Midleton Magpies All-Stars have spread their wings

By John Harrington– 

After spreading their wings in 2019, the Midleton Magpies All-Stars are determined not to be grounded by the current COVID-19 health crisis.

The Magpies All-Stars initiative is Midleton GAA Club’s highly laudable GAA for All programme that saw them coach 30 children with additional needs on a weekly basis in 2019.

It quickly became an invaluable social and sporting outlet for both the children and their parents, and the spirit that imbues the group is vividly apparent when you watch the video at the top of this article.

The current lockdown might have prevented the Magpies All-Stars from training with one another so far this year, but as the video shows they’re working hard on their skills like every other young player up and down the country.

“The idea behind it was that we were hoping it would encourage and inspire the other players to see how their team-mates are training at home and keeping it going,” says Gillian Murphy, a founding member of the Midleton Magpies All-Stars. 

“One of our coaches, Coran Swayne, is a primary school teacher and put together the video, he did all the technical side of it. 

“We’ve gotten a great response to it because it’s very uplifting. Even people who wouldn’t have been involved in that side of the club have been saying the video was so inspiring. It gave everybody a lift.”

Midleton Magpies All-Stars players and coaches pictured together at Midleton GAA club grounds

Giving people a lift is what the Midleton Magpies All-Stars do best.

In their very first year together they provided an invaluable outlet for a large number of families in Midleton and the surrounding area.

“It was an idea where we approached the club in late 2018 with a couple of parents that it would be a good idea to set up a special needs section in the club.

“From my own point of view I wanted to see a way for my son Gearoid who is nine and has autism to be able to take part in GAA activities.

“We hooked up then with our local GAA Games Development Administrator and Cork Sports Partnership, that all happened in early 2019. We had our inaugural session on Sunday, May 19 last year. It has been a runaway success ever since.

“Last year we had 30 kids involved from the ages of six to 18 who did 18 sessions from May until October.

“We got off to an incredible start, really. And that was thanks to the backing of the club itself.

“We were very lucky to have the full support of the club and the local Cork Sports Partnership were very good too in helping us get started with the training and bits of equipment here and there.

“It was unbelievable actually to see how the idea just grew the way it did.”

Midleton Magpies All-Stars founding members (l to r) Coran Swayne, Jude O’ Keeffe, Ger Fitzgerald, Gillian Murphy, Carol Fitzgerald, Ben Fitzgerald, Ber Cotter, James Murphy, and Gearóid Murphy.

The children who take part in the Midleton Magpies All-Stars initiative have a wide spectrum of additional needs, and all have benefited hugely from the experience.

“We have kids with all sorts of additional needs,” says Murphy. “We have kids with autism, Downs Syndrome, dsypraxic kids, kids with cerebral palsy, kids with developmental delay, things like that.

“Kids that just wouldn’t fit into the normal player population of a club but would have a massive interest in playing and being involved and being on the pitch. That was the big thing, just being part of the club.

“It’s been fantastic for my son Gearoid, he’s made a lot of new friends. It’s been great for social interaction and he’s loved being part of a group. You can see the pride he gets from playing on the pitch.

“Before he would have been on the other side of the wire watching his sister playing, but now he’s in there. My family would have a long history in the GAA, my father and brother both have All-Ireland medals for Cork, so we would have been up at the club all our lives.

“So it’s fantastic for Gearoid now to be on the pitch too and he really enjoys it. Even when we broke up for the winter he was looking to go playing hurling.”

Midleton Magpies All-Stars and coaches enjoying one of their weekly training sessions. 

Gillian’s father is Paddy Fitzgerald who won an All-Ireland senior hurling medal with Cork in 1966 while her brother is Ger Fitzgerald who won All-Ireland senior medals in 1986 and 1990.

“Ger was very supportive of the All-Stars from the start,” says Murphy. “He would have come from a high level of the game but I think being involved has opened his eyes to a whole new side of the GAA.

“He’s seeing that it’s as much about a bit of craic and inclusion as anything else. He takes the older teenagers in the group and I think he gets a great kick out of it too. It’s very satisfying for him to see how the kids have come on over the course of last summer.

“We have a very big group of excellent coaches. We got coaching help from all levels of the club. Parents of children who would have been working in the area of special education, people like that.

“A number of parents of the children who are taking part in the sessions would have gotten themselves trained up too as coaches.

“Some of them wouldn’t have previously felt part of the GAA community before this but now that their children have a route in that has changed. So we’ve brought more people into our community.”

After such a successful first year, being temporarily sidelined by the current sporting shutdown has been a very frustrating experience for the children, their parents, and everyone involved with the Midleton Magpies All-Stars.

Eventually they’ll be back out on the pitch, though, and if the instant success of Year One is anything to go by, then you can expect the Magpies All-Stars to continue to go from strength to strength.

“As you can imagine with kids with special needs their understanding can be limited and don’t probably understand the whole thing of everything being shut and you just have to deal with it so it’s very hard on them,” admits Murphy.

“But we’re doing our best to keep the momentum going by keeping in touch with parents so that when we are allowed get back together we’ll all be rearing to go.

“Like everything else, you don’t realise what you have and how great a thing is until it’s gone

“Everyone is dying to get going again. We obviously have to stick with the rules and it mightn’t even be this year the way things are going, but we’re hoping for the best.

“We just received new jersies for the All-Stars for a local social fund so we’re looking forward to the day they’ll all be together wearing them.”