GAA Football

Ulster needs to concentrate on Belfast and Derry city: McAvoy

Brian McAvoy talks to the Irish News. Picture by Hugh Russell.

ULSTER Council CEO Brian McAvoy says that there needs to be a shift in the concentration of games development towards the urban population centres of Belfast and Derry city.

Pointing to a central review of coaching currently being undertaken by the GAA, McAvoy said that the migration of young people from the western side of the country towards the eastern corridor was something that the organisation needs to react to.

In an exclusive interview in today's Irish News, the new Ulster secretary says that a push to have Antrim included in the Leinster hurling championship from minor to senior is high on his agenda.

McAvoy also underlined the province's commitment to pursuing the redevelopment of Casement Park, even in the event of the latest planning application being rejected.

And the Burren man also says that there will need to be further tightening of the schedule for the Ulster Senior Football Championship after the decision by Congress in February to bring forward the All-Ireland finals by three weeks.

Pointing to the growing trend of young men and women moving towards the east for work, McAvoy believes that Ulster GAA needs to make a shift in that direction itself.

“I think we have to look at where the need is and where the population is, and what we are seeing is a major population shift from west to east across the whole island of Ireland.

“The greatest concentration of population is now along the eastern corridor, from Belfast through Newry, Dundalk, Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow.

“We've got to start looking to where our areas of concentration are here. Belfast and Derry are ours, where we need to put in a major shift in terms of coaching and games development.

“People have to be treated pro-rata going forward, but not in terms where if Down gets a hurling coach, Fermanagh has to get a hurling coach, Donegal has to get a hurling coach. That's not best value.

“We have to look at what our outcomes are going to be and concentrate the bulk of our resources on where there's the greatest need. That's not forgetting the rest, but doing things pro-rata.”

The Irish News revealed on Saturday that, in some areas, the resubmitted plans for Casement Park deviate slightly from spectator safety guidance.

The initial plans were approved before Justice Mark Horner quashed them following an objection by residents' group MORA in 2014.

Since then, the proposed capacity has been reduced from 38,000 to just over 34,000, which is just over 500 more than the current capacity of St Tiernach's Park, which currently hosts the Ulster final annually.

Asked if Ulster GAA would continue to pursue at the west Belfast site should the current application be rejected, McAvoy reiterated the position that the provincial body needs a new provincial stadium.

“You have to look at any reasons as to why it would fail. This is a regional stadia programme, so any go would have to meet what the regional, strategic needs of the GAA in Ulster is.

“I think our assessment of 34,000 is as low as we can go. We have a stadium in Clones, which can host an Ulster final of 33,500.

“If we want to bring major games like Ulster finals, potentially All-Ireland quarter-finals or group qualifiers now, to the stadium, it will have to be at a capacity of that level.

“It's sometimes been lost when people say ‘why don't you build a stadium of 25,000?' There's no funding for that. This is a government regional stadium programme. It's not for a county ground.”

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