Hurling and camogie

Henry Joy McCracken's appeal to Antrim county board to let them hurl

Members of the Henry Joy McCracken's hurling club in Alexandra Park in north Belfast yesterday Picture by Hugh Russell
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

MEMBERS of a newly-formed hurling club in north Belfast have expressed their frustration at what they say is an unreasonable delay in their official ratification by the Antrim county board.

Henry Joy McCracken's hurling club was launched in February this year along with the Mary Ann McCracken camogie club to serve the lower Antrim road area of the city, which includes Newington, the New Lodge and Carrick Hill. Six months on, while the camogie club has been ratified by the Antrim camogie authorities, Henry Joy's is still awaiting the official thumbs up from the county board.

While the club's case is due to go before a full meeting of the Antrim county board in September, Henry Joy's chairman Gabhain Curran says this will leave their fate in the hands of upwards of 40 other clubs and that the county officers should make a call before the summer is out.

“We applied in February to become a new club covering what would be the catchment areas of Pearse's and Wolfe Tone's football clubs, including Greencastle, the lower Antrim road and the New Lodge,” Curran said.

“Neither club have an issue with the initiative and, while a tentative partnership with the Wolfe Tone's ended at an early stage, we have communicated this clearly throughout to the county board.

“We have been told that registering a new club is a long process but I have a fair bit of experience in the development side of Gaelic games. I am a former member of St Enda's and helped get their camogie team back off the ground a number of years ago. In 2015, I helped get the Loch Mór Dál gCáis club up and running around the Crumlin area and, as far as I remember, the process of ratification took about two months from start to finish.

“Since February, the county board have come to us with numerous requests, including the training of committee members, safeguarding training, evidence of a bank account, a list of players and a five-to-10-year development plan – we have met every one of those requests.

“But now we're being told that the ratification issue has to go before a full county board meeting in September which means the future of hurling in the New Lodge and Carrick Hill will be in the hands of 48 other clubs, some from as far away as Cushendall and Cushendun.”

Curran says the nascent Henry Joy's have been actively putting down roots in the community and now have upwards of 30 senior and 40 underage players who have been training on a regular basis throughout north Belfast.

“In reality, we're not asking for much off the county board,” he added.

“We just want ratification so all of our players can be properly registered. We don't want anything – we're not asking for money, we're not asking for a pitch. We've already been given an official email address by the board but now we're asked being to wait longer without any certainty and a lot of members are getting frustrated.

“We've had a lot of community involvement since we launched. We've organised sponsored walks and a night at the races to raise money for hurls and helmets for kids. We're starting up with a youth group in Carrick Hill, taking them once or twice a week for basic hurling skills. This part of north Belfast is particularly diverse and we're trying to tap into that to encourage people from all background to become hurlers.

“Our basic point is that, as per the rules, the county executive can ratify us without having to wait for a full board meeting. The executive should take the decision and then explain to us clearly the reasons for their decision.

‘Hurling is dying in Belfast and without the likes of Henry Joy's and Mary Ann's there's going to be a lot less kids playing it. What's the point of being a UNESCO sport if we're not trying to grow and protect it?”

The Antrim county board was contacted for comment, but no one was available at the time of going to press.

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Hurling and camogie