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Every indication is that there will be some return to sport in the area, when the current Covid restrictions are lifted on April 12.

Training will be permitted but for St Colman’s College Head of PE Cathal Murray, it comes too late for his players, although he says he is committed to helping those students who have struggled in life without sport.

“I think the lack of sport could have an impact on our young people in the long-term. They got a bit of football during the summer but really, they have gone the best part of 12 months with no football,” said Murray.

Cathal Murray, Head of PE, St Colman's College. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Cathal Murray, Head of PE, St Colman's College. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“For lads that usually are so active and see playing sport as a release because they are doing something they enjoy, sport is more than doing something physical, the challenge that lads have and the discipline they experience from being involved in training at schools, clubs and counties is important.

“They need to get back to it. I had a lad come to me asking could he go out onto the field, he brought his own balls and his boots, so he didn’t have to touch the school footballs, he just needed to get out onto a pitch and have a kickabout and this is what we are dealing with. It is so important and rewarding to their lives.”

Before most of his pupils returned back to the classrooms Murray chose to travel to the College where he gave his online class simply to get out of his house and develop some form of routine.

Murray, who managed St Colman’s to back-to-back Hogan Cups in 2010-2011 and has been involved at inter-county management with Down and Louth as well as at club level with Carryduff this season, admits he is keen for the restrictions to be lifted but he is aware how much more acute the issues are for the youth of today.

Cathal Murray, who managed St Colman’s to back-to-back Hogan Cups in 2010-2011 can't wait to get back out on to the field again. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Cathal Murray, who managed St Colman’s to back-to-back Hogan Cups in 2010-2011 can't wait to get back out on to the field again. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“From my point of view there would normally be barely a night where I would have been stuck in the house, if I wasn’t at training, I’d be watching underage football and looking at players and I just can’t wait to get back out to it again because being stuck in the house all the time isn’t good for anyone,” Murray said.

“And as much as us adults can probably deal with that it is the children who struggle to overcome those feelings of being stuck in the same room with the same four walls closing in around them.”

Ulster Schools GAA made the decision in February that there would be no schools GAA this season, with September the target for the ban to be lifted.

Murray said he was disappointed with the decision and he felt that there could be ways to find a solution to allow competitive games to go ahead for those in their final year.

“A lot of these boys are sitting in their bedrooms, looking at four walls, were doing classes online and following the timetable between 9am and 3.30pm,” he said.

“They would have been so active at school and any inkling or hope that there might be MacRory Cup being taken away from them hit a lot of the boys really hard. A lot of the boys struggled with the decision and while all the boys are coming back at our school, I have heard stories of boys from other schools deciding that if there is no football then they are not going back to school, because the grades are going to be based on the teachers’ opinion.”

One solution may have been to play the games in May and June as there are no exams in the six counties, but exams will take place in Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal during those months and of course no-one knows how the virus will be affecting our lives in a few months’ time. But with no sign of school sport returning before the end of the school year, it won’t be an easy time for many children and Murray insists that the student’s mental wellbeing is a top priority.

“We at the school will be there for the boys who need support and show them that we care and that we are more than just teachers and managers, but people who will look out for their welfare and care about how they are feeling,” Murray said.

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