TEN years on and the Football For All programme in Carrigaline continues to bring joy to so many young girls and boys.
The FFA programme was established in 2011, so as to enable access to team sport for children who may not ordinarily get a chance to play soccer.
From 10 players in 2011, FFA has since grown to 45 boys and girls with varying needs, including ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.
This programme offers soccer players with various challenges the opportunity to play and to train and to participate in regular competitions with other, similar clubs.
Recently, I caught up with one of the coaches who gives his time to help the children to pursue their dream of playing the sport they love.
Bryan McCarthy tells us the importance of the programme for these young stars.
“One of my sons had no outlet for playing soccer and I saw that he could play, and learn at his own pace, with the FFA,” said McCarthy.
“From the moment he got his chance to train, he was hooked, which led me to become more involved. I started helping out with training about five years ago and soon became a coach.
“Then, two years ago, the FFA founding committee decided that new people should take over.
“Myself, John Kidney, and Maeve Harrington decided to take it on, and keep things going. We are now privileged to be running the FFA section within the Carrigaline club.
“We have always been greatly supported and facilitated by the club and have ongoing support from parents, who have told me that they can’t wait to start training again.”
Like all sporting organisations, the past 12 months have been a huge adjustment for the FFA.
Playing sport is so beneficial in so many ways, but nothing is more important than the social interaction with teammates.
“This has been sorely missed. It was a routine for many and something that many of us are craving to get back.”
McCarthy and his committee are looking forward to the return of the programme and have lots of plans to keep the children busy.
“It will be great to get back on the pitch. Both parents and kids will welcome this, no doubt,” McCarthy said.
“If Covid-19 rules are changed, we hope to have a summer camp in July. This is going to be organised in conjunction with FAI development officer, Nick Harrison. It is expected to have 20 available places.
“This will be our third year and each year it is about playing and learning football and having fun. Finally, we will always welcome a new member, wherever they are from, and regular training, hopefully, starts again on May 1.”
There are eight FFA clubs in Cork, 15 in Munster, and 42 throughout the country.
“In normal years, we travel around Muster to participate in matches against these clubs.
“There is also an FAI ‘All Ireland’ competition. Teams are graded, so as to ensure all games are competitive, even though everyone gets a medal.
“We have three categories: A junior team, catering for six- to 10-year-olds; an intermediate team for 11-14, and a senior team, 15 to 18. In the near future, we hope to offer football for players above 18.
“Our coaches are FAI-trained, garda-vetted, and have completed accredited child welfare and protection courses,” McCarthy said.
“Some coaches have also been appointed and trained as First-Aiders.
“Many of our coaches are parents, who have a broad range of expertise in working with different challenges and volunteer their time to support the programme, which we very much appreciate,” McCarthy said.
Carrigaline FC is a fantastic set-up, with top-class facilities, and a credit to all involved, especially the chairman, Willie Walsh, who takes pride in providing such facilities to so many people in the community.
Walsh is always quick to praise the many volunteers and sponsors, without whom there would not be such a great club.
The Football For All programme is a key part of the club and the same aims are hoped to be achieved by every team: For the children to enjoy playing soccer in a safe and fun environment.
“Ultimately, our aim is to make sure every child can play football in a fun and safe environment,” Walsh said.
“We have fanatastic facilities and coaches to ensure this is the case.
“We, as coaches, are there to co-ordinate and develop opportunities for children with a disability, who want to play football, between the ages of six and 18, and enjoy the game of football.
“Training takes place every Saturday morning at Ballea Park. New players can try out for three sessions, before registering with the club. We would welcome any new players and we hope to return soon to do what we love most.”