THE term amateur is becoming more and more redundant in top-level sports with the time spent honing skills and costs associated with preparation continuing to grow.
This is certainly the case for four teenagers from across the city who are balancing their schoolwork with a devotion to basketball.

St Malachy’s College lads Conor Ryan, Conor Cooke, Jack Summersgill and CJ Fulton were all involved in their school’s latest success, a 50-33 victory over St Mary’s College Galway in the All-Ireland U15 A final on Friday. And such is their level of talent, they’ve been selected to represent Ireland.
While being invited to line out for your country is the ultimate honour in sport, it also comes at a cost.
While the four rising stars have to leave time to hit the books, for their parents it’s all about balancing the books and this is something that is difficult given the absence of sufficient funding, according to Gerard Ryan, father of Conor.

“There are four lads who all go to St Malachy’s from across the city,” he explained.
“We are here in Finaghy, there is one up in Lagmore and the other two are from the Antrim Road direction.
“We all self-fund, but that is costly when you factor in the travelling, the training, the food, the overnight stays and everything else like kits. So we are just hoping we can secure funding or sponsorship for the boys to help them out.”

While all four line out for St Malachy’s College and played starring roles last Friday, and also back in February when the Antrim Road school defeated Intermediate School Killorglin in the All-Ireland U16 A final, they are also team-mates at Belfast Star and, most recently, Ireland.
Their latest victory is just the latest in a long line of successes at every level – and there are sure to be even more to come.
“I would travel with them all over, but between club and school there is so much so it’s hard to even keep track of what they are participating in,” Gerard laughed.
“My oldest boy, Adam, who is turning 19 soon, he was on the Ireland U16 team three years ago and made it right through to the European Championships with the team in Sarajevo. That was all self-funded, so at the time we had to organise quizzes and things like that to raise money, but all in all I think it all cost us between £4,000 and £5,000 over the two years.

“We didn’t get anything from the Sports Council for Adam, but we did get £250 from the Mary Peters Trust for Conor which is a bit of a help, but going on a few years ago it won’t last long, so we are looking at what other avenues we can go down.”
Certainly, with four young men who have the world at their fingertips, it is hoped either businesses or individuals will invest in helping them to the next level.