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  • GAA

Ireland’s first official GAA Healthy Clubs receive national recognition

Monday, 6th November, 2017 8:26am
Ireland’s first official GAA Healthy Clubs receive national recognition


Ireland’s first official GAA Healthy Clubs receive national recognition


A special ceremony with governmental representation in Croke Park today saw 58 GAA clubs recognised as the first official ‘Healthy Clubs’ on the island of Ireland.

The clubs, at least one in each of the 32 counties, can now proudly fly a flag above their grounds (endorsed by both Healthy Ireland and the Public Health Agency in NI), letting their members and communities know that they value health and wellbeing as much as leagues and championships.

In January 2016, almost 100 clubs applied to participate in Phase 2 of the project (just 16 participated in Phase 1 between 2013-2015). Many cited the dearth of services in their communities that are tackling issues such as obesity, sedentary lifestyles, mental health and suicide. They wanted to be part of the solution.

Clubs engage with their members and community before identifying health themes upon which to focus on. Most common include healthy eating; physical activity for non-playing members; emotional wellbeing; engaging older members of the community; youth development; gambling, drug, and alcohol education; and inclusion and integration. Almost half of the clubs (29) also opted to become completely smoke-free venues as part of their 18-month journey.

The innovative model was developed in partnership with Healthy Ireland, the HSE’s health promotion division, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, and is supported by Irish Life through a CSR investment. In an era of unprecedented societal health challenges, the Healthy Club Project aims to harness the potential of the GAA club setting to deliver evidence-based health promotion information and interventions, backed up by appropriate policies and partnerships. Its potential to be replicated by other sports is currently being explored by a working group involving the FAI, IRFU, and Athletics Ireland.

Similar work is being undertaken across European sports associations, and for the past three years the GAA has contributed its learnings to the EU-wide Sports Clubs for Health project. This culminated with the GAA’s Community & Health manager, Colin Regan, presenting on the Healthy Club project to a sub-committee of the EU Parliament in Brussels in April.

The Healthy Clubs project is being independently evaluated by a team from Waterford IT’s Centre for Health Behaviour Research. While the final report into Phase 2 won’t be available until December, the research team have already noted significant successes (see editor’s notes for examples of successful interventions).

Aogán Ó Fearghail, An Uachtarán Cumann Luthchleas Gael said, “The 58 Healthy Clubs recognised today have gone above and beyond what is normally expected of a sports club. Health and wellbeing is core to what the GAA is all about and these clubs help bring that to life. I’d like to thank our partners, Healthy Ireland, the HSE, National Office for Suicide Prevention, the Public Health Agency, and Irish Life, for helping to make the Healthy Club project the success it is. We look forward to growing it from strength to strength.”

Recognising the achievements of the clubs in Croke Park at the Healthy Club Recognition Event is Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Department of Health (ROI). She said, "Today is all about recognition for the clubs and the volunteers who make this happen at club level. I would like to congratulate all of the clubs and volunteers involved and acknowledge the contribution that they are all making to bring the vision for Healthy Ireland to life: where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential"

David Harney, CEO, Irish Life said, “Irish Life are delighted to work with the GAA on the Healthy Club initiative. The GAA, reaches into every community on the island of Ireland, and has a significant role to play in the health of the nation through its promotion of Gaelic Games. The association’s Healthy Club initiative brings a new dimension to this work. It enables people to access health in an exciting new way. We believe this work has the potential to improve the future health of communities across the country.”

Leading GAA ambassador Seán Cavanagh addressed the clubs in Croke Park and presented them with their Healthy Club flag, plaque and certificates. He said “I’ve seen myself how the GAA brings communities together in so many different ways so it’s fantastic to see the association taking a leadership role in developing healthier communities. The Healthy Clubs around the country are having a positive impact on so many children and young people and as a parent I think it is fantastic. Through this project I think people will start to appreciate the role of the GAA in our communities even more.”


There are numerous benefits to clubs that take part in the GAA HCP including exclusive access to Healthy Club resources and support. The independent evaluation by Waterford IT’s Centre for Health Behaviour Research of Phase 1 of the HCP revealed its potential to increase membership, improvements in health promoting activities, better opportunity to link the local community with club activities and opening up new funding avenues all the while enhancing the health of the nation and ensuring a healthier future for everyone.

The GAA hope to extend the project to 150 clubs in Phase 3 (with expressions of interest to open in early 2018) before opening the project to all interested clubs in 2020. There are 1,600 clubs in Ireland and over 400 abroad.


Physical Activity

Over a third of the clubs (23) have ran Operation Transformation events with Castleblayney Faughs in Monaghan winning Sports Club of the Year in 2015 for their “Operation TransFAUGHmation” which started out with 105 participants in 2011 and has grown to 250 in 2016. Their innovative 12-week physical activity community engagement project offers everyone in the community "a fun way to a healthier lifestyle". See video here:


Men on the Move is a community based 12 week physical activity programme that is aimed at adult men over the age of thirty to support them to become active, have fun and improve their fitness levels. Three participating Healthy Clubs were involved in this GAA pilot (Aghamore GAA, Mayo; Ballinderreen GAA, Galway; Mungret St Pauls, Limerick) and the preliminary results are compelling and mirror that of a larger study carried out by Paula Carroll, National Men on the Move Project Co-ordinator, suggesting that the health benefits in terms of weight loss and increased physical fitness are long standing after 52 weeks follow up. While the majority of men saw reductions in their waist line, one man in particular lost a staggering 18 cm from he’s waist circumference which equates to a 36% reduction in cardiovascular risk, which includes heart attack and stroke.


Mental Fitness

Participating clubs support positive emotional wellbeing campaigns such as the HSE’s #littlethings (ROI) and Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing (NI) fostering a supportive club environment and reducing the stigma associated with mental health. Craobh Chiaráin GAA club in Dublin provide positive psychology talks & workshops across the club membership with the goal of building resilience and self- confidence "bounce-back-ability".

Stress Management

The evaluation of the award winning ‘Cork Beats Stress’ programme (a partnership between HSE Primary Care services, Psychological Services Cork and GAA Healthy Clubs, Midleton and St. Finbarr’s) has revealed a significant reduction in symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress as well as a significant increase in perceived quality of life as a result of course participation. Over 300 participants took part in the six week programme which is now being replicated in other clubs and settings in Cork, including Castlehaven GAA and Youghal GAA.


Healthy Eating

The GAA’s Recipes for Success, nutritional programme to optimise performance, in partnership with the Home Economics Department at St Angela’s College Sligo, has been delivered in 26 of the participating clubs to date and has benefitted 400 young players, mainly young men aged 16- and 17-years-old. The initiative facilitates bringing teams together to enhance not only their nutritional knowledge but also their practical cookery skills, one of the most important life-skills any player can develop. See video here:


Anti- smoking

Almost half of the participating clubs (29) are inspiring healthier communities by turning their club grounds into completely smoke - free zones. Their motivation is to protect all members, visitors and volunteers from second hand smoke exposure and hopefully reduce the initiation of smoking amongst young people in particular. St Mary’s GAA club in Convoy, Donegal in particular received much media coverage and subsequently inspired other clubs around the country to follow suit.


Social Initiative (supporting older community members)

Healthy Clubs are inclusive and respect the important contribution of older members in the community. Ballinderreen GAA club in Galway are bridging the gap with this more isolated group by coordinating a series of regular initiatives including lunch club, card nights, film nights and visits to the local nursing home. To date the club have dished out over 260 lunches to residents from the local nursing home Blake Manor, service users of the Brothers of Charity and many residents of the community. Tubber GAA club in Offaly have teamed up with the local Active Age Group to provide a regular social outlet for members. As well as weekly meetings, two of the most popular initiatives amongst the group is flower arranging and computer classes.



Personal Development

The Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative (DEYLI) is an accredited programme by the National University of Ireland, Galway, aimed at 15- 18 year olds. To date over 400 young people, recruited from 200 GAA clubs have benefited from the programme, which enables them to develop the skills, inspiration, vision, confidence, and action plans needed to be effective leaders, both on and off the pitch. Participants from Nenagh Éire Óg GAA in Tipperary and St Finbarr’s GAA in Cork recently graduated with a Foundation Certificate in Youth Leadership and Community Action.


Critical Incidence Response Plan

All participating clubs have adopted the GAA’s Critical Incidence Response Plan and have at least one defibrillator on site. The resource outlines recommended practices to follow when supporting community responses to critical incidents to the best of their capacity. Laois Healthy Club, Clonad, inspired 10 other local clubs, including one soccer and rugby club and one community group, to replicate their critical incident response plan, with the Laois Local Sports Partnership.

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