Hurling and camogie

GAA Hall of Famer Terence McNaughton says Gaelfast can save hurling in Antrim

Terence McNaughton rallies his troops during his stint as Antrim manager
Andy Watters

GAELFAST must be a success or Antrim hurling faces a slide into obscurity, warns new GAA Hall of Famer Terence McNaughton.

The Ruairi Og clubman, a key cog in the last Antrim team to reach the All-Ireland final (in 1989) and later his county’s manager, was honoured for his achievements at a ceremony at Croke Park yesterday alongside fellow hurlers Nicky English (Tipperary) and Conor Hayes (Galway) and footballers Colm O’Rourke (Meath), Dennis ‘Ogie’ Moran (Kerry) and Larry Tompkins (Cork).

After receiving his award the affable Cushendall native spoke with typical passion on the need for Gaelfast – the five-year initiative aimed at promoting Gaelic Games in schools across Belfast – to bear fruit. The scheme was launched last year and McNaughton says it is vital that it produces a new generation of hurlers in the city.

“North Antrim, places like Cushendall, are going to be struggling in a few years because of population. There’s no houses being built and we’re dying,” he said.

“Belfast (clubs) have won one county championship in 30 years (O’Donovan Rossa in 2004). Belfast is where the easiest growth for the game of hurling is and Gaelfast has to work. There’s no grey area, if it doesn’t work we may forget about it.

“This is our last chance and they need to put the effort into it big time because Belfast is the one place where we can start growing the game. You can’t grow the game in north Antrim any more than it is grown.”

Declining numbers saw the amalgamation of the three Catholic Maintained secondary schools in north Antrim - St MacNissi's College, Garron Tower, St Comgall's College (Larne), and St Aloysius High School, (Cushendall) - into St Killian’s College. McNaughton fears the same could happen to the region’s hurling clubs.

“In 20 years’ time I see north Antrim clubs amalgamating because of population,” he said.

“Cushendun and ourselves are struggling, our primary schools are getting smaller and smaller every year right through the whole of north Antrim. Dunloy is the one area that kicks that because the houses are cheaper but Cushendall and Cushendun are more or less retirement towns now.

“People are buying up houses to retire at the seaside and young people can’t afford them.

“There are four primary schools in the area and I was told that between them there are 29 P1s and out of them 11 are boys – so you don’t need to be a genius to work out where we are going to get hurlers out of in 20 years’ time.

“We work very hard as a club to try and get every kid involved, we need the five kids who don’t want to hurl to make up a team for the five who are going to come through to senior. They have to stay involved and you have to work with them and encourage them.

“As a coach, I have coached every age group in Cushendall and we’ll get as many players out of bad teams as we get out of good teams to keep the club alive at senior level.”

While Gaelfast is the key to Antrim’s long-term success, McNaughton is optimistic that new Antrim manager Darren Gleeson is a good appointment to lead the county. The Tipperary native first linked up with Antrim during McNaughton’s reign and he has taken over from Neal Peden for next season.

“I’m excited about Gleeson,” he said.

“He’s not coming in cold, he was there when we brought (Liam) Sheedy up. He came in, he knows the players, the players like him, I’m helping out with St Enda’s this year and he was at our game looking at players, talking about players, he’s doing the right things. He’s a good coach and the players like him.”

It is highly unlikely that Gleeson will ever lead Antrim out at the county’s spiritual west Belfast home, Casement Park. Ambitions plans for the redevelopment of the stadium have been shelved and McNaughton says the current situation is “a mortal sin”.

“How important is it for Liverpool to have Anfield?” he asked.

“How important is it for Celtic to have Celtic Park? It’s ridiculous. What has happened there was just pure and utter bad management. It’s scandalous what’s going on.

“We can put people on the moon but we can’t build a stadium in Belfast! Now they’re talking about putting a bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland… Give me a break.

“Where is the common sense here? Just build the stadium. We want it, whether it’s 20,000, 40,000… I don’t really care.

“We need a base, we need a home. We’ve no home. Generations were lost that will never play in Casement Park, it’s a mortal sin and the powers that be need to sort this out now.”

Accompanied by family and friends McNaughton was a popular and deserving recipient of the Hall of Fame award at Croke Park yesterday.

Joking about how he was the “token Ulsterman” he explained: “It’s a great honour.

“It’s a great honour for my club, I have the club tie on today. You could fill the Croke Park pitch with people who should be here today.

“It’s a lovely honour and I hope it’s a lovely honour for my club and the people that coached me. People like Jim Nelson and Alec Emerson and Brian Thompson, God rest him and God rest Jim.

“To even be talked about in the like of this (the GAA Hall of Fame) is a great honour and a great achievement.”

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