THE renewed partnership between O'Donovan Rossa GAC, Belfast and the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) was launched at Belfast City Hall last Friday.

Lord Mayor, Danny Baker invited Rossa members including chairperson Margaret Flynn and NUI Galway’s Registrar and Deputy President, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh into his parlour to announce the extension of the deal that will see NUIG continue its sponsorship of Rossa's U16 hurling, football, ladies football and camogie teams.

Professor Ó Dochartaigh - a native of the Falls Road - said the tie-in with Rossa is beneficial for all parties as NUIG maintains its commitment to attract students from the north to third level education in the west of Ireland.

Its link with the leading Belfast GAA club has already proven a success, with those who have decided to enrol in courses at the Galway university given the opportunity to attain a third level qualification in a region immersed in Gaelic Games.

“We were approached four years ago by Hugh McGettigan, who is a teacher at St Mary's and a coach at Rossa, about whether we'd be interested in sponsoring the club,” explained Professor Ó Dochartaigh.

“Our marketing people could see they had a lot of success at underage and they're in a huge population area.

“From our perspective in Galway, we want to recruit more students from the north. Speaking as someone from the North who has moved to Galway, I see too many of our people moving across the water for university and then they don't come back, so the more we can keep in Ireland the better and the more students we can attract to Galway the better, so it made sense.

“This sponsorship was up for renewal and again, we did the analysis, so here we are to continue the sponsorship.

“Of all the universities in the south, only UCD and Trinity recruit more northerners than we do, but we want to build on that.

“You look at the strength of the GAA in Galway: they won the All-Ireland hurling in 2017; the minor hurling in '17 and '18; the camogie in '19 and they were in the ladies football final in '19. That's the level of ambition in the county and the university has won all of the relevant competitions at different stages.

“Youngsters coming to Galways are coming into a strong GAA environment in the county and college. We also believe a strong education is vital to a healthy and successful life, so we want to marry the two.”

In October 2019, NUI Galway confirmed that in 2020 and beyond, students who have been resident in the North and have UK/EU/EEA/Swiss citizenship will be treated as EU students for the purposes of fees for the duration of their courses. The decision was taken by the University to provide certainty to A-Level students as they make their college choices over the coming months. The fee status decision also extends to postgraduate students enrolling in 2020.

This affords an element of certainty for students in the post-Brexit world who will benefit from lower fees than they would encounter at home or in Britain, so the decision to sponsor Rossa's U16s who will be starting to think of university choices is apt.

“We are very happy to host Pól Ó Dochartaigh who had announced the sponsorship of four teams: hurling, football, ladies football and camogie,” confirmed Rossa chair, Margaret Flynn.

“We are hoping to forge a link so when our children are thinking of where they are going to go when doing their A-Levels is to think seriously about Galway.

“We also have the opportunity to bring development squads from Rossa down to get elite coaching and play local teams, so this has the opportunity to be something good for the university and our club.

“Our children will remember this, that somebody from here has come back to do something for them. It's a start and something we want to develop.”

Lord Mayor, Danny Baker said he was delighted to host this launch and with his own children members of Rossa, promoting opportunities for our brightest and best to continues their studies in Ireland and bringing those skills back to their home city and club is a huge plus for the local community and Belfast as a whole.

“I'm delighted to host this today,” said Councillor Baker.

“It's a great opportunity for me, the First Citizen, to invite Rossa down. My children are part of the club and they have benefitted from being members.

“It's great to see these connections forged with universities throughout Ireland, because too many talented young people go off to university in England or further afield and don't come home. We want to keep that talent at home in Belfast and whether it's through sport or job opportunities through education, it's very important to keep our best here.”