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Hurling and camogie

Antrim Gaels will need 'a lot of energy' to make 'Gaelfast' work: hurler Simon McCrory

Simon McCrory believes Belfast can improve its participation rates in Gaelic Games but it won't be easy

ANTRIM hurler Simon McCrory says it will take “a lot of energy” for the £1m ‘Gaelfast’ investment to bear fruit and that Belfast Gaels need to be patient.

Croke Park has committed £1m over the next five years to rejuvenate Gaelic Games in the city while the city council has agreed to provide extra funds to get the ambitious initiative off the ground.

McCrory is already employed by the Antrim County Board as a Games Promotion Officer [GPO] alongside Alfie Hannaway and Dominic McKinley.

The trio will almost certainly come under the auspices of the ‘Gaelfast’ scheme.

A Regeneration Manager will be appointed, on a salary of £60,000 per year, to co-ordinate the Belfast GAA plan as well as four Urban Development Managers who will go into primary schools one day per week for 26 weeks of the year to promote the ethos of the GAA and to introduce games.

Clubs in the surrounding areas will play a key role in nurturing Gaelic Games among primary school children and are potentially the main benefactors of the ambitious scheme.

Woodlands Park, Cliftonville Road, Sally Gardens and Cherryvale will be the four sports hubs that will be used by ‘Gaelfast’.

“I think the model is a good model,” said McCory.

“It seems to have a strong foundation. I like the idea of focused work in certain areas of the city, basing yourself out of a hub and working with the local schools and the local clubs definitely gives the development officer a clear focus on what he’s supposed to do - get more children out of the primary school to the hub and eventually into the clubs.

“So there’s definitely been a lot of thought, good thought, put into it and I think there’s a strong base for what could be a very good project.”

McCrory cautioned that ‘Gaelfast’ can only work with the enthusiastic support of the clubs around Belfast.

“Clubs are central to everything in the GAA. Without the club we don’t have a GAA. The clubs have to source more volunteers. Kids won’t be able to play the games if they don’t have coaches, if they don’t have administrators in the clubs.

“While the primary school is so important, it won’t work unless the clubs are vibrant and have lots of volunteers willing to make this project work, so they are central to it for the success of it.

“While the clubs won’t see this money filtering down to them they must see the bigger part of this; this is about passing on the baton to the next generation and making Belfast grow because I firmly believe we’re a sleeping giant.

“If Dublin can roll out something similar in previous years there is no reason why Antrim can’t. Antrim need lots of people with lots of energy for this to work. It definitely can work. It’s a simple formula. Do the work and you’ll get the results.”

McCrory and Hannaway currently coach hurling and football in Belfast primary schools and McKinley coaches in north and south-west of the county.

But three coaches can only get around so many schools.

“In recent times and because there are so few coaches schools start to get frustrated. You’re only in there for six or eight weeks and you’re gone.

“We only return the following year or two years down the line. There are 50 primary schools in Belfast and there are two coaches for Belfast. So it’s tough.

“The positive side of it is you see the impact you can have in a short space of time and you think: ‘If I had this time doubled or tripled in this school, this could be really successful.’

“At the moment you’re just touching base, you’re increasing the exposure of the game and what it’s about, but if you’d more time it would be a no-brainer, it would work.”

McCrory, who recently returned to county duty and is available for Antrim’s Joe McDonagh campaign, said: “The job can be frustrating because you see the enjoyment that a child that has never played hurling before, when they run about with a bean bag on the end of their hurl or when they hit a ball for the first time and when they hit the ball over the bar,” he said.

“Hurling, for me, is the most exciting game in the world. Children love these games, they love to play them. You’re in the schools for a short period of time… it’s impossible to keep everybody happy.”

While there are no guarantees ‘Gaelfast’ will work, the £1m funding was much needed in order to give Belfast a chance of improving participation rates in Gaelic Games.

“People need to be patient. It’s not going to be an overnight job. For Antrim to be successful it is going to take time. Dublin’s plan was started way back in the 90s and it wasn’t until the mid-Noughties you saw their hurling teams coming through and their football team is the dominant force now.

“So it’s going to take a while. It’s difficult to put a time-frame on it. Certainly patience is going to be needed but I believe it will work.

“I think Gaelic Games will grow and grow if Croke Park support it and I know the staff that are already there have a passion for Antrim.”


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