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'The homeless have been forgotten about completely' - Down raising funds as they run through Covid-19 crisis

The Mourne camógs are racking up the kilometres and fundraising for frontline workers and homeless charities.

THIS IS A difficult time for everyone across the length and breadth of the country, as people stick together by staying apart through the Covid-19 emergency.

Fundraisers such as the ‘Feed our Heroes’ campaign have brought light in a dark period, with people doing anything they can to help frontline workers in particular.

the-down-team The Down camogie team before their All-Ireland intermediate semi-final last year. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While many have turned to exercise, the Down camogie team are using it as a way to raise much-needed funds as they set out to run a total of 5,000km over the next 40 days with each player contributing their own distance individually.

The money will go towards homeless charities within the county, and frontline workers such as doctors, nurses and carers in the National Health Serivce [NHS].

“Down Camógs want to do their bit to raise much needed funds for frontline workers and local homeless charities during this emergency that is Covid-19,” as the GoFund Me page states. “The girls will run a total of 5,000 km over the next 40 days each girl contributing their own distance individually.

“The funds raised will be used to provide equipment for frontline staff and the hospitals dealing with very ill patients and support the homeless locally. There are a number of girls in the Down Senior and Junior panels who are frontline workers and this will help and support the work they are currently doing.

“The support will mean a lot to everyone involved and it is a chance for everyone in Down Camogie to contribute to this crisis. Down Camogie are extremely grateful for all donations received.”

Mourne manager Derek Dunne set the wheels in motion originally shortly after the Gaelic games blanket ban came into force earlier this month.

“The girls drove it on then in the long run,” he told The42 this morning.

“Training had stopped, we divided the panel into groups of six and seven and had a supervisor with each. While they were trying to get together in the first week or so, they weren’t allowed get together.

“Obviously they wanted to keep training and keep fit so the girls came up with it themselves — to do a bit of fundraising.

We have seven or eight nurses out on the frontline, we have a couple of carers as well so we were asking, ‘Is there something we could do for them?’ And the homeless… obviously the homeless have been forgotten about completely in this, all the hospices have closed down and nobody’s thinking about them. They’re in the same predicament.

“We said we’d do two charities: funding for the people on the frontline and supporting how we can that way. And obviously keeping fit as well, we all have to average about three-and-a-half kilometres a day for the next 40 days and 40 nights.

It’s going really well. We’ve been averaging up around 6,500km after the two days that we’re operating at the moment.

Caoimhe Byrne and Dee McCabe are both nurses, and they work in Ulster Hospital and Royal Victoria respectively. Aoife Savage is a dietician in Ulster Hospital, while her sister, Alannah, works a clerical job at Whiteabbey Hospital. 

Frances Toner does likewise in Ulster Hospital, while Daniele Harrison plies her trade as an occupational therapist. Maria McNally is a dental nurse, and is set to do some voluntary care in nursing homes through this tough time.

Aoife Keown, then, is a physiotherapist in Daisy Hill.

aoife-keown Star midfielder Aoife Keown. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s keeping us together,” star midfielder Keown says of the fundraiser. “We’re in the Down Camogie Whatsapp group, putting our runs in every day. It’s a way of communication and keeping spirits up as well.

“It’s togetherness, and a different kind of focus.”

Dunne, a Laois native himself, adds: “I think the whole emphasis has kind of gone off being fit for a championship or a league, it’s about keeping fit, keeping a bit of sanity among themselves. Keep talking to each other, helping out people that need a bit of help. 

It is tough times. It’s just to generate a bit of awareness, to keep people at home. The North, I’ve been up there a bit myself, they were two weeks behind what we were doing here. The pubs were full, people were out on the streets; scary.

“You see the curve in the UK now compared to where Italy was at the same time, it’s scary stuff. When you look at the English curve compared to the rest of Europe, they’re going to be in bigger, bigger trouble.”

While running is the team’s main source of training at the moment, they’re also working away at different exercises at home and visiting ball walls individually.

“It’s hard to keep people motivated,” Dunne concedes. But this fundraiser is helping.

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“The girls’ focus was that we all have to get out and do a bit of a run every night and we’ll try and raise as much money as we can.”

With the remainder of the Littlewoods National Leagues up in the air, and the championship fast approaching, there’s a serious sense of uncertainty. Like with everything in the world at the moment.

derek-dunn Down manager Derek Dunne. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But this really is about more than sport. There’s a far bigger picture.

“That’s the message,” Dunne concludes. “It’s the coming together of a team of a different format.

“Four or five weeks ago, we were just focusing hard with two wins out of two in the league. We were ready to play Galway, focused for Galway. There was a big push to get into the senior league this year, and we were fielding two teams as well: a junior team and an intermediate team.

“We have a great junior team, with four or five girls that are good enough to come up into the seniors. It had been a great start to the year and this just knocked us, but it’s obviously moving in a different direction.”

Day by day, step by step. It’s about much more than camogie now.

You can donate to Down Camogie’s fundraiser here.

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Emma Duffy

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