Derry GAA event marks World Down Syndrome Day

Orla, with Roisin and Odhran Devlin at Owenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-360KDR
Orla, with Roisin and Odhran Devlin at Owenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-360KDR

No pressure, no competition; just a good day out.

That was the general consensus among parents who attended a morning of sporting events at Derry GAA’s headquarters at Owenbeg on Saturday.

David Kelly with Aoife McGuigan, Ursula McGuigan and Ashling O'Connor atOwenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-358KDR

David Kelly with Aoife McGuigan, Ursula McGuigan and Ashling O'Connor atOwenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-358KDR

The event was organised by Derry GAA as part of their ‘GAA For All’ programme, and to mark World Down Syndrome Day.

Families throughout the county, including several from the Roe Valley attended including Tammy Cartin and son, 14-year-old Michael.

“It’s brilliant, because there really isn’t anything else out there like this,” said Tammy. “Michael loves football, but if we went to mainstream football I would have to be with Michael all the time. At this event, I can let Michael go off on his own. He can come and go, and he can do his own thing.”

Tammy urged other sporting organisations to follow Derry GAA’s example.

Enda Maldoon coaching at Owenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-334KDR

Enda Maldoon coaching at Owenbeg on Saturday. INLV1216-334KDR

“It’s encouraging to see a major sports body organise something like this. I hope others will do the same,” said Tammy. “We need more of this. No-one is judging anyone here. There is no competition, no pressure. It’s just a good day out.”

Grainne Barton attended the event with son, 13-year-old Ronan.

“This is our first year here and it’s great for Ronan to be with other young people like him. Ronan has autism and it’s really hard, almost crippling for him to go out and mix with people, so this is a start. Ronan is very routine-oriented and he doesn’t like crowds but, as long as he is with other people, he’s okay. This is definitely a good start,” said Grainne, “and I would encourage other organisations to do the same as well.”

Also enjoying the day, and eager to share his talent for scoring plenty of goals was David Kelly from Dungiven.

The 38-year-old attended with his sisters, Ashleen O’Connor and Ursula McGuigan and his niece Aoife McGuigan.

“It’s good fun, and I’m meeting new friends,” said David.

David’s sister, Ashleen, said it was a great social event for children and adults with special needs.

“David is so comfortable here. Everyone is the same, and there’s no pressure,” said Ashleen. David’s other sister, Ursula said it was great to see Derry GAA holding the event, while his niece, Aoife said she had also had a good time.

Ben McAllister (15) was at Owenbeg with his family, including dad Brendan and brother Ciaran.

“It has been so much fun and it’s a great day for everyone here.

“They say the GAA is for all, and that’s what it is all about,” said Brendan.”

Drumsurn’s Orla Devlin, aged 8, was among participants.

“We came to this last year and it was a brilliant event, so that’s why we are here this year,” said Orla’s mum, Roisin.

“Exercise and socialising with other children is so important, especially for Down Syndrome children. It would be good to have more activities like this, especially during the holidays when there isn’t a lot of activities for children with special needs.”

Orla’s brother, Odhran enjoyed the event and watching his sister have fun.

“There’s no pressure and people are just having fun. It’s great to see it,” said Odhran.

Ashleen McCaul, Derry GAA Games Development Administrator, said the idea for the event initially came last year after a phone call from Magherafelt coach, Adrian Moran.

“It was part of the ‘GAA For All’ programme that we have been running here with Derry GAA for the past number of weeks, but we also ran it to help mark National Down Syndrome day, on 21st March,” said Ashleen.

“We ran a similar event last year, which was a great success, so there was every reason to do it again this year. The joy that each participant shows at these events makes my job easy, rewarding and very worthwhile.”

“These children and adults deserve to take part in all activities, just like anyone else, so we at Derry GAA have been trying to provide an opportunity for them to do so. However, we would love to do so much more.”

Ashleen explained on Easter Sunday, at Owenbeg, “these boys and girls will be playing at half-time during the Derry v Meath game”.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for everyone to come out and support and see the skills all these players have. I can assure you this is one not to be missed. I would like to thank everyone who helped make the day in Owenbeg a success; too many to mention, but they all know who they are.”

Anyone interested in taking part in any of these events, contact ashleen.mccaul.gda.derry@gaa.ie or call 028 777 42990

Derry’s senior footballers took a breather from training on Saturday to meet with participants.