September 22, 2022


The ever expanding nature of Ulster Schools’ GAA was illustrated at the launch with sponsors Danske Bank of their programme for the new school year by the attendance of coaches and students from St Gerards Belfast, a co-educational special school that caters for pupils from the age of three to 19 with a range of additional needs.

There are now over 125 units under the Ulster Schools’ GAA umbrella, but this is the first time a school catering solely for students with specific learning needs has been included in the programme.

Antrim footballers Conor Murray (Lámh Dhearg) and Dermot Niblock (Naomh Gall) are teachers in the school and attended the launch accompanied by students Ryan Guest, Deborah Loughran and Leah McCrudden.

“Our Principal Stephen Ramsey is a St Paul’s (Naomh Pól) man and he is a big advocate for involving our kids in sport of any kind,” said Murray.

“We talked to Sean McGourty and others in schools’ GAA and we were invited to come on board. We are really looking forward to participating. The kids are loving it. Many of them come from GAA backgrounds, some are already involved in clubs around Belfast and they just want to wear the school jersey and get out together for hurling and football.

“We operate from nursery right through to post 16 and are catering for around 600 students now, some with profound learning difficulties, complex need, others with moderate difficulties; kids who might struggle in main stream settings.”

The IFA already have participation games and Ulster Rugby has tag rugby to facilitate participation from schools such as St Gerard’s.

Meanwhile Ulster GAA promotes participation through their GAA for All programmes in each county culminating in participation in half-time games at the Ulster Football semi-finals in recent years.

“Our kids are mad for competition,” claims Murray. “Like all school kids they enjoy playing with each other, playing other teams and especially getting out of class!

“Many, many members of staff are strongly connected to GAA clubs around Belfast and Antrim and we are keen to get the kids involved through Ulster Schools.

“You can see from the three students here today, Ryan (Guest), Deborah (Loughran) and Leah (McCrudden) that they have good basic Gaelic skills.

“Ryan is involved in the Bredagh club and he has played in the games on Ulster semi-finals day. Deborah is with St Paul’s (Naomh Pól) and Leah plays with St John’s (Naomh Eoin) and we are just looking to give them a chance to use the skills they have picked up in their clubs for a school team and maybe encourage some of their classmates who don’t play to get involved and enjoy themselves.

“Their friends are coming to club training and talking about playing for their school and it would be great if our school kids could do the same. Like every other kid of their age it is all about gaining confidence through playing sport.

“I know that we will enjoy whatever tournaments or games we can get under Ulster Schools and I hope that our coming into schools’ GAA is the start of something that is going to grow and grow.”

Ulster Schools’ GAA chairman Jimmy Smyth welcomed the involvement of St Gerard’s this year.

“We in Ulster Schools welcome all pupils from all of our schools, maintained, controlled and integrated, who wish to take part in our competitions.

“Our competitions cater for all levels of skills and abilities and we are especially delighted to welcome this year, the pupils of St Gerard’s.

“We want to help them by providing an opportunity for each of their students to realise his or her potential in all areas: academic, moral, personal, physical, social, spiritual and especially sporting.”