Folow us on social media

Sign up to our mailing list

shirleyvalentine

Growth of hurling in Belfast key to future Antrim success: McNaughton

Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton (second from left) with fellow GAA Hall of Fame inductees (L-R) Nicky English and Conor Hayes, and former footballers Colm O'Rourke, Larry Tompkins and Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran at Croke Park last week. The Naomh Éanna senior hurling manager has stressed the importance of Antrim getting its GaelFast project right to ensure the growth of hurling in the county if it wants to get back challenging at the top Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton (second from left) with fellow GAA Hall of Fame inductees (L-R) Nicky English and Conor Hayes, and former footballers Colm O'Rourke, Larry Tompkins and Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran at Croke Park last week. The Naomh Éanna senior hurling manager has stressed the importance of Antrim getting its GaelFast project right to ensure the growth of hurling in the county if it wants to get back challenging at the top
By David Mohan

TERENCE ‘Sambo’ McNaughton has insisted the future of Antrim hurling lies with the growth of the game in the city and believes the GaelFast programme is something of a last chance saloon.

The Naomh Éanna manager and Cushendall native was inducted into the GAA Hall of Fame in Croke Park last week alongside Tipperary’s Nicholas English and Galway’s Conor Hayes, while a trio of ex-footballers in Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran of Kerry, Meath’s Colm O’Rourke and Cork’s Larry Tompkins were also honoured.

McNaughton has never been shy to voice his opinion on where the game is heading in Antrim and beyond, but during his spell as manager of the Glengormley club this year has seen chinks of light.

Naomh Éanna are Antrim’s biggest club in terms of numbers and with the hurlers involved in Saturday’s Intermediate Hurling Championship final having already secured promotion to Division One for 2020, McNaughton believes they can become a force in years to come should they continue along the same path they are on.

“For the first time in history you will have Cushendall, Loughgiel and Dunloy heading to Hightown in the league next year,” said the 1991 All-Star.

“I know they’re going to find it tough against those teams, but the only way a club can progress is by playing these teams. Maybe, five years down the road they won’t as St Enda’s can grow into being serious contenders over the next five-to-ten years. They have something the rest of us don’t have – numbers.”

The huge numbers at the Hightown club are in stark contrast to many others with clubs some struggling to field or forced into underage amalgamations, while others in North Antrim are also feeling the pressure with not the same amount of youngsters in the area to join teams.

“They (Naomh Éanna) have something to work with and you can’t go and try to work with somewhere that doesn’t – that’s the fundamental difference,” he continued.

“St Enda’s can grow and become great, but you look at somewhere like Cushendun and they just can’t. That’s a harsh reality, but a fact of life.

“Cushendun will not be contesting for a Senior Championship over the next 10 years whereas St Enda’s could be. When I leave St Enda’s, what I want to leave behind me is that they can be a force within our county producing county players to help the game of hurling.

“The game of hurling has to survive and it has to be in Belfast because that’s where it’s going to grow.”

The GaelFast initiative has seen an attempt to revive Gaelic Games, primarily in the city with dwindling numbers a real threat to the games going forward.

It will take a little time for the initiative to bear fruit, but it simply has to work according to McNaughton who fears for the future should things go awry.

However, there are signs that hurling in the city – while not at the same level of 30 years ago when McNaughton played in an All-Ireland final and Rossa contested the All-Ireland Club decider – is starting to move back in the right direction.

“I don’t mean to put pressure on the boys running Gaelfast, but this has to work,” he insists.

“Belfast has to become a serious force within Antrim hurling and I don’t just mean St John’s or Rossa – that’s everybody.

“Belfast has numbers where the rest of us don’t. I’m only stating the facts, not being controversial, but anyone with a bit of gumption can see you have to grow the game where you can grow it. There’s no point in putting it in places where it can’t.

“You have St Enda’s in a county final and could have had St John’s in a senior final, so there are the signs that Belfast’s coming back to life again.”

Please follow and like us: