Antrim chairman Collie Donnelly welcomes funding but warns there is no quick fix for Belfast GAA
ANTRIM chairman Collie Donnelly yesterday welcomed the GAA’s £1m commitment to revive Gaelic Games in Belfast but warned there was “no quick fix” to improving the paltry participation rates in the city.
While many observers may see the £1m fund as a drop in the ocean to the millions poured into Dublin over the last decade of more, Donnelly insisted it was more complex than merely comparing the two cities in funding terms.
“People keep talking about Dublin and the Dublin model,” Donnelly said.
“Belfast is not like Dublin at all. Belfast is a different city with different challenges…. People say Dublin have got 70 coaches – so we need 70 in Belfast. It’s not that easy.
“And, of course, a lot of the Dublin clubs bought into their plan. Whenever they employed a number of coaches the clubs were already part funding a coach.
“People sometimes think big brother down in Croke Park will write a cheque – but there are a lot of checks and balances. This project needs to be quality because when you go into the schools they can quickly see through things... This has to be something significant to be sustainable over the next four or five years for it to work. And the people in Croke Park want it to be quantifiable.”
New GAA President John Horan comfirmed the Belfast GAA plan – entitled ‘Gaelfast’ – would be “reviewed”, while Donnelly said the £1m was “a start”.
“We’ve said at different meetings that there is no point having a Casement Park – a £100m stadium - and having no product to put in it.
“And obviously the other big thing is if you look at the facilities around Belfast and the new 4G pitches the greatest opportunity is now if we’re ever going to get moving because if you can get coaches on the ground you have these floodlight facilities and you’re going into the schools, you’d like to think you’d see an increase in participation.”
Donnelly added: “The GAA in Belfast is a sleeping giant and this initiative will provide real impetus to Gaelic Games.
“The ultimate success of this plan will be measured in increased participation in clubs across Belfast.”
Donnelly credited former Antrim hurler and current joint manager of the county seniors Terence McNaughton for getting the ball rolling as far back as 2012 when he lobbied Croke Park for more funding.
“This deal has been on the table for the best part of five years,” Donnelly explained.
“The first I heard about it was probably around six months before the first convention when I was elected. Terence McNaughton had been pleading the case for doing something about hurling in Belfast.”
Former Director-General Paraic Duffy and former President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl supported more funds being committed to Antrim after paying a visit to Belfast a couple of years ago.
“Aogan and Paraic told us then that they were very keen in their tenure to support investment for Gaelic Games in Belfast. After that, we invited the clubs in and talked to different people. I think people had already realised that the GAA had lost its identity in Belfast.
“I think participation rates in primary schools in Belfast is something like six per cent which is a staggering figure when you consider the [amount of] schools.
“So we brought in the likes of Aidan Hamill, Mark Barr, Pat O’Hagan and Sean McGourty – and other fellas that had knowledge and they gave us an insight. Gone are the days where you just turned up at a school and said: ‘We’re going to do some coaching’.