A new GAA Festival is being unveiled at Croke Park later today by the Presidents of the GAA, Camogie Association and Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
Queen’s GAA Festival has been created to mark the fact that in 2014 Queen’s University Belfast is to become the first institution to host all four Sigerson, Ashbourne, Fitzgibbon and O’Connor Cup finals in the one year, and at the one venue.
The four competitions are the flagship events in the Higher Education sporting calendar and over 2,250 players, and thousands of supporters, will converge on Queen’s Upper Malone playing fields when the Festival throws in next year.
The Upper Malone site, formerly known to many as ‘The Dub’, was reopened earlier this year after a £13 million redevelopment.
Queen’s GAA Festival will run across consecutive weekends, beginning with Camogie’s Ashbourne Cup on 13 February 2014, and continuing with the Irish Daily Mail Sigerson Cup (20-23 Feb), the Irish Daily Mail Fitzgibbon Cup (27 Feb-2 Mar) and, following those, the O’Connor Cup from 20-23 March.
Alongside the action on the field, Queen’s GAA Festival will offer a packed programme of music and comedy nights, squad reunions, talks from well-known sports personalities, and advice on nutrition, mental health and wellbeing, as well as opportunities to try other sports.
Speaking ahead of the Festival announcement today, Queen’s University’s acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay, said: “Queen’s is delighted that its commitment to delivering world-class sporting facilities for its students has helped to bring four of the most high profile sporting events on the island of Ireland to the University and to Belfast.
“I congratulate our staff and students in having the ambition to organise the Queen’s GAA Festival, a cross-community celebration of heritage and sporting achievement, and look forward to welcoming the thousands of players and supporters to Belfast in 2014.”
The finals of the Irish Daily Mail Sigerson Cup Final, the Irish Daily Mail Fitzgibbon Cup Final and the O’Connor Cup will be covered live on TG4 and the finals will also be broadcast live online at www.tg4.tv
Speaking at the Festival unveiling, Aileen Lawlor, Uachtarán, An Cumann Camógaíochta, said: “I am delighted Queens University are launching their Festival of Gaelic games by announcing the hosting of the Ashbourne, Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and the O’Connor Cups in February 2014. These annual colleges competitions are held in very high esteem and are much awaited for in the sporting calendar.
“The continued involvement in sport of club players while studying at third level colleges is vital to the growth and development of any player along their pathway in any given sport. I wish Queens University the very best of luck in their endeavours in 2014. I know they will be great hosts, in a great venue, showcasing our Gaelic Games with such fantastic facilities on hand in Belfast.”
Liam O’Neill, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael, added: “It gives me great pleasure to officially endorse the Queen’s GAA Festival which will see an extravaganza of Gaelic games descend on Belfast in the early months of next year. It is hard to cite a proposed event that better encapsulates the plans we have for integration in the GAA and the staging of these superb third level competitions at the impressive Upper Malone Sports Grounds really captures the imagination.
“Of course this will involve a huge logistical undertaking and top level organisation. I laud everyone involved in Queen’s University connected with this undertaking, and I have no doubt that these events will showcase everything that is positive about football, hurling and camogie between mid-Feburary and late March. Go néirí libh go léir.”
Pat Quill, Uachtarán, Cumann Peil Gael na mBan, whose O’Connor Cup for Ladies Gaelic Football will close the Festival, commented: “We are very much looking forward to the O’Connor Cup in March. Queen’s will, I am sure, be fantastic hosts for this great competition and have a fantastic pedigree in Ladies Gaelic Football as they are the defending O’Connor Cup Champions. I would like to wish them the very best of luck as they host all four competitions.”
Speaking on behalf of the competing students, Queen’s Ladies Football squad member, and Armagh All-Star, Caroline O’Hanlon, said: “Players from colleges and universities across the island of Ireland, in all four sports, will be delighted to hear the announcement about Queen’s GAA Festival today.
“At Queen’s we are already the envy of our peers for the standard of sporting facilities we have, and now many of Ireland’s elite players and their families will be able to experience what we have on offer for themselves. As a Queen’s student and player I am tremendously proud, because while everyone knows the standard of competition each year is high, next year our Festival and facilities will match it.”
John Devaney, Chair of the event’s Organising Committee at Queen’s, added: “Hosting all four championship finals weekends will be a daunting challenge, but we are determined to make the most of it. Queen’s have always been proud of our reputation as a good host and this is a unique opportunity to showcase our top-class facilities, our huge network of student volunteers and our reach beyond the University. The Festival will be a one of the highlights for the GAA in Ulster in 2014 and an important event for Belfast.”
Queen’s GAA Festival runs from 13 Feb to 23 March, 2014. Further information on Queen’s GAA Festival is available online at www.gaafestival.com