Wolfe Tones GAA Club has partnered with the Shannon Springs Hotel to engage the services of a Games Development Officer (GDO) to coordinate with the six primary schools in Shannon.

At the launch of the Wolfe Tones initiative were (l-r) Brian Fitzgerald, Colm Pilkington (St Conaire’s NS), Peter Walsh (St Conaire’s), Aisling Ní Áirtnéada ( Gaelscoil Donncha Rua), John Gavin ( Shannon Springs Hotel), Mike Riordan, Mark O’Donnell (Games Development Officer), Dermot Kelly (Shannon Springs), Patsy Riordan, Cathy Hogan, Mary Dunlea Fitzgerald ( St Tola’s), Amanda Hogan, Sally O’Neill ( St Senan’s NS), Paul Hogan, Pat Madden (St Senan’s NS) and Lisa Glynn (Shannon Springs).

Mark O’Donnell, from North Clare, has been appointed to the position and it will be his job to engage with staff and children at the schools to encourage fundamental movement through sport.

A Sports Science graduate from UL, Mark played football with St Breckans and hurling with Ennistymon. To date, he has had coaching experience while working with Clare GAA’s GDOs, Peter Casey and Jimmy Maher.

Mark says he is looking forward to his new role in the local primary schools and also providing support to underage teams in Wolfe Tones.

Over the coming weeks, he plans to meet with the school principals to set out a structure and timetable as he intends to give one day a week to each school.

For Wolfe Tones, the playing of Gaelic games in local primary schools is a vital component in club development. The club believes that communication and co-operation from teaching staff, coaches, parents and children are necessary in order to achieve its goals.

Wolfe Tones chairman, Mike Riordan, said the club’s philosophy for GAA in the primary school is one of maximum participation, introducing children to the games, and offering an opportunity to play without fear, judgement or segregation.

He added, “We believe in using the following motto for our schools’ coaching programme –”100% of the children, 100% of the time.”

In his new role, Mark O’Donnell will be guided by the ‘Fundamentals of Gaelic Games’, a programme specifically designed for schools by Paudie Butler.

The programme is essentially physical education through the medium of Gaelic games. It consists of three main strands, athletics, gymnastics and games, and is aligned with the current primary school P.E. curriculum.

Mike said, “The beauty of this programme is that it’s totally inclusive. We implement games-based coaching sessions where the emphasis is on enjoyment while promoting a culture of inclusiveness, giving every child the opportunity to play.”


Attending the launch of the Wolfe Tones’ programme, St Conaire’s teacher Colm Pilkington welcomed the initiative saying it’s a great idea between the club and the local schools

Peter Walsh, the principal at St Conaire’s, said, “There’s no risk, it’s an inclusive programme that’s promoting fitness under the GAA umbrella, Wolfe Tone’s must be commended for doing this”.

Aisling Ní Áirtnéada, the principal of Gaelscoil Donncha Rua, is already familiar with GAA coach Jimmy Maher coming into the school. Aisling says she is very pleased with the new initiative as a lot of the children attending the Gaelscoil are already playing with Wolfe Tones as well.

Having tried a similar initiative a number of years ago, Mike Riordan believes that this time there will be a lot more emphasis on connectivity between club and school.

More importantly, he said, the club now has a structured programme for the schools which was developed by the Department of Education and Paudie Butler, one of the most respected coach educators across any sport in Ireland.

Mike said the programme is not just about hurling, camogie and football, it’s about engaging with kids for fundamental movement through sport.

“Every child is included regardless of ability. For example, I know of one child confined to a wheelchair who will be taking part, again this is about 100% of the children 100% of the time.”

John Gavin, co-owner of the Shannon Springs Hotel, said he and his business partner Dermot Kelly were keen to offer financial support for this community initiative.

“Since we took over the hotel, it’s exactly what we wanted to achieve,” said John, “I’m delighted that we can do this at a grassroots level with Wolfe Tones,” said John.

John Gavin and Mike Riordan explained that the Shannon Springs is offering financial support for the programme in its first three years with the aim of extending it into a long-term project.

To get things up and running within Wolfe Tones, the new Games Development Officer, Mark O’Donnell is busy organising camps for the youngsters at Easter and throughout the summer.

For Mike Riordan and Wolfe Tones, one outcome of the programme is that children will associate a hugely positive experience with Gaelic games while learning fundamental movement skills that will benefit lifelong physical activity.

“Our hope,” said Mike, “is that if children are not members of a GAA club, they will feel safe and welcome to join Wolfe Tones; or if they do not wish to continue playing for us when they leave school, they can always cherish their childhood memories of playing our great games.”

He added, “If we are mindful of the reason why we play GAA at this level, we can ensure that children will leave school with a positive association towards Gaelic games, and sport in general.”