Rossa chairwoman Margaret Flynn, Belfast Lord Mayor Danny Baker (a club member) and St. John Ambulance volunteers outside Casement Park in Belfast. As has been case in New York and elsewhere, members of GAA clubs, in this case O'Donovan Rossa, have stepped up, and out, to help others amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
By David Mohan
Belfast --- O'Donovan Rossa Gaelic Athletic Club in Belfast went the extra mile last weekend as their club's 32 County Challenge to raise vital funds for St. John Ambulance became the 34 County Challenge.
Having found themselves way ahead of schedule by the middle of last week, instead of easing up, all involved decided to push on with Ruislip in London paid a virtual visit and then on Saturday it was off to New York's Gaelic Park with the distance covered by Sunday evening.
As the Rossa members virtually arrived at each county ground, they were greeted with videos from county stars past and present, but having accepted the challenge to virtually make the trip to the Big Apple, they were given words of encouragement from none other than YouTube star Josh Pray, who sent a video in his own, unique style.
In all, over 6000 miles were virtually covered over the course of the week from over 270 members who availed of their daily exercise to run, walk, solo, cycle, skip and even swim the miles that were tallied up each day to gain the overall total.
The venture was the brainchild of the club's Health and Wellbeing Committee with ladies football's Claire Brammeld identifying the opportunity to bring members together in a virtual sense, despite social distancing being the order of the day, and creating a united cause all could get behind to boost physical and mental wellbeing during lockdown.
"We really wanted the seniors to lead it because we've four codes and a lot of senior players," said Claire, who is a member of the Health and Wellbeing Committee.
"People are sitting at home and maybe need the motivation to get out. Some are doing their five kilometers individually but this was a chance for everyone in the club to come together a bit and do something collectively for a good cause.
"Mental health is a huge thing at the minute with people unable to get out, or feeling isolated, but we can't just start holding mental health seminars.
"We needed to find a way to get people together to talk about something good and that unites them a bit. Some people may not have moved in weeks, so this will help get them out to do some exercise and boost their mental health because we want our members to make sure they are feeling well and help them communicate with each other."
Initially, the 32 County Challenge was due to cover 2,400 miles, but with all at the club chipping in that target had been reached by midweek so it was decided to up the ante and include the county grounds in London (Ruislip) and New York (Gaelic Park in the Bronx), bringing the total to 6,500 miles. This distance was incredibly completed by Sunday evening, May 10.
The overall winner was St. John Ambulance that has put out an appeal for support as it assists the National Health Service and Ambulance Service.
St. John Ambulance is a voluntary organization and is present at all major sporting evenings including GAA games and their loss would be strongly felt.
So thanks to the generosity of Rossa members and its supporters, almost £8000 has been raised for this worthy cause. But there is still time to donate and you can do so on the link below or by visiting Rossa's Twitter and Facebook pages where the welcome videos and updates from club members all week are available to view.
“It has been a whole big family affair from young kids in prams to teenagers on bikes," explained Rossa Chairwoman, Margaret Flynn.
"It has been across the board and it has been a lovely thing to be part of. We've had so many volunteers working all week and the most important thing is that we didn't do it for self-glory, we're doing it for St. John Ambulance. They do need the money because a lot of their resources have been taken up. They can't do first aid courses or go to matches so they can't get paid and they are struggling.
“St. John Ambulance are so close to the GAA, they do all our big matches and they do some courses for the club as well, so we are more than happy to try and help them out.”
You can donate to the O’Donovan Rossa GAC fundraiser for St. John Ambulance NI at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rossa32countychallenge