The Railblazers

Image courtesy of Railway Union

Railway Union is a big club catering for various sports and for all ages. Prime among them is hockey. There are five women’s teams, five men’s teams, two veterans’ teams, a thriving junior section and then there are the Railblazers.

Aoife McCarthy and Margaret Shaw, both coaches at the club had something new in mind when they took up an idea from Monkstown about nine months ago. “The Railblazers first came about last summer,” said Aoife, “I saw that other clubs had set up para-hockey teams. Margaret was interested too so we put our heads together. I work with children with disabilities, so have a special interest in inclusion, particularly in sport as the benefits are endless. It is a small group of eight that come regularly on Thursday afternoons to practise on the astro pitch. The age gap between them ranges from 10 to 18. That is not a hindrance, because the training is supportive and not competitive.”

Everybody involved has been learning from the experience and changes and adaptations to the schedule have been, gradually, coming along. “In the beginning we had a very structured setup; we started by saying hello, we did a warm-up, we practised skills, then played a match, and we all said goodbye before we left. As the weeks and months have gone on, we have less structure. The group know each other so well by now that we don’t need introductions! In terms of drills and skills, this has developed naturally in line with the children’s abilities.”

Newcomers are always welcome and have only to bring gum shields and shin pads. The hockey stick will be provided for the training. It starts with teaching basic skills like how to hold the stick and block a ball, but evolves into techniques of tackling, passing, the normal things you would expect to see in a training session.

“I guess this group is so important as we provide a ‘mainstream’ sport (that many of the players’ siblings and parents play) but in an adapted and supportive environment that supports each child at their own personal level of ability. We have seen many benefits to each child in terms of their verbal, their motor and their social skills.”

There are four primary coaches, Aoife, Margaret Shaw, Karen Morrissey and Kevin Corcoran. They are supported by Eimear Linehan, Lianne Murray, Riona Norton and Rob Abbott, so that the training with their charges can take place one to one if necessary.

Of course, the long summer holidays are just about to begin, the planning is already under way for the next term. “We plan to continue with the Railblazers next season and hope to have open sessions for potential new members, but also have sessions with our mainstream colts group so that the Railblazers and the colts can meet their fellow clubmates. They’re such a fantastic group that you cannot help but feel joy and pride after each session.”

Firstly, however, the Railblazers and similar groups from the Three Rock Rovers and Monkstown HC will be part of the Irish parahockey team that travels to Barcelona at the end of June.