By Kevin Herron
The sun shone brightly over the Glen Road on Thursday afternoon and the stars appeared at St. Mary’s CBGS as Antrim Hurling star Neil McManus and Kerry Gaelic football legend Kieran Donaghy were part of a visit to the famous GAA school.
In a joint venture between Gaelfast and Sky Sports Super Games – McManus and Donaghy took part in a Q and A with pupils before overlooking a series of matches on St. Mary’s pristine pitches that lie in the shadow of Black Mountain.
Ruairi Og and Saffron star McManus was guest of honour two years ago as St. Mary’s broke a Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest Hurling lesson and was delighted to be back at a school he calls the hub of Hurling in West Belfast.
“St. Mary’s is turning into a hub for Hurling in West Belfast and certainly for the generation of participation” believes McManus.
“That’s what we need – more children in Belfast playing Hurling and St. Mary’s are putting a massive effort into it. It’s great to see the Sky Super Challenge centre coming to West Belfast”.
Gaelfast Hurling enthusiast and Coach Antoin McCaffrey explains that they hope to roll out the Sky Sports Super Game initiatives to clubs and community schemes by the autumn of 2019 and explained the benefits of participation.
“Gaelfast has introduced the Sky Sports Super Games intitative to post primary schools in order to promote GAA for 12-17 year olds” explained McCaffrey.
“Super Games Centres can be set-up in a school, club or community context with the aim of youths attending and playing small sided games without the competition element, so that more fun can be had. Sky Sports also provide with a pack of free equipment”.
“Gaelfast has worked with Croke Park to get Sky Sports and some very special guests along today to see wonderful GAA community that St. Mary’s school has – and they didn’t disappoint with over 130 kids out playing our games. St. Mary’s were extremely accommodating today and they deserve all the praise for what was a wonderful day. The school has been a real driving force behind GAA in Belfast”.
“Gaelfast are currently working with post-primary schools up and down the county via the Sky Sports Super Games initiative and plan to introduce it to the club and community scene in the autumn of 2019. The footage from today will be used in the Championship review on July 3rd on Sky Sports”.
Making his first appearance to St. Mary’s CBGS was three time All-Star and four time All-Ireland winner Kieran Donaghy.
The Kerry native was very impressed with the participation by the children and feels that the youngsters have everything ahead of them.
“I had a great day at St. Mary’s CBGS – I hear that it’s a school enriched in GAA success” said Donaghy.
“There were so many unbelievably talented kids in both gaelic and hurling – you can tell there is a lot of good GAA people in school because every kid in every team was participating. There was no kid sitting out or not wanting to do it, everybody was involved”.
“It’s huge and I could see it driving through the city – kids have the hurl in the hand and it’s great for the identity of the GAA- being Irish and playing the game. It’s brilliant and the school is obviously heavily involved in driving that – which is absolutely brilliant for the kids because they are getting every advantage in the lovely facilities here”.
“The world is their oyster at this stage – they’re all youngsters and they can be anything they want. It’s kind of like the moment of real potential when you see the Year eight pupils coming through because they have everything ahead of them”.
Donaghy also believes that the school are lucky to have former county players amongst the teaching staff – in Paddy Cunningham and Emmett McGuckin and feels it can only benefit the children in the school.
“Teachers can often be like parents – the kids don’t want to listen and they’re used to getting it all the time” he said.
“Somebody like Paddy [Cunningham] and Emmett [McGuckin] – two fellas that not only played for their counties, but were stars of their teams and big players. They weren’t just filling up the numbers – we played against Paddy in 2009; I was injured and he nearly beat us on his own. He was terrific and I think I picked him on the fantasy GAA a couple of years ago – I would have picked him because every game he got eight or nine points”.
“To have the calibre of footballers like that and people that are going to drive it in the school is huge for the school. I hope the school realise how lucky they are to have that and for the kids it is massive to have two experienced lads”.