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Ulster GAA's new leader is facing five huge challenges

Bigger picture: an overhaul of the Casement Park redesign is crucial to get the redevelopment up and running
Bigger picture: an overhaul of the Casement Park redesign is crucial to get the redevelopment up and running
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Now that the Ulster Council have named Danny Murphy's successor as the new secretary, we look at the chief areas of concern for their appointment, Brian McAvoy of the Burren club in Down...

1. Move Casement on

Some time ago, the Ulster Council presented findings of a community outreach programme, holding that the local population were overwhelmingly in favour of the rebuilding of Casement Park.

Accusations could be levelled that this is merely window-dressing while the real business of stadium redesign is going on in the background.

To that end, a radical overhaul of the proposed design should be given due consideration. The insistence on becoming the GAA's first all-seater stadium is puzzling as they could produce something along the lines of a modern-day Nowlan Park, which caters in a limited fashion for those who still wish to stand on a terrace at matches.

2. Whither, hurling?

Millions of pounds have been spent in the pursuit of coaching and development of Gaelic games in Ulster over the last decade. Each county have, or are getting, up to speed with the purpose of development squads and skills acquisition, with coaching courses readily available to set aspiring club underage coaches on the right road.

Yet the question we have to ask is, what has happened to hurling in the last decade? And the only answer is death by a thousand cuts.

Cavan stopped fielding entirely in the National Leagues back in 2011 and there is no sign of them coming back. Fermanagh are down to one remaining club, while even the standard bearers of Antrim and Down have fallen to unplumbed depths.

As a former Down Hurling Chairman, McAvoy will be keenly aware that Ulster stand on a precipice.

3. Get them back through the gates

Back in 2011, the Ulster Council blamed poor weather as a contributing factor for their overall attendance of 102,700 at the Ulster Football Championship. That year's final featured Donegal's breakthrough against Derry, with only 28,363 in St Tiernach's Park.

The following year, the Ulster Council cut prices and attendances leapt by 16%. This was accompanied by a vigorous marketing effort that featured heavily with digital media and their website traffic was rejuvenated.

This was built upon year-on-year, to the point that the 2015 Championship was attended by no fewer than 142,850 souls.

In 2016, 171,329 went through the turnstiles, but this was artificially inflated by replays between Tyrone and Cavan, and Donegal and Monaghan, counties that are traditionally strongly supported.

Overall, the average attendance is down. This requires urgent action, not a laissez-faire approach.

4. Go clubbing

It has been pointed out that Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly was making just his third competitive appearance in three months in the All-Ireland final when he had his mishap. The reason for this is a familiar one to successful counties, in that county action frequently shuts down domestic club activity with no end in sight.

A little restructuring of the Ulster Championship - say, the preliminary round played on a Saturday and a quarter-final on a Sunday, two other quarter-finals played over one weekend - would free up weekends for club activity and engender goodwill, rather than occasional resentment, from clubs to the county scene.

5. Keep on trucking

No sporting body could do without some level of watchdog-surveillance, but there are many fine activities the Ulster Council are responsible for.

Who could argue with the 'Game of Three Halves' that brings children together to experience soccer, rugby and Gaelic games in a non-denominational environment.

Nor their other projects not directly related to the games, such as the 'live to play' campaign that highlights the importance of road safety.

McAvoy needs to maintain this impressive body of work in social responsibility, along with other initiatives including unionist outreach programmes.

Belfast Telegraph


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