A big club with big ideas

By Niall Gartland

2023 PROVED an immensely successful year on and off the pitch for Carryduff, one of three clubs nominated for our Club of the Year award to be announced at Gaelic Life’s upcoming All-Stars event on Friday, March 1.

The nomination is deserved recognition for a club that refuses to stand still under the chairmanship of Brendan Sloan, who grew up in Carryduff and has watched it grow into the largest club in the province per membership.

Located in the suburbs of Belfast but very much boasting its own unique identity, Carryduff has an overall membership of 1657 at the last count, an upsurge of more than 50 per cent since as recently as 2018.

The club was founded in 1971 when a group of parents, concerned at the lack of playing facilities in the fast growing southern suburb of Belfast, came together to form a schoolboys’ Gaelic football team.

Five decades later, the thriving club now caters for – take a deep breath – Gaelic football, hurling, ladies football, camogie, handball and rounders. Diversity is keenly emphasised with women comprising 44 per cent of the club’s membership as well.

Last year the men’s football team won their first ever Division One title while the u-15 boys won their championship and competed in the prestigious Paul McGirr tournament. There was success on the ladies front with their minors capping off a glorious season with provincial honours while their boys won a shield title at the All-Ireland Féile in county Mayo. On their current trajectory, it seems that the sky is the limit for Carryduff.

Chairman Brendan Sloan commented: “It was a really good year on the field. The senior lads really clicked under Finnian Moriarty, they only lost one game in the whole campaign so they really deserved their Division One title.

“The ladies was very strong right down the age groups and the minors won an Ulster Championship, and we did really well in the Féile so it’s no exaggeration to say it was a historic year for us.”

He continued: “It’s not purely about success, it’s about making everyone feel involved and we seem to be getting things right off the field as well. We cater for all the codes and we’re very proud of that, we try to offer as much as we possibly can to our membership in that respect.”

The club chairman envisions that their membership numbers will continue to grow even further due to large-scale housing development in the catchment area.

Sloan said: “In terms of membership we’re definitely one of the largest across Ireland and we recently became aware that we’re the biggest in Ulster.

“Our neighbours Bredagh are a big club as well. We’d a meeting with their chairman earlier in the year and there was chat about membership and we have about 100 members more than them.

“Bredagh are a bit different in nature than us. They operate under the city club rules whereas we’re a rural club on the periphery of Belfast.

“We’re a parish-based club and because we’re near south Belfast a lot of people come live here because it’s within handy commuting distance. Something like two thousand new homes are being built at the minute, it’s development after development after development.

“In reality it’s a suburb of south Belfast. There used to be a clear divide between Carryduff and Belfast when I was a child and I’d still be aware of the geography of Carryduff but for our many new members, there wouldn’t in reality be a big difference between Carryduff and Belfast.”

Carryduff caters for a whopping 63 individual playing teams so maximising playing space is a massive issue to put it lightly. They presently offer two full-size pitches, one of which includes floodlights, a 3G training facility, a gym and a publicly accessible walkway. A third pitch, for juniors, is expected to be completed in the summer months but the reality is that the club is growing at a faster rate than can be matched on the development front.

But they’re trying their very best and they’re also targeting the development of a purpose-built clubhouse as their current facilities are deemed inadequate. That would entail eight changing rooms with shower facilities, additional public and team toilets, disabled facilities, a boardroom and so on and so forth. It’s all systems go for their chairman, who is now in the second year of his tenure.

“It is like running a second business, and you wonder how do other people manage, but we have a system where you’re only allowed to be chairman for three years and you move on.

“It keeps the thing fresh and beyond that, I wouldn’t be able to do it any longer as I’d just end up getting burnt out.

“I do it for the love of the club, I want to progress the club for the better. I’m 46 which is relatively young for a club chairman, but I want to show our youth that there’s a place for them in the club beyond playing.

“It’s great to have the older, retired members of the community involved as they bring so much experience, but we want to show our younger members that there’s so many ways that they can contribute.

“We’re always trying to improve the facilities of the club, and there’s a lot of focus on events, we had a Darkness into Light morning where about 80 members got up at 4 o’clock in the morning for mental health awareness, it was probably the highlight of the year for me. There’s a lot of events like that done throughout the year including many cultural and Irish language events.”

Traditionally the club has resided in the shadows of the south Down giants, particularly at intercounty level, but four of the club’s players Greg Blaney, Neil Collins, Mark McCartan and John Kelly featured prominently in Down’s All-Ireland accomplishments in the nineties.

And in more recent times Down managers have been more in tune with the talent that exists within Carryduff and a number of their players line-out for the Down footballers and hurlers. Moreover, five club members were part of the Mourne ladies team that won the All-Ireland Junior Ladies Championship last year.

Sloan said: “It’s always been extremely hard for this part of Down to get players on the county panel because historically the representation nearly always came from south Down teams. When I was playing for Carryduff, not that I was anywhere near county standard, but managers would never think to come to watch us.

“We’ve produced many great players down the years and we’re very lucky in that respect. We’ve also a good representation on Down teams at the moment. There’s James and Daniel Guinness, Pearse McCabe, Ronan Beattie, while Conor Cassidy made the All-Stars hurling team, he’s a great guy and plays for our footballers as well. It’d be remiss not to mention our many ladies players on the Down panel as well, they did us all proud when they won the All-Ireland Junior title last year.”

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