Niall honoured for channelling energy into youth coaching after medical scare

Niall honoured for channelling energy into youth coaching after medical scare

25 March 2020

THE 12 months that Loughinisland GAC’s Niall Flynn didn’t play his beloved Gaelic football were among the toughest the 20 year-old faced in his short life.

Yet out of the challenge came achievement, and most recently honour, for the young man who only discovered he had a malformation of his skull when he was 18.

The discovery led him to being effectively “benched’ while he was being monitored medically but that did not stop him getting involved in coaching younger club members to great success.

The dedication of the Loughinisland senior player won him the Young Sport Volunteer Award of 2019 earlier this month at the Newry, Mourne and Down Council Sports Awards held at Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle.

Instead of just watching football from the sidelines or on television when he learnt about his condition, Niall channelled his talent, energy and dedication into coaching the club’s under 16 side to victory in the East Down A Championship last year.

Niall had been advised not to play football after an MRI scan discovered he had what’s known as a Chairi malformation Type 1/2 of the skull.

“It basically means that there is part of my brain which rubs against the top of my spine sometimes,” explained Niall.

“After the MRI and diagnosis, it explained quite a lot to me as to what I had been experiencing in terms of headaches and spells of dizziness for a while before that.”

The engineering student at South Eastern Regional College in Downpatrick was on work experience in Malta two years ago when he realised that something was wrong.

“I was having a lot of dizzy spells and wondered if it could be vertigo and it continued so I came back home to get the MRI scan.

“It was a bit worrying, especially for my parents, for this came out of the bIue. I could have been born with this, we just don’t know and there’s still a chance that I could grow out of it as I’m still growing.”

After a year of monitoring his progress, Niall’s consultant told him he could return to play as long as he was sensible and took things easy.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus threat has ended his chance to get back playing for his club — at least until end of April at the earliest.

Niall said: “I returned to training just after Christmas but still hadn’t played. Now this is happened and all GAA matches have been called off.  

“I still hope that I will get to play again sometime this year, sooner rather than later.”

Niall is part of a family that’s dedicated to Loughinisland GAC. His big brother, 26 year-old Jonny, is a regular midfielder in Paddy Tally’s Down team and is also a senior player at Loughinisland. His sister, Michaella (23), has played for the club’s senior ladies but is currently playing for Qatar GAA club in Doha where she works as a primary school teacher. 

“My father Colum is also involved but as he’s from Drumaness, he gets a bit of stick from us,” joked Niall.

Niall first began to get involved in coaching by helping Down development manager Connor O’Toole at the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps several years ago. 

He progressed to coaching the club’s younger footballers before he was asked to take on the under 16s.

“The U-12 players are just messers at that age, no doubt the way I was too,” laughed Niall.

“But the U-16s are prepared to listen and to do what you say and I really enjoyed working with them. They want to win and when players have that attitude, that’s what you need.”

He was helped by 26 year-old Chris Turley from Annadorn and is currently coaching the same team who won the championship as they move into the U-17 age group.

The determination that Niall showed in pursuing his love of the game and to help other younger players led Frank McLeigh, the club’s senior team coach, to nominate him for the awards run by Newry, Mourne and Down Council in association with Sports Association Newry, Mourne and Down (SANDSA).

“My parents, Colum and Maureen, were there that night and I was totally shocked when they called my name out to be honest,” said Niall.

“I was surprised when I was nominated, never mind shortlisted, and I’m really delighted to have won it.”

While the COVID-19 threat has postponed Niall’s return to playing Gaelic football, it has also prematurely ended his last year as an engineering student.

“The college is closed and there will be no final exam, but I still have work to do at home to keep me occupied,” said Niall, who still hopes to take up an apprenticeship in September.

Added to his home studies, Niall and his brother Jonny have devised a running plan in their front garden to keep up their fitness until Gaelic matches are played again.