Antrim set for revival thanks to huge cash boost
Gaelic Games in Belfast are set to be revolutionised by a GAA-led funding plan for Antrim, Saffrons county board chairman Collie Donnelly has informed the Belfast Telegraph.
In what will lend comparisons to Dublin's strategy plan of the late nineties, the Antrim board are preparing to present - by October - a blueprint that will unleash a flood of coaches into clubs and schools.
"(Director General) Paraic Duffy and (President) Aogan O'Fearghail have been in dialogue with the Antrim County Board and we are in the process of presenting a plan. This dialogue has been going on for some time," Donnelly revealed.
"We got together a small group of people to get this plan together, in conjunction with the south Antrim board and the Belfast clubs, that is going to reach out to the primary, secondary and grammar schools.
"They are giving the right vibes if we come up with something that is sustainable over a period of time."
The exact amounts will be worked out after Antrim present their plan, but this has come about with the GAA growing ever more aware of population shifts towards the east of Ireland, and will apply also to counties in Leinster.
As to how the funding will be used, Donnelly insisted: "The core of it would be coaching and games. It's not for infrastructure or capital investment. It will be troops on the field.
"I think currently Antrim have something like five coaches. We would be hoping to at least double that, or maybe more.
"We have to work it through, it has to be sustainable. I think in the past we have had lots of plans, but we need to make this work over a period of time."
Former county hurling co-manager Dominic McKinley - who stepped down from the post just under a fortnight ago after winning the Ulster title - has spoken of the need for funding in coaching children to ensure less talent is lost between the ages of 16 to 18 when typically children are leaving school or going on to higher education.
McKinley is part of the county board sub-committee devising the plan and he revealed: "It was something we wanted to keep quiet until everything is a bit more realistic.
"Now we know the money is there, there will be a structured plan for it. There are ideas from all different aspects through the clubs, county, Belfast in general."
McKinley welcomes the additional funding, but is cautious about how best to deploy it.
As a coach in the primary schools, he believes there has to be an evangelical attachment to the work and the right coaches need to be identified.
"It is critical to get all the proper people, the proper coaches and people who care about what we are doing," he said.
"You just cannot give the jobs to people who don't care - they have to care about Belfast and care about hurling in Antrim in general, in my personal view.
"There has to be passion and desire, to get creative people and drive it on, be at it the whole time and tuned into it, like a county manager. It has to be self-driven."
Having spent the last number of years coaching for the Antrim board, visiting schools in the county, McKinley is positive that there is an appetite for Gaelic Games in the county and Antrim can re-emerge as a force, like Dublin have in both codes over the last decade.
"The benefit (to schools coaching) is when you walk in through the door, the joy you bring to a child's day through hurling and camogie - even the ones who are not interested in it," McKinley said.
"What you are doing is planting a seed and that youngster might go away and want to play for a club.
"It's a proven fact that it does work because we audit the work that we do when we go into the classroom and ask how many are involved in the GAA and how many go to the club.
"People know what they are doing and there are targets set. If we can make Belfast greater, then that's better for the whole of Antrim. That's what it's all about."
On what is an exciting development for the county as a whole, chairman Donnelly added: "People had ideas before, but the difference might be that the GAA centrally are committed to this.
"For the first time, we have real substance to something. We are hoping it will be the start of something."
Previous development plans in Antrim, such as the 'Belfast Rising' document, have fallen by the wayside due to lack of support. However, a number of capital projects have shown remarkable progress in recent times.
The Dunsilly Complex, a training ground for county teams initially scheduled to be built between 2006 and 2011, is expected to have some pitches opened in the coming months.
Belfast club St Brigid's have opened a new pavilion, while St Agnes' are now using a new 4G facility on the Finaghy Road.
Other projects, such as the re-development of the 'Cricky' for Ardoyne, and pitches in the Falls Park are ongoing.