New GAA President Christy Cooney yesterday launched an ambitions strategy aimed at expanding and strengthening the Association in the Belfast urban area.
The plan ‘Adu Bheal Feirste’ is the product of over two years work by a Strategy Committee headed up by former Antrim secretary Jim Murray.
In emphasising that enhancing the presence of the GAA in Ulster’s biggest city would be one of the core goals of his presidency, Cooney expressed confidence that, with the backing of it’s clubs, Belfast could acquire a much higher profile within the Association.
“This is a very worthwhile initiative and it has only come about because of the work of so many people to date,” he said.
Jim Murray stressed that the plan identified a number of issues which need to be addressed.
“Too many clubs in the city have no pitches and too many do not have proper coaching structures,” he said. “Specific GAA facilities in the Belfast area are inadequate and a substantial increase in provision is required.”
John McSparran, chairman of the Antrim county board, declared that the strategy “is long overdue.”
And he added: “It is not the drawing up the plan that is important, it is delivering on it that is critical. I have to say that maybe some clubs have not weighed in behind it as they should up until now but that will not stop us striving to ensure that the core elements if it are delivered.”
Ulster Council President Tom Daly pinpointed the part played by other bodies and agencies in helping to assimilate information in the formulating the plan.
Junior Minister Gerry Kelly and Down chairman Kevin Bell were other speakers who underlined the importance of the plan in cementing the future of the GAA in Belfast.
Three Down clubs — Bredagh, Carryduff and St Paul’s Hollywood come under the gambit of the Strategy and Bell declared: “ We in Down will give every assistance we can in relation to the delivery of this strategy.”
The re-development of Casement Park into a 40,000-capacity stadium is just one aspect of the Strategy and Ulster Council spokesman Ryan Feeney indicated that the Council is particularly keen to bring this concept to fruition.
“Belfast is the second largest city in Ireland and deserves a stadium such as this envisaged,” said Feeney.
Ulster Director of Coaching Dr Eugene Young will oversee a programme designed to see more coaches appointed in Belfast but Feeney emphasised that the role of volunteers would be central to the Strategy Plan as a whole.
“Obviously the GAA has flourished for 125 years because of the selfless work of volunteers and now in relation to this plan, they will have a key role to play,” added Feeney.
And Christy Cooney quipped: “I know that none of us will be around in 125 years when the GAA is celebrating its 250th anniversary — unless longevity takes on a new meaning — but hopefully there will be a lot to celebrate in Belfast when that time comes.
“There is work to be done but there is evidently a great willingness to bring things forward and herald a new era for the GAA in the city.”