SANDRA O’Donoghue will never forget the moment she found out that she was selected as the 2020 LGFA Young Volunteer of the Year Award winner.
The Rosscarbery teen (17) was at home in mid January, recovering after having her appendix taken out when she got the great news.
‘It was about a week after getting my appendix out when an email popped up on my phone telling me I was the LGFA Young Volunteer of the Year. I nearly fell off the couch with the fright,’ Sandra says.
‘I couldn’t believe it and I was only home a short time after spending five days in the Bon Secours hospital at the start of January. I had absolutely no clue the email was coming so I was glad my mam was next to me when it arrived.
‘It said I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone for a while but sure I couldn’t keep it in. My mam was proud of me because she was the one who started me off in coaching. The response I got once news broke of the award was a bit overwhelming but I was appreciative of all the kind messages. It is a huge honour and I am delighted I was chosen.’
Sandra was honoured for her efforts because since she was 12 years old she has helped to nurture the talents of Rosscarbery LGFA’s youngest players. She took centre stage at last Friday night’s virtual LGFA Volunteer of the Year Awards ceremony. In the lead-up to that event Sandra received a lot of congratulatory messages, including one from 11-time All-Ireland football winner Bríd Stack, who is currently in Australia.
‘Cork LGFA tagged me on an Instagram story so I opened it, saw Bríd Stack talking about me and just stood there in shock not knowing what to do,’ Sandra says.
‘I was in absolute awe because Bríd has always been one of my biggest inspirations growing up. The fact she took the time to send me a message was brilliant. She is an unbelievably talented player and the dedication she gave to her club and county was unreal. To see that in a woman, as a young player growing up, was inspirational.
‘Rosscarbery players Laura MacMahon and Maura O’Brien are two others who took me under their wing when I joined the intermediate panel as a player. I’m thankful for all they’ve done for me as well.’
Sandra laced her first pair football boots and joined up with Rosscarbery LGFA when she was six-years-old. Yet a mere six years later the 12-year-old became a trainer and started tutoring Ross’s fledgling talents.
‘As for starting out as a trainer so young, it wasn’t exactly by choice if I’m honest!’ she laughs.
‘It was my mam, Mags, and my aunt, Pat Lane, who first got me involved with coaching the Rosscarbery (nursery) players. They wouldn’t have pushed me to do it if they knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. We were involved with the U6s, U8s and U10s when I first began. Mam thought the players responded better to a younger person or someone closer to their own age when it came to learning the basics. She was right.’
Every coach requires an abundance of patience, especially when looking after large groups of players as young as six years old. How did Sandra deal with the vagaries of such a young age-group?
‘Some children that young are fine once you show them the basics,’ she explains.
‘Others need to be guided a bit more. That was my favourite part of learning to become a coach. Some children pick things up quickly and go off and do their own thing. I really enjoy helping the children that need that extra time to get their heads around things and over any early frustrations.
‘Giving that extra bit of help to a child and seeing them improve is what I love. They are the ones that need my help the most. I admit that you need patience, a lot of patience, but it is worth it when you see how happy you make children by helping them.
‘I was following the older coaches’ guidance over the first couple of years with Rosscarbery. As I got older, I decided to start putting myself forward for various coaching courses. I completed a nursery training course as well as a Munster GAA transition and primary schools coaching course. As I grew older, I became more confident and was able to create my own training sessions and drills.’
Growing up in Rosscarbery, football was always going to be part of Sandra’s upbringing. That’s not a surprise considering she travelled to countless GAA matches with her dad John, her mom Mags, three older brothers, Jack, Stephen and Timmy and sister Ellen.
Ellen (20) is a huge part of Sandra’s life and one of the Rosscarbery LGFA club’s most popular members. She has been there every step of the way during Sandra’s journey and loves helping out whenever she can. Sandra’s aunt Pat is another individual who helped inspire and encourage the 17-year-old to pursue coaching.
Still, it is rare to find anyone that young, male or female, so dedicated and wanting to improve their coaching skills.
‘Coaching is one of the best things I’ve ever gotten involved with,’ the Mount St Michael’s sixth-year student says.
‘I love waking up on Saturday mornings and getting ready to coach. I’ll admit, some mornings I have to be dragged from the bed (laughs) but I just love the buzz and positive feelings that coaching children gives you.
‘Looking back, I practically grew up in a football pitch as I was pushed in a buggy to every one of my brothers’ matches. Football has always been there but maybe that’s why I love coaching so much.
‘Rosscarbery are catering for growing numbers of underage players so we started mixing the U6 and U8 boys and girls together for training about three years ago. That’s been a huge success. There is no reason whatsoever to separate children at that age so mixing them means they grow and learn to appreciate one other.
‘That’s why I’d recommend coaching to any young girl. Seeing the pure joy on the faces of the children you work with makes it worthwhile. Giving back to children is something you cannot beat.’