By Damian Dolan
Hertfordshire GAA will stage its fifth annual county primary schools event on Friday 24th May, with more than 500 boys and girls from over 20 schools (32 teams) expected to take part.
Tabard Rugby Club in Radlett is the setting with schools travelling from five different counties – Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.
One hundred and sixty children (ten teams) took part in the first tournament in 2015, which was hosted by St Bernadette’s Primary School in London Colney.
Just two pitches were needed then, whereas this year eight pitches will be in use on 24 May.
The tournament has grown hugely year-on-year, with organisers needing a bigger venue each time.
That figure rose to 250 children (16 teams) in 2016. Twenty teams took part in 2017 and 220 children. Last year, there were 25 teams and 400 children.
Hertfordshire Community Development Administrator (CDA) Stephen Lavery puts the growth of the event down to the work that’s gone in, in the schools within the county.
Initially, Lavery delivers a 5-6 week coaching programme in the school, which must be shadowed by a school teacher to carry it on going forwards.
The school must also come to one of the county’s events – either a Hertfordshire schools event or the All-Britain Competition – and must share club information.
Hertfordshire GAA also lays on coaching courses for teachers to enable them to gain more confidence in delivering the programme.
“We are extremely proud of how our schools coaching programme has been received by our schools and how supporting they are of our events as some travel huge distances to participate,” said Lavery.
He added: “It’s down to the standard of coaching and that every child gets a go. The way we set the games sup, with zones, means every child gets to play every position.”
The structure of the tournament also helps teams to find their level. This year, they’ll be eight groups operating on each of the eight pitches.
The morning matches serve to allow the organisers to grade the teams according to their ability, so that in the afternoon they can play teams of similar level.
Teams will then compete for the Cup, Shield and Plate, with every child getting a medal. It’s a structure that Lavery says “works really well”.
But he also stresses that such events wouldn’t possible without the support of sponsors and the volunteers, who help with the smooth running of the tournament on the day and in the lead up.
— Hertfordshire GAA (@hertsgaa) April 30, 2019
Twelve volunteers will be involved in this year’s event, drawn from a variety of the GAA clubs in Hertfordshire.
“Martin Reynolds (ECS Groundwork Ltd) is in his second year as our sponsor and his support is absolutely huge for us,” said Lavery.
“It means we can provide that little bit more on the day for all of the children, and refreshments for the teachers and the volunteers.”
He added: “We have three schools tournaments a year and our county president, Bob Canty, has done every single one of them over the last few years, bar one. As has Rebecca Carol-Griffin – our minor board treasurer.
“And all of our county board; our chairman, Noel Griffin, and John Gormley (vice chairman), and the Hertfordshire minor board, they’ll all be there on the day.”
If the growth of the tournament continues – and everything suggests that it will – Lavery foresees needing to create separate hubs in each of the county’s developed areas, to cope with the increasing numbers.
Those developed areas are Watford, St Albans, Luton and Walton Cross. Each area would be “set up and ready to go with its own cluster schools”. Oxford and Cambridge would also have a few schools.
Each area would have its own part-time coach allowing Lavery to continue to develop Oxford and Cambridge, and the new areas of Stevenage, Milton Keynes and Bedford, where there is “great potential”.
The areas would have their own tournaments, before coming together for a county finals day. An idea that could be just a few years from becoming a reality.
“We’re almost ready for that – we’ll be trying to move towards it within the next year or two,” said Lavery, who is in his fifth year as Hertfordshire CDA.
“It’s going to keep growing, but we need more people on the ground in the schools. I could have had 40 teams this year – some schools wanted to bring four teams. So it could get much bigger, but then it’s finding a venue big enough.”
The future is looking very bright for Hertfordshire GAA at underage, as its primary schools programme continues to go from strength-to-strength.
For more information about the Hertfordshire GAA schools programme contact Stephen Lavery [email protected]
Year 4/5 County Primary Schools Tournament
– Tabard Rugby Club, Cobden Hill, Radlett, WD7 7JL
– Friday 24th May
– Registration 9:30-10am – games commence 10:30am, tournament finish no later than 2:45pm