David McGovern in action for Leitrim hurlers
A group of current and former inter-county football, hurling and camogie players who are passionate about making a difference have united under the umbrella of ‘Gaelic Voices for Change’.
Leitrim hurling star David McGovern, a key member of the team who reached the Lory Meagher Final earlier this year, is a member of the interim steering committee for the new player-led social movement is made up of volunteers from the four provinces who have been meeting weekly for the past two months.
Members include Tipperary hurlers Brendan Maher and Patrick Bonner Maher, Waterford hurler Noel Connors, Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy, former Wexford hurling captain Diarmuid Lyng, Dublin footballers Eamon Fennell, Michael Darragh McAuley and Sinead Finnegan, Tyrone footballer Gemma Begley, and Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara, among others.
The group, which is supported by the GPA and WGPA, feel strongly that the GAA is based on community values and that they want to use their voice to support the most vulnerable in society. They have identified the housing and homeless crisis as a priority area to focus on but are also keen to look at areas such as mental health, gambling and racism.
Former Wexford hurling captain Diarmuid Lyng said of the new group “I am involved because I can be. I have benefited from my education, from travel, from sport, from spirituality. I have the opportunity to use those privileges to help others.”
Former Dublin All-Ireland winner Eamon Fennell added “As GAA intercounty players, many of us have been fortunate in our lives. The GAA is based upon communities and support. With the support of the communities across Ireland, we can make a real change.”
Last week the group were involved with the Show Racism The Red Card initiative but attention is now turned towards an all-Ireland solidarity sleep-out’ from 6pm to 6am on Saturday December 16th that is designed to draw attention to the homelessness crisis, raise funds, and call for action.
Ladies football legend Valerie Mulcahy explains “I feel like it's important to use our voices as players and help those that are vulnerable in our society, not turn our back on them. That is why I am taking part and doing what I can to help.
“It's not acceptable to have people homeless in Ireland. Gaelic Games are built on communities, with a collective sense of belonging and supporting your neighbour. This sleepout is a wider expression of that ethos by the players involved, extending a helping hand to others in our community.”
Already over 150 county players and past players have signed up for the sleep-out which will take place in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, Portlaoise, Waterford, Wexford and Carlow. New Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy will also join his squad for the sleep-out.
It is understood that squads in other locations, including London, are also looking at local events in their county towns. Players and squads wishing to register can do so online until next Monday.
The group are also appealing for help with tea and coffee, food, sleeping bags, music and entertainment, and fundraising in each of the sleep-out locations. People can also support by donating online at www.gaelicvoicesforchange.com. All funds raised will go to homeless charities including the Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland and the Capuchin Day Centre.
During their research the group met with leading experts in the area of homelessness. They say they are alarmed by ISPCC reports that Ireland now has the highest child homelessness rate in Europe and that, according to Focus Ireland, there has been a 24% increase in homelessness in the past year.