Fifteen-year-old Miriam Fitzsimons from Letterkenny was this week unveiled as the first winner of the Cadbury Gaelic Writers’ Association/GAA Young Reporter of the Year competition.
Miriam, a transition year student in Loreto Letterkenny, has been an avid attendee at Donegal fixtures since her uncle Aodh McCormack of Milford GAA club, in her own words: “Gave me a love and passion for the GAA and has been bringing me to Donegal matches length and breadth of the country through thick and thin since I was five.”
Miriam first became aware of the competition on the GAA application and immediately considered expressing an interest. These plans were then cemented after Tony Griffin was a guest speaker at the school at a January workshop.
As well as being an accomplished hurler with his native Clare in his time, in 2007 Tony cycled across Canada in memory of his father Jerome who died from cancer.
Griffin was in Letterkenny in his role of co-founder of Soar, which is: “An independent national youth outreach movement built on an early intervention preventative model focused on the peer to peer delivery of critical life-skills.”
Miriam said: “I just thought I would enter a piece in the competition. I talked to Tony about football and hurling and all in all, I had it written in a couple of hours. Journalism is definitely something I would be interested in doing.”
Miriam, from Greenhill, is the daughter of Gabrielle and Kevin. Her grandfather Sean McCormack is originally Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and has lived in Donegal for the past 60 years, in Ballyshannon and then Milford.
Sean played inter-county football for Donegal for seven years in the 1950s, having previously played both minor and senior for Sligo and for the Connaght Railway Cup team. For Donegal, Sean played in the opening of Sean MacCumhaill Park in 1956 against Kerry, kicking five points. Miriam’s cousin Michael Fitzsimons is a member of the Dublin panel.
As well as having her article published, Miriam won a €500 bursary cheque to go towards her education, which was generously sponsored by Cadbury.
Miriam was the guest of honour at Croke Park this week with her family and was given a stadium tour, posing for pictures in the press box on the Upper Hogan Stand. She was congratulated on her work by national journalists, Peter Sweeney from the Irish Daily Star and Damian Lawlor of the Sunday Independent.
Miriam wrote an article on the importance of self-belief in Gaelic Games. She uses the example of how Jim McGuinness turned Donegal’s footballers from also-rans into All-Ireland champions in the space of two years.
Miriam’s article, which is available on www.GAA.ie, reads as follows:
We should never underestimate the power of self-confidence, positivity and self-belief in life, but especially in sport. These are key factors to success in the world of GAA in the current era.
When footballers and hurlers feel confident, they are more likely to turn sporting potential into superior performance. On the other hand, when they feel unsure of themselves, the slightest setback can have a severe effect on their performance. Self-confidence may be defined as ‘belief in yourself and your abilities’.
Do you think if Michael Murphy didn’t believe in himself and in his abilities would he have scored an outstanding goal in the opening minutes of the All- Ireland Final this year? Perhaps not.
An All-Ireland final is the biggest sporting event in the lives of all footballers and hurlers and it is very clear on such occasions those that believe in themselves and in the team. They are the people who will go that extra mile, make that extra tackle or score that incredible point. These are the people who believe. They rise to the challenge.
Jim McGuinness is a prime example of self- belief and positivity. In November 2010 when McGuinness gathered the Donegal squad for the first time under his management, he told the players gathered to represent the Green and Gold that they were going to win an Ulster title. He didn’t say let’s try to win an Ulster title, he told them they were going to win one. He also told them that they were capable of winning an All-Ireland. Eight months later, they took the Anglo Celt Cup back to Donegal for the first time in nineteen years. A year later they were the first team to win back to back Ulster titles from the Preliminary round.
Two months after that, following thrilling encounters with Kerry and Cork, Donegal beat Mayo by four points in the All Ireland Final, the same margin by which they beat Dublin 20 years earlier.
They made history, bringing Sam Maguire back to Donegal for the second time in 128 years of the GAA. People may think it was ‘the system’ that got them there but Jim McGuinness’ positivity and belief are just as important as the system under which the Donegal players excelled. He gave the team confidence, belief and determination to accomplish what many thought was impossible.
These same players thought him mad the first time he met them as a group and told them that there was an All-Ireland in this team. They didn’t believe it then but in a very short period of time, McGuinness had them believing and they were playing better than ever. He has an array of motivational sayings, the main one being ‘Commit, Focus, Believe, Achieve’.
I believe you can actually live by this saying. Others include ‘Every day’s a school day’ and ‘Our Future’s our Past’, both food for thought.
Tony Griffin, former Clare hurler and an All Star in 2006, was impressed with Jim McGuinness’ use of motivational sayings. He really believes in ‘Everyday’s a school day’. ‘If you think about it, we never stop learning, if you look at life as learning, you won’t be as upset if you fail because you will have learned from it’.
When I spoke to Griffin, co-founder of The Soar Foundation whose mission is to ‘empower all young people to thrive, to believe in themselves and fulfil their true potential’ he told me just how important self-belief is in players.
‘You have to expect your outcome to be a positive one, sport is a way of expressing yourself, self-belief is key whether it’s taking on your man or timing your run, you need to believe in yourself. If you expect the outcome to be positive you will take that risk, take the free and when you run your breathing will be more solid. If we have belief in ourselves, what we imagine will come true. Confidence is massively important’.
The importance of seeing a positive outcome will push you so much further, you can achieve what is ‘impossible’ in other people’s beliefs, but not in yours. His sterling inter-county career shows just how important self-belief really is. Both Griffin and McGuinness have shown the necessity for working on self-belief and confidence in the GAA. If you believe, you will achieve.