By Kevin Herron
Sky Sports Game Centre ambassadors Neil McManus and Kieran Donaghy were full of praise for the Gaelfast project.
Speaking after the joint initiative between Gaelfast and Sky Sports at St. Mary’s CBGS on Thursday afternoon – Antrim star McManus described Gaelfast as massive and has called for Antrim clubs to roll in behind it.
“Gaelfast is going to be massive and I mean massive!” believes McManus.
“We need to get on the back of that as clubs and club people and push that everywhere we possibly can. It’s a great step in the right direction and hopefully the funding will be increased so it can spread even further”.
McManus enjoyed his second visit to the Glen Road venue and meeting with Kerry legend Donaghy. The Ruairi Og clubman felt that the children got a huge insight into the duos experience in the game.
“It was a great day” reflected McManus.
“He [Kieran] is a legend of the GAA – he’s a great way about him with the kids and they enjoyed it and at the end of the day that’s was the main thing about the day – that the kids had a great time and were afforded an insight into both myself and Kieran’s GAA experience”.
McManus hit 0-04 in last weekend’s Joe McDonagh Cup opener against Kerry and ahead of the weekend clash with Laois at O’Moore Park is hopeful the Saffrons can build on their victory in Dunloy.
“A good start is half the work” said McManus.
“It was a good start made and everyone is in a good mood – but Laois are a different animal from Kerry, let’s be honest about it. It’s away, it’s a tougher assignment – but we’re looking forward to it and hoping for another win”.
Kerry legend Kieran Dongahy is another big supporter of the Gaelfast initiative and insists that he was impressed with the plans that Paul Donnelly’s organisation has in the pipeline.
“It [Gaelfast] is a brilliant initiative” Donaghy admits.
“Awareness is big, pushing it is big and people that want to drive it is huge – you have to want to drive it and I think from talking to the lads, they’re really ambitious – which is what you need. It is has to start with youth! Youths have to be enjoying it – the aim of the Sky Sports Super Games initiative is to enjoy it, but then when you get up to 17-18 and you’re playing minor – you’ve got be serious, practising and taking it to the extra level up”.
“The future is bright if the lads keeping doing what they’re doing and some of the plans that they were telling me – if they get put in place it will be great for all gaels around Belfast and Antrim in general”.
Famed for his performances on the Gaelic football field and basketball courts – Dongahy joined the backroom team of the Galway hurlers as the tribesmen aim to reclaim the Liam McCarthy Cup, following defeat to Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland final.
Donaghy does not see too much difference between Gaelic and hurling and hopes that his impact can help the Galway forward in their movement.
“It’s still 35-fellas and what I’ve been used to during the last 15-16 years” revealed Donaghy.
“They’re running around with sticks -which makes it different and the ball is smaller, harder and travels faster so there’s not much difference. I’m really enjoying it, they’re a great bunch of guys – they’re obviously a very talented team. I’m looking to see if I can bring half a per cent of things on the forward and movement side of it.
“That was a big part of my game – moving around, I wasn’t fast really; I was big, awkward and slow but I was able to win ball out in front of me for most of my career. That was a big part of it so it’s hugely enjoyable so far”.
Donaghy was full of praise for the Joe McDonagh Cup and referenced Carlow as the bench-mark for this year’s participants. He is also of the opinion that the football championship should follow the hurling structure with promotion and relegation to the Sam Maguire.
“It was a huge win for Antrim” feels Donaghy.
“It’s like the Munster Championship for the Liam McCarthy and the Leinster Championship – then you’ve got the Joe McDonagh, it’s super competitive and the way that the football championship should be going”.
“Getting teams that are on a similar level, but they can rise up a level – if they put in a lot of work in and get really good and strong – they can move onto the next level. Carlow are your example this year. They drew with Galway in the league and pushed us right to the pin of our collar at Salthill last week. They’re competing at Liam McCarthy level and that’s how close the Joe McDonagh is – but you have to be playing well and winning in Joe McDonagh to be at that level”.
“If you’re not winning at Joe McDonagh; you’re just not there yet. You’ve to work with the younger structure, work your way up, get a team that’s going to believe, put the steps in place for them and it gets there. That should be how the GAA football championship works – in my eyes, Division Three and Division Four teams should be playing for a cup”.
“If they’re in a final or the last four they get promoted and the four teams that didn’t perform for the Sam Maguire get relegated – it’s pretty simple. It would be a way of getting teams that are a similar level; playing throughout the summer, when you can take your kids and family to games were it’s not freezing cold. National League weather – when you’re standing on the sideline with hail stones hitting the side of your face”.
“I follow Kerry Hurling obviously – you always keep an eye out for their results. They’re saying can we be Carlow and what can we do to be Carlow? You’ve teams striving to be a Carlow. They’ll get up and compete with Galway and suddenly you realise we’re not too far away. Youngsters will be going to games and watching their players against Joe Canning, Patrick Horgan and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer – they’re watching that and all of a sudden they’re saying I could be playing against these guys. It’s huge to them”.
Despite representing the Kingdom – Dongahy also grew up in Tyrone as a child and admits to having an affiliation to the North of Ireland. The 36-year old would be interested in a return to Belfast next year for a similar promotion and revealed his support of the city of Belfast.
“I’m up here every year playing Basketball in the Belfast basketball classics” he said.
“I’m sure I could come here around again around the same time this next year to promote the event – I lived in Tyrone for a while so I I’ve always had an affiliation with the North. Belfast was always obviously a very dangerous time; when I a 5-year old living in Tyrone, but I’ve been blown away by how much the city has came on. Every time I’ve came up here in the last four or five years – I’ve really enjoyed it”.
“The city looks really good, the bars are hoping and the vibes are good around the place. We came here with the basketball team this year – we usually stay in Dublin during the year and I said – lads we’ve got to stay in Belfast – it’s a great city, we’re going to have a long journey, so let’s go up and stay. The whole team came up and stayed in the hotel – we all went out with the Belfast lads after the game, they took us to a few bars and clubs and we had a massive night. Id be happy to return again”.