The 4G pitch at Páirc Uí Chaoimh became a black-and-white exclave last Saturday as the Magpies All-Stars ventured from Midleton for a two-hour training session.
Set up in early 2019, the initiative is part of the GAA For All scheme and provides an importing sporting outlet for children with additional needs. With somewhere in the region of 30 members, the All-Stars have blazed a trail in Cork over the past three and a half years, putting on regular sessions for players and serving as a template which other clubs in the county are now able to work from.
Founder member Gillian Murphy was a driving force as she sought meaningful sporting activity for her son Gearóid, who is now 11 years old.
“Myself and a few other parents had the same feeling,” she says, “but there wasn’t a lot around, unfortunately.
“We approached the club in October 2018 and they were very happy to facilitate it. Cork Sports Partnership were a big help too in terms of providing guidance and putting on online disability awareness sessions.
“Once we had that knowledge, we ploughed on.”
From that start, the All-Stars programme has grown and grown.
“Our first session was in May 2019, thankfully before any of the Covid impact had taken hold,” Gillian says.
“The season starts in the spring and goes through the summer into the autumn – the same as the GAA season, really – and we’re now coming to the end of our fourth season and the first since 2019 where we haven’t been limited by Covid.
“Obviously, not everyone can make it every week but we have up to 30 players registered and the regular training is great as it provides inclusion. There has been no end of support from the club and the community – that kind of backing is great as you feel part of something.
"The seniors brought the Seán Óg Murphy Cup to one of the sessions and it was great to have that feeling of everyone representing the same badge.
“I have to put on record how grateful we are to all of the coaches who volunteer their time for the All-Stars. We have about 15 in total and Coran Swayne, who plays on the Midleton junior A team and works as a primary school teacher, put together a great programme to work from.”
As a hub for any players in the wider area looking to get involved, Midleton draw from a large area, with some coming from as far away as Dungarvan. As of now, they are the only club in Cork up and running, but Gillian expects more to follow in the near future.
“We’ve had a few clubs in touch with us,” she says, “the likes of Aghada, Blarney, Bantry, Castlelyons and Nemo Rangers. They’ve had stints already, running blocks of four or six weeks and hopefully they can expand that.
“Gary Murphy from Nemo came down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday for a look, so they’ll hopefully be making big progress soon. Ideally, you’d have enough clubs running programmes that you could hold joint events down the line.”
The fact that the Magpies are effectively first up and best dressed in the field meant that they had the 4G to themselves for what was originally intended to a Cork Sports Partnership event. They certainly made the most of the opportunity.
“The players were thrilled,” Geraldine says.
“They had been to Croke Park for a national event in August but they were all chomping at the bit to get to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and we owe a debt of gratitude to Mick Daly, a GDA with the county board, for making it happen. Last week was GAA National Family Inclusive Week too, so it worked out well.
“It was training rather than games – hurling, football and rounders – and everybody really enjoyed themselves. We have had some great days out in 2022 and we still have four more weeks left.
“Hopefully it can keep going from strength to strength and we’d love to have other clubs on board to really spread the word around Cork.
“It really shows the benefit of community – it takes a village, after all!”