OUT IN THE FRESH AIR Ann Ronayne (right) is pictured with her daughter Abbiegayle and their dog, Heidi, at their home in Irishtown.
ANY family that has appeared on ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ is clearly serious about sport.
And the Ronaynes from Irishtown definitely fit into the bracket.
That much is clear from talking to mum Ann, her son, Jack (22) and daughter, Abbiegayle (18).
Ann is a former Hollymount and Mayo ladies’ Gaelic footballer, who has been heavily involved in Mayo athletics for years. Her husband, Seamus, has a long association with Eastern Gaels GAA club.
Sons Jack and Josh are well-known for their exploits with Davitts GAA club and being part of different Mayo underage squads. The brothers have also played soccer with Cloonfad United and Claremorris FC respectively, while Jack also lined out for Claremorris Colts rugby team.
The three siblings have even found time to squeeze in the odd round of golf over the years.
Abbiegayle, the youngest of the brigade, currently lines out in goal for Athlone Town while studying for her Leaving Certificate.
Before concentrating on soccer, she also established herself as a talented rugby out-half and also played for the Mayo Minor ladies Gaelic football team.
With so much sport in the family, it was little surprise that the family participated in ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ under the mentorship of Davy Fitzgerald back in 2014.
“They were sort of looked up to by younger kids,” recalls Ann. “If they got anything out of it, they inspired younger kids to get out and get active through that programme.”
Having spent ten years as a Sports Development Officer with the Mayo Sports Partnership, Ann recognises the value of being active better than most.
“It’s been very difficult without access to gyms, without matches and training,” she said.
“Because we had good weather there was an awful lot of outdoor activity in the first lockdown. We were missing the gym and the strength and conditioning side of things.”
While Abbiegayle was eventually able to continue training due to the ‘elite’ status given to League of Ireland soccer teams, ‘the rug was pulled from under’ her brothers.
“You’re always in preparation for a league, a championship, games or cup finals or whatever it might be. Right now there’s no focus on club, we don’t know when it will be back,” explained Ann.
“Whilst you keep up your fitness you can’t push to peak. There’s no focus on games. It’s very difficult without gyms, coaching and training sessions.”
Abbiegayle (18) is hoping to study medicine after the Leaving Cert, while Jack (22) and Josh (28) are studying sport and exercise science and sport psychology respectively.
While the family have found the last year frustrating, Ann believes that the restrictions placed on sport and exercise have been necessary.
“It’s been really important to protect the elderly and ourselves. We have to follow NPHET, much as we don’t like it. Whereas my heart would say, I’d love to open things up quicker, my head would say it’s been an important lockdown.
“The lads and Abbiegayle have a 91-year-old grandmother. It was very important to keep her protected as it was other people’s loved ones. We mightn’t like it but for the greater good it was important.
“As people get vaccinated, we will start seeing light,” she added. “We’ll be happy in the knowledge that it was for the greater good.”
In the immediate future, Ann Ronayne says more clarity is needed from Government to ensure the safe re-opening of sport.
“If we look to England and see how they are progressing, I think careful planning by GAA and soccer will be very important.
“I also think that governing bodies need to give clear messaging to clubs and Covid officers in clubs. This can’t be taken lightly now or in the future.
“What we don’t want is to go back and find people aren’t taking it seriously and we go back into some other crisis or lockdown.”
Club: Davitts GAA and Claremorris FC
“I’m in my third year in college studying sports science in GMIT so that’s my main focus.
There’s not much training at the minute. You can’t really do anything heavy plus there’s no gyms open. If there were gyms open I’d be going in most days. I do light stuff really whenever I can, just some running or walking.
It’s tough studying from home, to be honest, especially this semester. It’s very full-on, you’ve no break from study. Not being in Galway is not great for the head, but you just have to manage it.
It’s definitely a lot tougher to get the motivation to get up and do your own training. It’s a lot tougher when you’re not in that team setting. You’d be close to a lot of the lads on the team. It’s the main reason I play myself. I wouldn’t consider myself that competitive, but I just miss meeting up and training.
It’s tough not knowing what’s the story with returning to training outdoors.
I’m looking forward to meeting up with the lads when training returns.
Some of the closest friends I’d have would be the ones I’m playing football and soccer with. It’s strange because I’ve been playing week-in, week-out most of the years of my life.
It’s a release from college and work. When you don’t have it it’s tough to know what to do to get the same release from everything.”
Club: Athlone Town
“At the moment I’m training with Athlone Town three to four times a week. I’m just focused on soccer at the minute. We train Tuesday and Thursday and then there’s a game on the Saturday. In between those days we do a recovery session on the days off.
I’m lucky that sport has remained on for me. In the first lockdown last year we were all in the same boat because everything shut down. When it came back around August or July, I was back training with Galway United full-time and we were lucky to get the elite status and keep it, unlike GAA.
We are allowed train with restrictions. We can’t go into the dressing rooms without masks. It’s been good but the problem is we’ve no access to a gym, that’s a big thing we’re missing out on.
It’s definitely difficult trying to balance study and training. It takes me an hour and ten minutes to get to Athlone from where I’m living, so it’s four hours at least gone from my day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It breaks up the study and I know when I get home that I have to get a certain amount done in that timeframe.
It is difficult but I’ve kind of gotten used to it over the years.”