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Volunteers' Week Day 7 - GAA

07 June 2016

Conor Keenan volunteers with St Peters GAA Warrenpoint.

Here’s Conor’s story:

·        When did you first begin volunteering? Where do you volunteer?

I have been volunteering with my local sports club St Peters GAA Warrenpoint since 2005. I was always interested in sport and started helping out with my father who worked as a teacher and has volunteered in the GAA in coaching and administration for over 40 years.

·        What does your volunteering involve?

I am mainly a coach of the Irish sport hurling. I look after a team of players aged 12-14. I obviously love the sport but it is great fun with the kids. We learn about sport, Irish history and health through a new club initiative and try to provide a complete experience for the young people.

·        What is the most important for you in your volunteering role?

I think when it comes particularly to sports, coaches and adults must concentrate on the journey and the skills the kids are developing. That is what they must prize more than wins or victories. A medal from a tournament will be soon lost and forgotten. I appreciate the chance to give these kids great memories, help them create friendships and build life skills, and hopefully they have a lot of fun along the way.

·        What motivates and inspires you to do your best?

When you see the young people having fun, being relaxed and themselves, you find that very rewarding.  Sport I believe is crucial in this modern era to help kids develop social skills that are not as easily practiced in a technologically advanced world. I have seen shy introverted boys grow into strong confident men and I and the other coaches in our club take a lot of pride in that.

·        What has been the highlight of your volunteering so far?

In 2013 we travelled to Limerick for a national competition. It was a huge fundraising effort to get us there, but our group became very strong as a result. Our parents really became part of the club and long lasting friendships were made. This tournament called Féile, still works on the basis of young players staying with families in a host club. It seems quite old fashioned but it is a tremendous experience. We taught our hosts a lot about Northern Irish people too, many of whom had never travelled to the north, as there is still a legacy of fear from the troubles era. We left with new friends, a stronger team and club, and were able to leave behind a new understanding of our culture and what the modern Northern Ireland is truly like.

·        What kind of satisfaction do you get from your voluntary work?

I remember a player I coached, who was always late, a bit lazy, and never seemed to enjoy playing. I couldn't understand why he kept coming. I wondered should I ask him would he like to try a different sport, if he did not enjoy this one. About a year later his mother showed me a school essay where he wrote about how much he loved going to hurling. How much the coaches helped him and named us individually as important people in his life. It nearly broke my heart to think I had judged the boy so wrong. That taught me never to assume anything and to realise there is always a benefit to our work even if you cannot see it. As my wife Raquel and I left the chapel after our wedding, we walked under the crossed hurls of my team's players. It was a perfect moment, and I will always remember that beautiful gesture.

·        Would you encourage others to get involved in volunteering? What advice would you give them?

Volunteering is something that gives me immense satisfaction.  It's like a hobby I suppose, and I mix my love of sport with an enjoyment of teaching and a sense that you are improving your community. Small actions make big change. I know my players are better for having been in our club and I think that investment in youth, in the future of our community is very much worth your time.

For more information about volunteering with GAA visit ulster.gaa.ie/council/volunteering

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