Páirc Aodha Dhuibh – at the heart of the community

By Niall McCoy

WE are a story yet untold, we are the people of the purple and gold.” The Carryduff development plan incudes this motto, a reminder to its members that the club are never going to stop striving for more. Ambition is the buzz-word around Knockbracken Drive.

The Down club is accelerating at a rate of knots and while it has always been prominent off the pitch, it is now starting to push up on the big boys on the pitch too.

Last year’s Division Two title returned them to the top flight.

They took big Senior Championship wins over Castlewellan and Bredagh before suffering a tight quarter-final loss to Clonduff under the guidance of DJ Morgan, Paddy Doherty, Danny McConnell and Shane O’Neill.

Their u-21s have won three county titles in a row while their ladies tasted Senior Championship success in 2017. Hurling continues to fight its corner and is making strong progress.

Not bad for the club once known as the ‘nomads’ of Down football.

Current chairperson Paul McConville sums it up well when he maps out his ‘home’ games in a Carryduff jersey.

I would have played on 10 different home pitches and not one of them was in Carryduff,” said McConville, who has been involved in the club since 1988.

We were all over the place from Queen’s to Cherryvale, Dunleith at Downpatrick, Dundrum, Lámh Dhearg were actually very good to us.

Our neighbours Bredagh likewise. Hugh Miskelly, God rest him, was the chairman of Bredagh and lived in Carryduff.

At one point to help us out, when Bredagh had the pitch down behind Nazareth Lodge, he approached the county board to ask them to arrange the fixtures that Bredagh would be at home one week, Carryduff the next. Bredagh very kindly offered us the use of their pitch at no cost.

The two clubs are rivals, absolutely, but it’s a good one and we remember the history.”

The situation changed for the ‘nomads’ in 2001 when Carryduff acquired a new pitch and since then, Páirc Aodha Dhuibh has secured a spot at the hub of the community.

A clubhouse followed in 2004 and a training pitch was built the year after ahead of the official opening on May 24, 2009 when Down met Dublin. In 2017, a 3G section and ball wall were added.

The club has big ambitions for the grounds moving forward, with the next two steps focused on finishing the floodlighting and getting their health and well-being centre off the ground.

People used to say ‘Carryduff are at home this week, I wonder where that will be?’ but it was people from those other clubs who helped our fundraising when we tried to secure our land for the field,” McConville added.

That was a great example of GAA members from other clubs lending a hand to Carryduff.

We have big and ambitious plans for the development of Gaelic games and our facilities.

We have our first four floodlights in and we are working to get the next four stanchions in.

The other thing on the agenda, although coronavirus has delayed it a bit, is to put in a health and well-being centre at the club.

It began with senior players across the codes looking for gym facilities but we want to develop something that can be used by the wider community, the retirement association for example.

We want people to come down at their own pace to make use of the fitness facilities.”


Progress made on and off the pitch


In 1969, parents in the area were concerned by a lack of playing opportunities for children and an u-16 team was eventually formed using the Carryduff name. That ultimately paved the way for the club’s inception in 1972. ‘Wee Harry’ McEvoy was the club’s first chairperson and they entered the East Down League the following season.


The club received their first national award as they were crowned Scór All-Ireland ballad group champions. Ana Marie Magorrian, the current chairperson of the culture committee, was part of the successful team.


After Junior Championship final defeats in 1973 and 1978, Carryduff finally got their hands on the title in 1986 when they defeated St Michael’s. They also won the Division Three title that season with 47-year-old Down legend Dan McCartan playing the entire season in goals. Conal Mooney captained the team to success while Greg Blaney was named Player of the Year. As the presentation night, attended by guests Jimmy Keaveney and Sean O’Neill, was on the same night as the GAA Allstars, the club arranged for Tyrone manager Art McRory to present Greg with his award at the Burlington Hotel.


In May 2009, the club held the official opening of Páirc Aodha Dhuibh, and it continues to develop to this day. Dublin met Down to mark the occasion and even without an injured Ciaran Whelan, they won 2-19 to 1-10. Jason Sherlock and Conal Keaney scored the Dublin goals.


It was a historic year for the club as the ladies brought the first Senior Championship back to the club while the u-21s won the Down Division One Championship for the first time. The ladies hit six goals against Bryansford to take the county title before losing out to an experienced Clann Eireann side in Ulster. Two months later, the u-21s won their county title beating Bryansford in the final.


Lighting up for the future

IN 2018 Carryduff embarked on a huge publicity drive called ‘4 Floodlights 4 Youth’ to try and secure funding through the Aviva Community Fund.

Votes and a judging panel decided where the money went to, and the Mourne club was awarded a total of £24,976 to help install lighting at their training pitch.

It was a great example of the members coming together as they spread the message, and a media blitz raised their profile further.

Fundraisers that raise money to help the development of their facilities are particularly enjoyed by Carryduff GAC, and the club have thanked all those who have contributed to that – and those who plan to support them in the future.


Carryduff blooming in the community

WHEN the club listed its six core values when launching their 2019 development plan, community identity was number one.

From the beginning, even though they were established at a period when Belfast was in the throes of sectarian violence, Carryduff attempted to make its stand as a club that was welcoming to everyone.

Indeed, at the 1986 Down convention they proposed that GAA rule 15, that prevented members of the police or security forces joining a GAA club, be scrapped. Their motion was overwhelmingly defeated.

Still, it delivered a message, – one that the club still adheres to today – everyone is welcome.

We are deeply, deeply indebted to our forefathers who had the foresight and courage to establish and promote Gaelic games in south Belfast in the worst year of the Troubles,” said chairperson Paul McConville.

Our pitch is not in your face, we have never sought to do that. However, we’re confident in our own skin, we stand on our own two feet.

Absolutely anyone is welcome to walk into Páirc Aodha Dhuibh. The same rules apply walking in the gate as they do walking out, take us as you find us.

Everyone is welcome and thanks to be God we’ve had a very good growth.

We don’t enter into backgrounds, we don’t do politics. We run an annual tournament with the PSNI in memory of a young man Christopher Murphy.

Our social and cultural elements of the club would certainly have a great cross-community association too.

We have 33 teams running now and had almost 1,300 members in 2019.

Our nursery and our Gaelic4Mothers&Others have been absolutely massive in that. They have been great successes for the club.”

Carryduff are also aware of their environmental responsibilities and have taken steps to show their green side.

We applied to the Woodland Heritage Trust to get trees and asked people to bring their children along, plant a tree and sustain the environment,” McConville continued.

The theme was that it would be their tree, they could watch it grow in Carryduff. We actually had to send for more spades because so many families showed up.

I always had an ambition of having floral displays at the ground.

Initially we had looked at crocuses that would bloom and come up purple and yellow just as the new season would begin.

We applied to the Live Here Love Here and got some money to do that and through volunteerism, our ‘guerilla gardeners’ planted out daffodils and purple tulips.

A beautiful display had come up at the start of the season but unfortunately we had to close the premises due to coronavirus. But that will be there year-on-year moving forward.”


Famous days in

the club’s history

THERE are days that live long in the memory of the club.

Their 1986 Junior title was, of course, a special day in their history.

Another big day arrived in 2011 when the Carryduff minor hurlers broke the Ards’ stranglehold on the Down title.

Captained by Michael Conway and managed by Justin McCormick, they defeated Portaferry in the Down final before losing out to Antrim outfit St John’s in Ulster.

The three in-a-row u-21 successes were big days, as was the trips to the resulting Ulster tournament in Creggan.

It may not have been a club win, but Carryduff members treasure September 15, 1991 when they had four members on Down’s All-Ireland winning panel against Meath – Greg Blaney, Greg McCartan, Neil Collins and Mark McCartan.


U-21s lead the way as numbers continue to grow

A SIGN that things have been going very well for Carryduff’s youth structure has been their recent domination of the Down u-21 scene.

In 2017 the side defeated Bryansford to win the Division One championship crown for the first time. They beat the same opposition in the final 12 months later and defeated Mayobridge to make it three in-a-row in 2019.

Their first journey to Ulster ended at the semi-final stage against a Gaoth Dobhair team that would claim Ulster Senior success later in the year.

In their second provincial attempt, they reached the final only to lose out to Dromore of Tyrone. There had been high hopes before that they could take the final step before the coronavirus stepped in.

Some of those players, the likes of the Guinness brothers, James and Daniel, and Owen McCabe, have already made their mark at county level.

Chairperson Paul McConville has said that they are always striving for the next success in all codes, but that participation is equally as important to the club.

The numbers in the nursery are fantastic,” he said. “The volunteerism is unreal.

The strategy at underage is about participation and inclusion. Our product is people together having fun.

We have had success at underage level on the field of play but the emphasis, as an executive committee, is achieving the maximum participation possible.”

The chairperson also said that it was especially encouraging to see so many players coming through the system from the bottom right up.

A Kilcoo representative, at one of the East Down meetings, said that the joke has long passed about Carryduff being a collection of Gaels from all over.

It was a situation were a lot of people came to Carryduff, but our boys who won the u-21 title and the ladies who had success in 2017, the expression around here is that they were Carryduff born, bred, buttered and battered.

There is an enormous sense of satisfaction about how the club has grown. The contribution we are making to young lives brings huge pride.

But there is still lots and lots of work to be done. Thankfully we have so many brilliant volunteers throughout the club.”

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