Coaches from Celtic FC Tony Hamilton, Gill Gallacher and Donegal League referee Tony McNamee pictured with players at the 'Celtic FC Foundation launch of 'Ability Counts Donegal'
Glasgow Celtic Football Club and Donegal Down Syndrome are joining forces to open a new window of opportunity for young and not so young Down Syndrome people in the county.
The world famous soccer club, through their Celtic FC Foundation and the their Social Inclusion Programme, have just launched its ‘Ability Counts’ programme in Donegal.
The programme is especially tailored for young Down Syndrome children and adults. It was launched on Saturday last in the Aura Leisure Centre,in Letterkenny.
The programme has been up and running in Glasgow for the best part of the last ten years. And it was introduced into Ireland for the first time last year in Dublin.
Cian Shovlin enjoying the 'Celtic FC Foundation launch
“We run a lot of player ability projects and social inclusion projects in Glasgow for a number of years now,” Tony Hamilton, Chief of Executive of the Celtic FC Foundation, told the Democrat at Saturday’s launch.
“This one is called Ability Counts and it started off in Glasgow about eight or nine years ago. It is a social inclusion project for children and young people living with Down Syndrome.
“We then introduced a strand for children and young people who are on the spectrum and then we introduced a strand for young adults because when the children become adults at 18 the programmes end.”
Celtic has a big support base in Ireland and great historic links to Ireland and the North West and Donegal in particular.
“We were keen to do something in Ireland around ability counts so we introduced it last year into Dublin in partnership with Down Syndrome Ireland.
“We run two sessions a week in Dublin and it has been very successful. Earlier this year in March we ran a major fundraiser here in Letterkenny and we are launching here today, in Donegal, in partnership with Down Syndrome Ireland.
“Donegal was logical for a couple of reasons. It is logical because the club has a big support base here in the county and great historic links as well.
“But also because there is a great need in Donegal. Donegal Down Syndrome are doing great work here in the county and we are not here to replace that but to expand it.
“We are going to try and engage people who are excluded at the moment. That really is the purpose of Ability Counts, to look at these young people and their families and to try and include them in activities we all see as normal activities.
“It will include physical activity, a bit of leadership, a bit of team building, independence the social skills we all take for granted.”
Donegal Celtic Supporters' Association pictured with members of Celtic FC Tony Hamilton, Gill Gallacher and Pat McLaughlin and staff from Down Syndrome Donegal at the 'Celtic FC Foundation launch of 'Ability Counts Donegal' in the Aura Centre Picture: Thomas Gallagher
The programme is initially to run as a pilot programme for six weeks but the overall plan is to run it throughout 2019.”
The programme will be available every Saturday, at the Aura Leisure Centre, in Letterkenny with two sessions. The first of the sessions is for young children and teenagers and will run from 10 am to 12 noon with the second session for young adults also running for two hours from 1 to 3 pm.
The initiative has been warmly welcomed by Donegal Down Syndrome, which is a branch of Down Syndrome Ireland.
Gina Grant is the PRO for Donegal Down Syndrome and she told the Democrat at Saturday’s launch that Donegal Down Syndrome were very excited and really saw the initiative as hugely positive for Donegal Down Syndrome.
“We are really thrilled with the initiative. It is brilliant for us here in Donegal and the brilliant thing about it is that it is for all ages,” said Gina.
“We have people here today from 50 years of age down to six and really everybody involved in Donegal Down Syndrome are really looking forward to the programme.
“Parents and families are very enthusiastic and we have people here from all over the county today for the launch.
“We have people from Donegal Town, Ardara, Ballyshannon, Falcarragh and from Inishowen.
“It is initially for a six week pilot programme but we are hopeful the interest will be sufficient to continue and run it for the year and after today I think running it long term won’t be a problem. “
Well known soccer coaches in the county, Tony McNamee and Pat McLaughlin, are the lead coaches on the programme.
“Tony and Pat are well known and highly qualified coaches, who head up the programme. Tony has been working with Down Syndrome Donegal for the last four to five years as a personal attendant and has great experience as a coach and Pat McLaughlin has over 20 years experience of coaching with Donegal Special Olympics.”
The Celtic FC Foundation receives funding from the Donegal Celtic Supporters’ Club and Celtic Supporters’ Clubs right around the world.
Denis O’Donnell is the chairman of Donegal Celtic Supporters’ Club and he voiced the opinion of how the Donegal Celtic Supporters were proud to be associated with the Celtic FC Foundation.
“I know this project will go a long way to help children and young people in Donegal,” said Denis O’Donnell, one of the main organisers of last March’s fundraising night with Brendan Rodgers in Letterkenny.
“Last year’s event drew tremendous support from the local community here in Donegal and it is great to see Ability Counts Donegal come to fruition following that event.”
Denis O’Donnell revealed also that the Donegal Celtic Supporters are planning another big Celtic night this year with Celtic captain, Scott Brown, the special guest.
Hugh Sweeney showing his skills at the 'Celtic FC Foundation launch of 'Ability Counts Donegal' in the Aura Centre
Pictures: Thomas Gallagher