IG Online continues its annual tradition of featuring Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day. With two gymnasts already on the Irish national team, Dublin's Old Bawn Gymnastics club typifies the ambition of Irish gymnastics to succeed internationally.
"I firmly believe that, with lots of determination and a belief it is possible, we will get there," coach Evelyn Burke told IG.
Founded in 1985, Old Bawn has a current roster of 50 competitive gymnasts and 200 recreational gymnasts. The advanced team trains up to 14 hours per week, with plans to increase the hours in the near future. Two development teams include gymnasts ages 6-9. Old Bawn recently established a boys' team of eight gymnasts culled from recreational classes.
Two 12 year olds from Dublin — Ali Kavanagh and Beth Gillmor — are members of the Irish national team. Coached by Burke and Andrea Brennan, Kavanagh and Gillmor will compete in the Celtic Cup, a competition among teams from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, to be held March 28-29. Both gymnasts competed in last year's Celtic Cup, as well.
In this IG Online interview, Burke discusses the challenges and opportunities that Irish gymnastics faces on the way to international success.
Ali Kavanagh (Ireland)
IG: From your perspective, what reasons do you have for seeing Irish gymnastics' future as more successful than its past?
EB: I believe the future of Irish gymnastics is very bright. With an influx of foreign coaches from strong gymnastics nations, Irish coaches are now learning exactly what it takes to produce successful gymnasts. I think the main change that we can see developing within clubs is the number of training hours that gymnasts are beginning to do per week. In previous years, it would have been the norm for many clubs to only train about 10 hours per week with their best gymnasts, which was far from enough to achieve any success internationally. Nowadays many clubs are aiming towards a training program of 20-plus hours per week for their Elite squads.
Also, in recent years, Irish Gymnastics has invested in sending coaches and gymnasts to international training camps. There they are rubbing shoulders with the strong gymnastics nations, and learning how to coach the more difficult skills and how to develop more effective training programs. Last summer I attended the UEG (European Gymnastics Union) International Training Camp in Tirrenia, Italy, with one of my national squad gymnasts, Ali Kavanagh. This camp is aimed at coaches from across Europe, with a view to teaching and sharing coaching knowledge amongst all the different delegations within Europe. The knowledge and experience Ali and I gained from this trip was phenomenal..
IG: As a coach, what do you see as the biggest challenge or challenges to producing top-level gymnasts?
EB: I believe the biggest challenge to the Republic of Ireland producing top-level gymnasts is our lack of full-time training facilities. At present the vast majority of clubs in the Republic of Ireland work out of school halls or community centers, where we have to set up and dismantle equipment at every training session. This is very time-consuming and eats into valuable training time, as well as restricting training hours to when the hall is available for use. This is one of the main reasons for the low number of training hours that Irish gymnasts can put in per week. Without a full-time facility, coaching remains a part-time job where we are dependent on coaches volunteering their free time outside their normal working hours.
As our gymnasts are improving, many clubs, including ours, are starting to look at the possibility of setting up full-time facilities. However, financing such a venture is not an easy task given that, as a minority sport in this country, we receive very little government assistance in this matter. The funding for a fully-equipped training facility would have to come solely from the club and its members themselves which, given the limited numbers we can cater for with our current set-up, becomes an extremely difficult undertaking. However, I firmly believe that with lots of determination and a belief that it is possible, we will get there!
Beth Gillmor (Ireland)
IG: The relationship among Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain can be a bit confusing when it comes to gymnastics. How are they inter-related?
EB: The Republic of Ireland is not part of Great Britain and our gymnasts have never fed into the British national team. Irish Gymnastics is a completely separate organization to British Gymnastics. Gymnasts from the Republic of Ireland train in and represent the Republic of Ireland only. It is only gymnasts from Northern Ireland who have the option of competing for either Great Britain or Ireland. They can be affiliated to both organizations and make a choice to represent one country or the other. All clubs in the Republic of Ireland are affiliated to the Irish Gymnastics organization only. Should our gymnasts become internationally successful, it will be as representatives of the Republic of Ireland.
IG: How would you describe the competition your club faces from other clubs in Ireland, and your relationship with the other clubs?
EB: Irish Gymnastics is divided into eight different regions. Old Bawn Gymnastics is a member of the South Dublin region, the largest in the country. As a region we have a very strong rapport between clubs and coaches. It would not be unusual for our gymnasts to attend extra training sessions in another club coming up to a competition and, likewise, we welcome gymnasts from other clubs to come and train with us whenever extra training is needed. As a region we regularly hold regional competitions and events which involve a huge amount of coordination and cooperation from the clubs in order to be a success. Gymnasts who achieve success at these competitions generally go on to represent the region, rather than their own club, at national events.
I think that, as a nation, we all realize that, without the work of the coaches and judges who offer their time voluntarily, our sport simply would not survive. I believe that this common understanding and appreciation of each others' hard work, along with our drive toward a common goal, is what makes for very good inter-club relations across the country.
External Link: Old Bawn Gymnastics
Irish gymnastics is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
"Room to Grow" – feature on Salto, Northern Ireland's City of Lisburn Gymnastics Center (March 2009)
"10 Questions with Colm Murray" – interview with Irish Brevet judge (March 2009)
"International Gymnast" – Rohan Sebastian profile (April 2008)
"Rising Irishman" - Matthew Cosgrave profile (December 2007)
"Pride of the Irish" – Katie Slader profile (March 2005)
"Pressing Her Luck" – Holly Murdock profile (August/September 2001)
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