The Ulster GAA Council is gearing up for one of its biggest challenges in 2010.
The provincial senior football championship will be staged at the same time that the World Cup finals will be beamed globally from South Africa and Council officials are determined to ensure that their flagship competition maintains its appeal.
Council chairman Tom Daly has already expressed the belief that the championship “is maybe the most open for years” while treasurer Martin McAviney is optimistic that crowds will be maintained at this year’s levels.
“You could hardly ask for a better opener than Derry v Armagh and from then on we have some very tasty matches. The fact that Antrim came through so strongly this year and that Armagh and Down in particular will be very keen to thrive under their new managers really adds spice to the competition,” insists Daly.
McAviney, meanwhile, admits that the failure of the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the World Cup finals could prove a blessing in disguise for the GAA.
“Let’s be brutally honest, if the Republic were in the finals, then this could have had an impact on our attendances as many people would surely have found ways and means of getting to South Africa while thousands more would have been setting up camp in front of television sets in this country,” declares McAviney. “Having said that, we know that, with the recession continuing and other sports vying for the attention of fans, we have to be on our toes. I still believe that the intrinsic appeal of the Ulster Championship will continue to attract supporters.”
Ryan Feeney, the Ulster Council Development officer, reveals that a robust marketing campaign will be set in motion to flag up the championship in a bid to sustain the strong success the competition has enjoyed since the turn of the century.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Council hosted the launch yesterday of a new book by Donal McAnallen, David Hasson and Roddy Hegarty ‘The Evolution of the GAA: Ulaidh, Eire agus Eile’ in the Linenhall Library, Belfast at which McAnallen, brother of the late Cormac McAnallen, highlighted various landmarks in the Association down through the decades.
The book includes a series of personal reflections from a number of high-profile personalities including President Mary McAleese, Cardinal Sean Brady, former GAA President Paddy McFlynn (Down), Maurice Hayes (Down), Jim McKeever (Fermanagh) and Peter Quinn, ex-GAA President (Fermanagh).
Various elements of the GAA are dissected and among the special features are the newly-completed records of all Ulster SFC and SHC results and final teams from 1888 until 2009. The book has been produced in partnership between the Ulster Council, the Cardinal O Fiaich Library and the Ulster Historical Foundation.