Antrim to benefit from Dublin-style financial backing
The GAA wants to awake its 'sleeping giant'.
In the grand surroundings of Belfast City Hall on Friday afternoon, the GAA officially launched Gaelfast, its five-year plan to promote and develop the participation of Gaelic games in Ireland's second-biggest city.
Gaelfast is the GAA's biggest-ever non-capital initiative north of the border. Bankrolled by a healthy investment in excess of £1 million, its driving aim is to increase participation of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie in Northern Irish schools.
Addressing a room full of important-looking people, some appropriately sporting saffron ties, Antrim county hearings committee chairperson Pat O'Hagan called it 'a special day.'
Gaelfast is tasked with reinvigorating the GAA in Belfast. It will officially commence in September 2018, with a view to increasing membership levels of GAA clubs across Belfast.
"Today, with the launch of this Gaelfast programme, for Antrim Gaels and those further afield will welcome this as a new beginning for Gaelic games in Belfast," Antrim county chairman Colin "Collie" Donnelly said.
"This investment will allow us to provide the resources which we believe will be a new and exciting era for the youth of our city. This will be an opportunity to showcase our association and the benefits it offers, particularly at grassroots levels with primary schools.
"With positive news hopefully in the near future on Casement Park, the timing of this programme can only enhance the future development of Gaelic games throughout the city."
In the press release, Donnelly added: "GAA in Belfast is a sleeping giant and this initiative will provide real impetus to Gaelic games. Indeed over the past number of years we have seen a big increase in participation levels in GAA by schools from a range of community backgrounds, which has been fantastic."
GAA Launches Biggest Ever Initiative in North to Support Gaelic Games in Belfast
• ‘Gaelfast’, a 5 Year Plan to promote Gaelic games in schools across Belfast
• Specialist GAA Coaching opportunities for Belfast Schools
• In excess of £1m funding for the initiative pic.twitter.com/oqkyW84WDG
— Antrim GAA (@AontroimGAA) April 13, 2018
Hailing the launch of Gaelfast as a 'special occasion', GAA president John Horan said: "It's only in investment in youth that we create future generations. I have always viewed the GAA as a baton that is passed from one generation to the next and if we neglect the development of any one generation in any period of time, we knock the organisation back considerably.
"Coming from where I do, in Dublin, I have seen the benefits of an investment in its city area to allow wakening up the GAA within the actual community. And the GAA is more than just playing games, it's about community spirit, it's about health and wellbeing and it's about dealing with issues that teenagers find difficult, like obesity and other such situations.
"This plan is about getting good people with expertise who will drive on the initiatives. It's about drawing in the youth of Belfast and getting them involved in our organisation.
"I'm confident this plan will deliver results but it won't happen overnight but I'm sure everyone is committed to the plan and we'll get that delivery."
In his closing statement, Horan said he hoped Gaelfast will ultimately bring Antrim footballers, hurlers and camogs greater success on the field.
They need it.
The Antrim hurlers haven't appeared in an All-Ireland final since 1989, while the last time the Saffron footballers clinched a provincial title was 1951.
The launch of Gaelfast is the start of what the GAA hopes will be a bright future for Antrim. Horan alluded to how Dublin GAA has benefitted from major investment, and while the Saffrons have a long road ahead of them before they're able to hold a candle to the Dubs, Antrim Gaels will surely view this is a significant step in the right direction towards the ultimate ambition: winning.