Sport must continue to be top of the agenda in Westmeath. This was the message legendary Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner was keen to drive home to our county councillors this week.
The former soccer star and technical director of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI ) accompanied Westmeath community development officer Dave Connell in giving a presentation at Monday’s meeting.
The star-struck councillors, led by chairman Joe Whelan who said “everyone remembers where they were when Packie made that vital save in World Cup 90”, united in praising the work being carried out by the FAI at local level in Westmeath.
Mr Connell highlighted in particular the ‘Soccer Sisters’ programme for 7- to 12-year-old girls, which has been run very successfully in Dalton Park, Mullingar. “This programme had over 30 participants, which goes to show what can be achieved when the right people are on board,” said Mr Connell.
He also drew attention to the quality of soccer facilities available in Westmeath. Of the 64 mini-pitches in the country, four are in Westmeath.
Councillors were told that over 600 Westmeath children participated in five FAI Summer Soccer Schools held in Westmeath in 2008. Some 89 teachers in Westmeath were trained under the BUNTUS schools programme, with up to 4,000 children benefiting from the scheme.
Meanwhile 800 children in 30 Westmeath schools took part in the EA Sports five-a-side primary schools competition, while inter-school competitions were also run for secondary schools.
Mr Connell believes one of the most important aspects of the work of the FAI in Westmeath is to ensure that coaches are adequately trained. Over 200 people participated in coach education courses, including ‘Kick Start’ and referee courses in the county last year, with a target of 300 participants set for 2009.
Meanwhile Mr Bonner told councillors that, at national level, the construction of the Aviva Stadium is on track, as is World Cup qualification for the Republic of Ireland squad, who play Bulgaria this weekend.
Incidentally, just days after meeting with Westmeath County Council, Mr Bonner confirmed this week that he would not be running for Fianna Fail in this year’s European elections as speculated, but would continue to focus on his work with the FAI.