Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

McCrory is determined to inspire the next generation

Antrim v Carlow, Christy Ring Cup Final: Croke Park, Today, 5.00pm

By Declan Bogue

In recent times, Antrim hurling captain Simon McCrory has been spending his free evenings up around Belfast Castle, hiking up Cave Hill and doubling up his active recovery sessions with his Golden Retriever, Joey.

From their vantage point, he looks down across the basin of Belfast and wonders just how much chance there is of the old industrial city becoming a serious hurling force.

It's a question he comes up against daily in his work as a Hurling Development Officer in north Belfast, going into the schools and spreading the word of hurling.

Ask him how that side of it is progressing, and he spells out the potential and the pitfalls.

"Slowly," he said.

"Especially in north Belfast, it is a really untouched area. There are huge areas like Ardoyne, New Lodge and Glengormley in which clubs are doing great work, but there needs to be more coaching, and more support is needed to really make the game grow."

He explains what kind of difficulties arise after the seed of hurling has been planted in a child's mind.

"Soccer is the number one game in that part of the city. Hurling will never grow until there are more volunteers to supplement the amount of kids that could be going," he said.

"I would go into a class of 30 in a certain area of Belfast and say, 'Look, there's club training on tonight', but then I could go back to the club and they might not be ready to take another 30 kids because they have not got enough volunteers.

"Although going into schools is great and you are getting an interest going in the game, some clubs just aren't ready for the influx of kids."

As an atypical hurler himself, McCrory would know.

Brought up in Glengormley, it was through his father Frank that he came to hurl for St John's.

His uncles played inter-county football for Antrim while his mother's family hailed from either side of Lough Melvin, hugging Fermanagh and Leitrim.

On childhood summers, McCrory played a lot of his hurling with family members in Manorhamilton, giving lie to the theory that hurlers are born, not made.

It hasn't stopped him putting together a long spell in Saffron. At the start of the year, former Down footballer and 1994 All-Ireland-winning captain DJ Kane was brought in to put Antrim through some training that would test their mental strength as much as their lungs and hearts.

Of all the players, McCrory was the one he was most impressed with. It came as no surprise to him that the management team named him as their captain.

In his first few years, McCrory was there for the momentous win over Dublin in 2010, before an honourable defeat the week after against Cork.

"Even talking to the lads who have retired since then, the Johnny Campbells, the Micko and Ciaran Herrons, they would probably mark that as the highlight of their career," said the 28-year-old.

"Just something you will always take with you. I have good memories from Croke Park that day, and not so good memories from last year."

Today they face old foes Carlow in the Christy Ring Cup final. The winners will progress and play in the All-Ireland proper. You could say there's plenty of skin in the game.

"Both teams have played each other down through the years and it could be a really good summer for whoever comes out the right end on Saturday, so definitely there's a huge motivating factor there," acknowledged McCrory.

"Not only are you getting silverware, a trophy, but you are getting to go to the top level this year and it is a huge incentive."

When McCrory traces his career from marking John Gardiner in that 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final to now, he sees a lot of managerial upheaval, leading to momentum and players lost to the Saffron cause.

"There are players in my mind, I could definitely see them playing for Antrim and they are not playing," he rued.

"For whatever reason that might be, be it work or whatever, maybe they are a wee bit disillusioned.

"For me, to play county hurling has to come from within and it has always been something I have wanted to do since I was a kid coming to Croke Park to watch Antrim teams play. I was thinking, 'That looks class, I want to do that'."

They have a management that believes in them. Although they might not have the very best players in the county, they certainly have the most committed.

Gazing out onto the Croke Park pitch, McCrory slips into reverie and concludes: "But every time you get to Headquarters, it's just… you get butterflies in your stomach.

"Even now just looking out on the pitch, I am just buzzing, I can't wait to get out there."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph