Hurling-only clubs could help GAA thrive in Belfast: McKinley
Antrim hurling joint-manager Dominic McKinley has called for the establishment of two exclusively hurling clubs in the heart of Belfast after the £1million pledge for the five-year 'Gaelfast' project was unveiled to help boost playing numbers in the city.
A schools coach himself, McKinley sees major potential in the long-anticipated programme, but believes new clubs will thrive if they concentrate and take a single-minded approach, with two other exclusively Gaelic football clubs formed as well.
"The one thing I would love to see happen, and I don't stand back from the things I want to say, but one of the things I would like to see is two individual hurling and camogie clubs coming out of it. I would love to see how that works," said the former All-Ireland Club champion with Loughgiel Shamrocks.
"I would like to see some single-minded focus on hurling.
"The problem is that most of these clubs don't have the numbers to create a dual club, and when you have to share the players there is serious friction coming down the line."
McKinley believes the funding is not before its time, stating: "It wasn't really jealousy, but we were wondering why all the funding was going to Dublin. People in Belfast might have got word that money was coming over the years and were annoyed when it didn't come.
"I am based in north Antrim but I worked in Belfast for six months because somebody was off sick. I went to Edmund Rice school (in Glengormley, with an intake of roughly 1,100 pupils).
"I was in there for six months and during that time they didn't know me - and I am not saying they should have known me, but they knew nothing about Antrim, they didn't know a player from the Antrim hurlers, and I would say out of the whole school there might have been 20 people who hurled."
However, once he got started he found that the pupils took the game to their hearts.
"Once you went in there and had the fun and the carry-on, you were seen as a time to have a bit of fun, and that's what people are going to have to do," he said.
"They have to go in and make a connection with children, they're going to have to stand up against different sports, to compete with them. We have to make our sport attractive, enjoyable and fun."
Now that the recruitment of a regional manager and coaches is ongoing, McKinley, who played in the 1989 All-Ireland hurling final for the Saffrons, believes identifying the successful candidates is crucial.
"The appointment of the people who are going to be doing this, first and foremost they are going to have a serious energy about them, they have got to care deeply about it and want to see this working," he said.
"They have got to want to play a part in Belfast hurling and, when they leave here, it is going to be in a better place."
In the meantime, he is putting the blow of being relegated from Division 1B of the National League behind him and looking at Antrim's journey in the new Joe McDonagh Cup, which begins on May 5 with a tie against Meath, who defeated Antrim in the 2016 Christy Ring Cup final after a replay.
The county panel has been bolstered in recent weeks by the return of former captain Simon McCrory and accurate forward Ciaran Clarke.
"They are huge additions," said McKinley. "Who knows, if we had have had those two players, maybe we would have been looking at making the quarter-finals of the National League.
"We are disappointed in the National League, we weren't disappointed in the players' attitude and their work, their training or their attitude towards Antrim. It was a most enjoyable year and great to get back up there in the limelight.
"That's one thing that does attract young people to matches in Belfast, where we played the Dublin match. You could see the energy in the young people out watching them.
"It's no disrespect to the other teams, the Galways, Dublins and Limericks tend to draw the attention of people, the media and so on.
"But we still had that year back in it and maybe that will give us a taster to get back there again."