligott, a former player, is back involved managing the Irish international amputee team. I was international manager for a period but Chris is back involved now and they are also hoping to restart the National Amputee League as soon as possible. Cork City will be involved in that league as well.

“So, it is a difficult time for anyone involved, not just in the Football For All programme, but all of our FAI club and international activities. Hopefully, the people we coach and the players we work with will not have to wait much longer to get back out on to a football pitch again. 

"We (the FAI) will be there for them as soon as that happens.” 

Lockdown has been tough on young footballers located in every corner of the country. Children with disabilities are no different and are looking forward to the day they can make a safe return to on-field action.

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