Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Club scene provides reminder that GAA is building on solid ground

There will be an opportunity to draw breath in the interval between the end of the Allianz League and the start of the Ulster Championship.

But while inter-county fare will be at a premium during this period, club competitions will be in full swing in virtually every county.

And this will certainly serve to highlight the excellent facilities which the vast majority of clubs in the province now boast.

It's thanks to a combination of help from the Ulster Council, Sport NI and their own fund-raising efforts that clubs now have fine training lights – quite a number also have full-scale floodlighting – and fine premises which not only serve the interests of the GAA but which prove the nerve centre of the community.

Not all that many years ago players were forced to tog out behind hedges, in cars or indeed by the roadside.

Thankfully that embarrassing era has passed and the GAA has led the way in the creation of amenities that have helped to make it the vibrant body that it is today. When I took the Crossmaglen Rangers side to face Lurgan club St Paul's last Sunday, I was amazed at the transformation of the venue from I was last there.

Two magnificent pitches, lighting, a superb clubhouse and generous hospitality all combined to make the visit a pleasure.

Time was when visiting teams made a hasty departure but nowadays tea and sandwiches are laid on and this helps to foster relations between clubs.

The Ulster Council has led the way in encouraging clubs to think big and while this obviously means incurring debt, it also ensures the future of the GAA in all areas of the province.

Even in the most remote parts, club facilities are excellent and this is one of the main reasons I feel why the Association has been able to ride out the effects of the recession and emigration both of which have made savage inroads into many clubs.

Players can now take a justifiable pride in their club and know that fine pitches and spacious premises confirm that the future will be bright.

The GAA is not simply all about a packed Croke Park, multi-million euro television deals, generous sponsorship packages and high-powered meetings.

It is in essence about people at grassroots level putting all their energies into sporting pursuits they love in the hope that they will leave a rich legacy for those who will come after them.

The unceasing work that has been done in this connection is there for all to see in Ulster in particular and it's understandable that clubs take such great pride in the headquarters they have constructed and in the playing talent they are nurturing.

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