Valuing volunteers is vital

Vice-Chairperson strikes the right note in fine address

Brendan Furlong

Coiste na nOg Vice-Chairperson Marguerite Furlong at Convention in the Ferrycarrig Hotel
Coiste na nOg Vice-Chairperson Marguerite Furlong at Convention in the Ferrycarrig Hotel

Coiste na nOg Vice-Chairperson Marguerite Furlong spoke highly of the contribution of the G.A.A. club along with the role it plays in society when addressing the annual county Convention in the Ferrycarrig Hotel on Monday of last week.

While using the opportunity to thank everyone who worked on behalf of Coiste na nOg Loch Garman during the past year, she asked for forgiveness should she omit anyone.

Beginning with the clubs, she said: 'You hear constantly that you are the grassroots of this Association and I know sometimes you tire of this.

'But clubs, you are the foundation upon which this Association is built. County structures are on the ground floor, provincial structures on floor one, national structures on floor two, and the top floor is inhabited by our ever-increasing international presence.

'Personally I feel a great sense of pride when I hear or read about a new G.A.A. club being established in some far flung corner of the planet.

'But remember folks, every inter-county player began his playing career as an Under-8 or Under-10 on your pitches. Every county, provincial or national officer began his or her work back in your clubs. And the passion which drives an emigrant to establish a new G.A.A. club in his or her foreign home was nurtured back in your club,' she said.

'So to you the clubs, and all your members who work tirelessly on behalf of the Association, to the people who volunteer to sit on various county committees, at under-age and adult level, your commitment, time and work are very much appreciated.

'To those who referee, act as linesmen or umpires at our matches, a big thank you. To all the staff at Innovate Wexford Park, coaching office and adult office, many thanks for your hard work during the year. The Ferns Centre of Excellence, Patrick's Park, Innovate Wexford Park, are maintained to a very high standard, ready and available for use by Coiste na nOg whenever needed. Also a thank you to the people who maintain these facilities,' she continued.

The Vice-Chairperson went on to compliment the army of mentors involved with the development squads and Minor teams at both codes, as they do incredible work and are very much appreciated.

She also had a special thank you for the sponsors, from the local shop who give you a few sliced pans for your under-age parties, to the corporate sponsorship that goes into the county coffers. All is appreciated, all is needed, all is valuable.

She added that the majority of people to whom she has referred to are volunteers.

Furlong said that internationally the Irish are held up as being exemplary due to the sheer number of organisations and associations run voluntarily in this country; the arts, education, health, community development, sport, to name but a few areas are all supported by volunteers.

However, in Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association leads the way in terms of sheer numbers and geographical spread of all who volunteer, she added.

'So let's look at that word, Association, what does it actually mean - it is a grouping of like minded people, so look to your right and left folks, you are all the same. There is no financial reward for all of this voluntary work, it actually costs us money, we use our own phones, computers, cars. We can be out in all weathers.

'Some of us get nice jobs, we work with the children, we get to see the matches, we have a bit of banter with the neighbours. More of us have not so nice jobs, we get the heads bitten off us for collecting €5 at a gate. We sit up until the wee small hours on finance, fixtures or hearings committees, where we inevitably have to make some unpopular decisions.'

'So the question must be asked - why do we do it?

'Some people do it, out of a love for our culture, our heritage. The G.A.A. is in our DNA. It is the very fabric of Irish society. The rivalry between clubs and counties, the pride with which club and county colours are flown and worn. And might I say that today's young generation are to the fore in terms of wearing their colours with pride. Just look at any school bus stop or school gathering,' she noted.

'The feeling that rises in us when we stand to face our Tricolour and sing our National Anthem is very special. When we're lucky enough to get a ticket for Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, and we stand with 80,000 plus more people for this ritual, we are conscious of the fact that around the world, thousands more are listening to and watching this, and that we are part of something very unique.'

Referring to volunteers, she said: 'some people volunteer with their local G.A.A. club out of pride of place. And the G.A.A. really does give us a pride of place. The G.A.A. develops pride of place in our young players.

'It is so important to feel connected to where we live, to have a sense of community, to feel we belong, that we are part of some place or something. It improves our self-esteem and keeps us mentally well.

'Others volunteer out of their love for children and young people. They enjoy working with them, the fun and the laughter. Some of these children may well go on to play the games at adult level for their club and county. For another little fellah who came in the gate at eight with two left feet and two left hands, picking the sliothar up on the hurl may well be a major achievement.

'Passion drives more people to volunteer with their local G.A.A. club. We have volunteers who can be very logical when it comes to planning the budget for the year or working out their rota for the pitches, dressing rooms, meeting room, etc.

'But when the referee blows the whistle and throws in the football or sliothar, all of this mental logic disappears out through their ears and down their nostrils, and sheer raw passion rises up from the soles of their feet and the pits of their stomachs, to such an extent that their own mothers would not recognise them.

'But regardless of what motivates, people volunteer with the G.A.A. We must be all very conscious of the fact that, that is what we are - volunteers. And we must support one another as best we can,' she said.

'So how can we do this?' she asked. 'We can begin by treating one another with dignity and respect. We can look at our volunteers in the eye, clap them on the back and say thank you from time to time - what you do around here is appreciated.

'However being Irish, and being loathe to accept praise, this gesture may well be greeted with "sure I only..........".

'There is no sure, I only…every task matters. This Association is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. If Tom doesn't park the cars, or Dick doesn't wash the jerseys, then these pieces are missing from the puzzle, so the picture is incomplete.

'All do contribute to the smooth running of the Association. When problems arise, as they invariably will, given that humans are involved, can we put these problems into perspective and deal with them accordingly?

'Some people find the ever-increasing health and safety regulations and ever-changing Garda vetting procedures stressful, might we be mindful of their stress. Might we ensure that we have robust disciplinary procedures in place so that when any of our volunteers is abused, bullied or harassed, that the perpetrators can be dealt with. And might we encourage our volunteers to use these procedures if they are victims of such misbehaviour.'

Regarding outside commitments, she said: 'We need to be mindful of the fact that we all have lives outside the G.A.A. We have our day-to-day jobs, families. We need to go to the butcher, the candlestick maker, get our cars serviced, mow our lawns. We have christenings, communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals to attend.

'Sometimes the G.A.A. is not and cannot be our priority. So could we please all be patient, and more allowances for that fact. And should an error be made, might we just regard it as that, a human error. Would the person in this room who never made a mistake please stand up?

'Might we reward our volunteers more. Coiste na nOg gets nominations from very few clubs each year for our clubperson of the Year award, so deservedly won by Michael Foley (Rathnure) tonight. Given the number of clubs in this county we should have 40 nominations each year.

'Might you give similar award in your clubs? Might you have a small get-together at the end of the season, to say thank you to everyone?

'I began tonight by calling you, the clubs, the foundation of this Association. The volunteers are the foundation of the clubs. If we lose our volunteers this Association crumbles, like every structure whose foundation is undermined.

'So volunteers of Coiste na nOg Loch Garman, I applaud and salute you here tonight. I thank you for all your commitment, dedication, time and work

I hope you enjoy the next few weeks when there is little or no G.A.A. activity. I hope you have a happy and peaceful Christmas with family and friends. I wish you a joyous and prosperous new year.'

Wexford People