Joe Kernan: Belfast second best in tale of two cities
A distance of approximately 106 miles separates Dublin and Belfast. The two cities, of course, boast somewhat contrasting cultures and traditions.
But they are also far removed from each other in relation to the progress both are making in terms of GAA development.
While Dublin is on a high right now in both football and hurling, Belfast is sadly lagging behind the southern capital in terms of coaching structures, overall development and player involvement.
Dublin are certainly dining at the top table, there is no doubt about that.
Manager Pat Gilroy has led his side into the semi-final of the All-Ireland football championship in which they will meet Donegal on Sunday week, they have won the National League hurling title and reached the Leinster and All-Ireland finals, and are also through to the All-Ireland Minor hurling final with a great chance of reaching the All-Ireland U21 hurling decider.
Nor is it by accident that Dublin have made such phenomenal progress over the course of recent years. A massive cash injection — it is difficult to say precisely how much — means that Dublin now boasts more coaches than any other county and is enjoying the kind of under-age headway that is unrivalled elsewhere.
The groundwork was laid a few years ago and now the rich fruits of some hard labour are being enjoyed with the promise of more to come.
It is a measure of just how high the bar has been raised that grave disappointment has been expressed that the Dubs are not through to the All-Ireland hurling final and are actually not being cast as favourites to win the All-Ireland football title.
But there is little doubt that the glint of silverware will be seen in the not too distant future in the city.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Belfast.
And yet the GAA has pumped a considerable sum into the development of hurling and football in the area.
Nor can there be any doubt about the enthusiasm of the Antrim county board to see under-age structures become even more streamlined in a city which has produced many great players in both codes down through the decades.
Chairman Jim Murray, proving a dynamic figure since taking up office, is leading a robust drive to spread the tentacles of gaelic games into as many areas as possible and is spearheading a board which is strongly committed to further cementing the roots of the GAA in the city.
But to do this will require more money. The Dublin model is proving extremely successful and now it is surely time for Belfast to benefit from greater resources both in terms of finance and top-class coaching personnel.
Naturally, with its bigger population, Dublin deserves to get the greatest slice of the cash cake but given the flourishing suburbs that go to make up much of Belfast, money must be found to provide playing facilities and coaching amenities in these areas.
There is tremendous enthusiasm for under-age coaching right now with many people prepared to give their services voluntarily in this connection.
That is most encouraging given that we are still in the throes of a recession and that people have much less money to spend.
Antrim have a committed football boss in Liam Bradley and an impassioned hurling manager in Dinny Cahill — think of the benefits that they might be able to extricate from a cash transfusion.
This would mean that young players get an even better grounding in the skills of hurling and football and in time would then be able to step up comfortably to the senior area.
There will be no quick-fix for Belfast, of course.
Patience will be required while coaches and others will be required to work diligently to bring about a better tomorrow.
While we can look back on the fact that Armagh won the All-Ireland football final in 2002 and Tyrone claimed the trophy in 2003, 2005 and 2008 with Down making it into last year’s final and resurgent Donegal in the last four this year, there is no doubt that Ulster must look ahead rather than dwell on the past or linger in the present.
This means setting new goals and striving to maintain the progress, pro rata, that Dublin has been making.