LIONS FLY WITH EAGLES IN GROUND-BREAKING VISIT

04 August 2022

As part of Swinton Lions’ ongoing support for their community partner clubs and wider contribution to develop the sport of rugby league, Director of Development Damian Ridpath recently arranged a ground-breaking player and coaching development weekend with Belfast Eagles. The Eagles are a well-run and popular community club in the heart of the city and are eager for opportunities to develop their club, as well as to promote rugby league in Northern Ireland.

Gareth Pratt, Swinton Lions Youth Player Development Coach, along with Mark Robinson, Swinton Lions Community Development Coach, flew over to Belfast and provided various coaching sessions across a fabulous weekend of rugby league for Eagles players ranging from the age of 5 right through to the seniors and masters.

Around 100 participants in total benefited from the weekend’s sessions, which included core skills development e.g. catch, carry and pass, tackle technique, correct play-the-ball technique, kicking practice, transition from offence to defence, specific player position roles, and responsibilities around the ruck area. Core skills development was also enhanced and supplemented via modified games, team building exercises, and methods for improving communication skills.

Belfast Eagles Trustees and co-founders Peter Robson and Lisa O’Connor, and all of their club’s coaches, officials and volunteers provided logistical support such as balls and training equipment. The hospitality from the Irish club was fabulous, and the bond between the two clubs grew beyond all expectations over the course of the weekend. The training facilities in Belfast were immaculate and perfect for the weekend of coaching sessions. Club volunteers also provided food and drinks for all of the people participating in the sessions and made sure everyone was well hydrated through the hot weather.

In addition to coaching the players, Gareth and Mark also took time to assist the Belfast Eagles coaching staff with their own development. They explained the session plans and methods for coaching core skills, and supervised the Eagles coaches whilst they in turn coached the players.

Also in attendance on the Sunday was the Chairman of Rugby League Ireland, Jim Reynolds. Jim enjoyed the sessions provided by the Swinton Lions coaches and thanked the Belfast Eagles club representatives on a fantastic weekend of rugby league and fun. He also complimented the Eagles on being a tremendous leader in driving rugby league development in the area.

The Lions’ Development Director, Damian Ridpath, said, “The weekend had been planned for some time and it was fantastic to see it prove such a success. We have now laid the platform within Ulster to support Rugby League activity, and will be using this experience to assist the creation of more opportunities for people to enjoy rugby league with Belfast Eagles in partnership with Swinton Lions Rugby League Club, and continue to develop an ongoing relationship between the two clubs to grow rugby league in a non-traditional area for the sport.”

On behalf of Belfast Eagles, Peter Robson and Lisa O’Connor added, “We would like to say a huge thank you to Swinton Lions for their support, not only in respect of the player, coach and club development weekend delivered by Gareth Pratt and Mark Robinson who shared some of their amazing experience and wealth of knowledge around rugby league, but also for the support and guidance shown to us over the last few years during which time we have been affiliated with them.

“Both Gareth and Mark came to the Belfast Eagles RLFC club last weekend without knowing a great deal about us and they fitted right in. They shared their huge appetite and love for rugby league with us through some really professional, engaging, interactive training sessions that left us as coaches, volunteers and players inspired and with a new thirst to learn and continue to grow as a community club so we can build something great for the future of rugby league in Northern Ireland. The proof is in the images from that weekend, they speak a thousand words!

“The biggest and most positive outcome for us over the two days is that we have seen a 10% uplift in players for our Bald Eagles Masters (over 35’s), and a 25% uplift in our Belfast Eagles RLFC Minis (U5’s – U10’s) and Youth Teams (U12’s – U16’s). This is all down to their dedication and hard work. 

“We also had Jim Reynolds, Chair of Rugby League Ireland, who travelled all the way from Galway to see visit Belfast Eagles RLFC and see the session for himself. He also thought the work that both Gareth and Mark delivered was amazing.  

“We are a huge family at the Belfast Eagles RLFC and that is how we have managed to grow and stay relevant in this ever-changing world in which we live in. We now consider both Gareth Pratt and Mark Robinson from Swinton Lions RLFC as part of that family now too, and we do hope to work with them both again in the not too distant future.” 

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