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Huge boost for GAA's growth in Belfast

By Declan Bogue

While the re-development of Casement Park is one of the more eye-catching gestures towards the transformation of the GAA north of the border, the work carried out by the association in conjunction with Belfast City Council will overhaul Gaelic games at grassroots level.

City Council funds of £6million, along with £1million from GAA Central Council, will be used to develop four new GAA sites and eight new pitches in the city.

Belfast City Council's commitment to the future of Gaelic games is further enhanced by their creation of a new role of full-time GAA Development Officer.

West Belfast has always had a high number of GAA clubs, but some have not been fulfilling their potential either as outlets for Gaelic culture or fielding teams.

This is a fact acknowledged by GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy when he says: "In Belfast we have a lot of clubs, but some of them are struggling.

"You want to make it as attractive for kids as possible to play Gaelic games and a way to do that is to have good facilities. If you don't have good facilities, it's much more difficult to attract kids."

The development of the Musgrave Park site has been hugely beneficial for south Belfast club St Brigid's, allowing them to establish a base in an area that would have little if any GAA tradition.

That kind of progress is seen as crucial by Duffy, who insists: "We need more people to play, and we need more facilities for them to play on.

"It would be easier to get them to play if you had better facilities to play on. It would attract players."

Duffy continues: "To be fair to the City Council they are putting in £6million which is a huge thing. That's going ahead, we are putting in £1million and they are putting in £6million so that's brilliant. Fair play to the City Council.

"I think it's important to make the point that there has been a lot of investment in GAA in the north over the last few years.

"We appreciate that hugely. It is part of recognition on both sides, we acknowledge that and appreciate that and that's the way society has to develop with respect more and more, moving slowly together."

However, some perceptions of how the Casement Park project was funded have been cleared up by Duffy, who explains: "Our investment in Casement is up – we are borrowing the money for Casement, we have to pay it back.

"We aren't writing a cheque for £15million and saying, 'away you go'.

"We will borrow the money and pay that back over a long period of time. We simply don't have the resources to do what you are suggesting."

Belfast Telegraph


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