Derry GAA's investment must be in people, says County Chairman

County Chairman Stephen Barker believes Derry’s investment over the next five years must be in people as they seek to close the gap on the top performing counties in Ireland.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 10:15 pm
Derry County Chairman, Stephen Barker

Mr Barker was speaking last night at what was an unique Oak Leaf AGM in which the socially distanced County Board members in Owenbeg where joined, via Microsoft teams by club delegates from across Derry. They heard the County Chairman, who was returned unopposed, pay tribute to the work done by clubs and the association during the COVID-19 pandemic and said the new club-orientated coaching plan unveiled last month by Damian Cassidy’s sub-committee provided the perfect platform upon which to build.

With Derry’s annual financial report revealing that the county is now debt free and in a strong position after they repaid the final instalment of the capital loan secured in 2013, the Moneymore club man said the focus going forward had to be centred in people.

“With the recent final repayment of the capital loan and the healthy position the county now finds itself thanks to the unrelenting hard work of so many people over a number of years, the focus for future investment has to concentrate on people,” explained Mr Barker.

“There is now an excellent infrastructure in place for our games at every level. It’s comparable with the best in Ireland. We must now ensure that our clubs, our championships and our county teams are comparable with the best in the country as well.

“There is so much good work currently going on within the clubs and so much talent in the county but it is only through helping the clubs improve themselves still further that the county prosper. The recently published five year Coaching Plan should provide a framework for that to happen and I’d like to thank Damian Cassidy and his team for the work they put into what is a very comprehensive and ambitious plan but one I believe can reap rewards if there is buy-in from the clubs.

“The plan puts the focus on people and that’s where our investment must be going forward, in our people through schemes like the GPO scheme.”

The County Chairman was full of praise for the way in which clubs have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID, highlighting once again the critical role the GAA plays within local communities.

“As I said earlier, 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, not just sport, and everyone in society is indebted to the crucial work of the NHS and carers who have been heroes throughout this pandemic. The GAA too has played it part, both nationally and locally with clubs provided a vital source of contact for rural communities and those isolated because of lockdown.

“Many clubs have delivered groceries and medicines to the elderly or isolating and opened their grounds for local communities to enjoy safe walking areas showing once again, the critical role many clubs play in their own community.”

There was also a poignant tribute to the late Hugh McWilliams who passed away in August. The Managing Director of H&A Mechanical, the county’s main sponsors, had been a huge supporter of his native county down the years and after confirming H&A would remain Derry principle sponsors, Mr Barker described Hugh as “irreplaceable.”

“Hugh was a giant of generosity. He was unstinting in his support for county, club and community,” said the County Chairman.

“The GAA was a way of life for Hugh and his untimely death was a shock for the whole county but especially for his wife, Anne, his family and everyone at the Ballinascreen who we keep in our prayers.

“Hugh’s influence on Derry GAA cannot be overstated. He was always ready to help, should that be with time, money or simply advice and his absence has left a huge void. He was an avid supporter of Derry and St Colm’s and an ever present at games in Owenbeg, Celtic Park and all over Ireland.

“On behalf of Derry Management Committee, I would like to extend my sympathy to the McWilliams family and to the friends and relatives of other families who have lost loved ones in the past year.”

There was only one change to the make-up of the county board for 2021 with Glen’s Una Ferguson’s stepping down after five years up as Irish Language and Cultural Officer. She was replaced by Glenullin’s Niall Comer. A native of Newry, he is an Irish lecturer in Ulster University, is President of Conradh na Gaeilge and is heavily involved in local traditional music group, Ceoltóirí Lúraigh.

“Una has been a tremendous asset to the county and promoted Scór throughout her term with many examples of success at County, Provincial and all Ireland level,” said County Secretary, Sean Keane, in his annual report.

The Derry County Board is as follows: Chairperson - Stephen Barker; Vice Chairman - Kieran McKeever; Secretary - Sean Keane; Assistant Secretary - Ryan Diamond; Treasurer - Martin Devlin; Assistant Treasurer: Paul Birt; PRO - Ciaran McRory; Coaching Officer - Bobby Farren; Irish Language and Cultural Officer - Niall Comer; Ulster Council - Kieran McKeever, John Keenan; Central Council - Danny Scullion