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Antrim future looking bright

The progress which any team makes in either the All Ireland football or hurling championships is often taken as a barometer of the relative strength of the GAA within that county.

This being the case, Antrim chairman Jim Murray has plenty to smile about today.

Not only will the Saffrons bid to land a 10th Ulster senior hurling crown on the trot when they face Armagh in Sunday's final at Casement Park but the county is still very much involved in the All-Ireland football Qualifiers in which they will host Carlow on Saturday week.

But while Murray clearly relishes the headway that is being made on the field of play in both codes, he is particularly delighted with major off-field developments which he feels will bring long-term benefits to the county.

Belfast is one of the cities targeted under the GAA's ambitious Urban Regeneration programme with huge resources about to be pumped in to further nurture the growth of gaelic games, while the planned redevelopment of Casement Park, which will see it transformed into a 40,000 capacity stadium, is due to get under way next year.

The Belfast City Council's Sports Pitches Strategy is also expected to reap dividends for GAA clubs.

Murray heads up a county board that is clearly determined to leave a rich legacy in terms of coaching structures and playing amenities for future generations.

"We are moving forward on all fronts and this is tremendously encouraging," says the Antrim chairman.

"We are in the Ulster hurling final this weekend and we are still very much involved in the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers in which we could face Clare, Galway or Limerick when the draw is made on Sunday.

"And it's great to see our footballers in the second round of their qualifiers following that win over Westmeath last weekend.

"The performances of our county teams in both codes is hugely important in terms of Antrim's overall profile - indeed, this is the case in every county."

Murray is playing a key role in helping to implement the strategy which is designed to see improved facilities provided for gaelic games in Belfast in particular.

And he believes that the performances of the county teams can do much to spark interest in gaelic games at all levels within Antrim as a whole.

"I welcome the moves to propagate GAA, especially in Belfast as this is long overdue.

"Many clubs do not have their own grounds but proposals to provide more pitches at places like Woodlands, Falls Park, Cherryvale, Cliftonville and Musgrave Park will surely mark a big step forward," says Murray.

He points to the fact that several clubs such as St Malachy's have not had a home to call their own despite continuing to undertake splendid work in terms of coaching young players.

"It's very heartening to know that a club like St Malachy's may now get their own ground.

"There are other clubs as well who have been leading something of a nomadic existence and hopefully they will be adequately catered for under the projects which are in hand," adds Murray.

Belfast Telegraph