Paul Cummins pictured receiving his Kilkenny Volunteer of the Year award at a ceremony in 2019
The importance of the volunteer has never been as vital in the world of sport.
That’s the opinion of Kilkenny’s Paul Cummins, who has helped to deliver a Storm which has put his city on the world’s sporting map.
A lifetime’s dedication was rewarded when Cummins, a driving force behind the Kilkenny Storm Ice and Inline Hockey Clubs, was named Kilkenny’s Sporting Volunteer of the Year in 2019.
The announcements about the extension of the deadline for the 2020 Volunteers in Sport Awards saw the memories come flooding back.
Cummins almost single-handedly runs the club and, speaking to the Kilkenny People this week, he outlines how it all started.
“There was a good few of us playing street hockey and stuff like that,” he said. “An ice rink in Dundalk opened in 2006 and we decided to put together a big hockey team.
“We played a bit of roller hockey down this way as there is no ice rink so inline hockey is what we play on sports courts and in local halls.
“That’s when the Kilkenny Storm really formed,” he continued. “We were competing in both Ice Hockey Leagues and Inline Leagues as we are today and that’s how it all came about with a few of us joining a team. It’s gone from strength to strength from there.”
While the club and Cummins’s role in the operation has received great praise it has taken a lot of work to get to this stage. There are still huge challenges as a result but it’s something he thoroughly enjoys.
“In roller hockey we can’t play home games because we don’t have a facility that suits so we have struggled with finding suitable venues,” he said.
“We used to train in the gyms at St Kieran’s College and O’Loughlin Gaels. Now we are training in St Canice’s Hall, but it’s small and doesn’t have any viewing area or changing rooms.
“It’s not suitable to play home games which means everyone else’s court,” he added.
“We’ve competed in Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Longford and even Galway so everything is travel and you are getting up at 6am with 10 year olds and you aren’t home till 10pm. That’s the type of struggle we have.”
While keeping teams going is tough, it’s not the first sporting challenge Cummins has undertaken.
“It’s kind of an obsession,” he said. “However, it’s not my first club. I’ve run the Kilkenny Top Pro Kickboxing Club for over 30 years and that’s had its struggles as well so it’s not my first rodeo.
“Really it’s about the dedication and commitment,” he added. “With all my kids playing now that’s an extra bonus for me.”
As well as Cummins winning an individual award the Kilkenny Storm also captured the Club of the Year prize for 2019, making it a niche double hand for the sport of hockey.
In many ways the club winning something was of more importance to the Kilkenny man as it shows the strides the sport is making as a whole.
“It was a massive achievement to win Club of the Year,” he said. “Every year we compete against massive cities like Cork. The university gets a massive influx of foreign students who have played the sport abroad. We get to compete against teams like that.
“It was a shock to win the award in this sport and while it’s personally fantastic it’s more the recognition of the actual sport,” he added.
“It shows that we are starting to be noticed. That, to me, was the biggest shock because when you go up there on the day and meet all the different winners from the counties you see all the different sports.
We’ve also beaten the likes of the Latvian Hawks who are based in Longford and we were victorious in a tournament in Belfast against sides from England and Scotland.
“It’s phenomenal really,” said Cummins. “We are a great sporting county and it just goes to show we can fire our hand at most stuff and win.
“When you see our name associated with those accolades it’s surprising, but it’s also fantastic,” Cummins said with delight.
“That, more than anything, shows us that we are doing well and it shows everything is possible.”
Things have only gotten better for the club, which is based in Kilkenny City, since it rose to prominence over the past year. It has seen an increase in participation numbers, something the Storm are hoping to build on in the future.
“Once kids keep turning up to play that’s really it,” he said. “There’s lads on the Senior Team with me thatstarted at 12 years of age and have played internationally with Ireland around the world - that’s what keeps driving us on.
“It’s a passion; it’s the same as every other sport,” he said. “It’s why volunteers constantly turn up in bad weather to help out. It’s the love of the sport and commitment from the kids and parents that keeps you going.”
“That’s really helped to expanded our club,” he finished.
“The little bit of success we have had has boosted our numbers, especially in the junior section. It’s something we are very proud of.”
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