Mr Cooney was speaking today at the announcement of a new five-year sponsorship deal between the Gaelic Games Academy and the Bank of Ireland.
“This is a momentous day for the University of Ulster and our association as it sends a clear message that everyone interested in Gaelic Games has a place,” he said.
“This Academy is crucial to the development of our players irrespective of the level they play at and this initiative is groundbreaking and a path I would like to see all universities going down for Gaelic games.
“The University of Ulster Gaelic Games Academy is a flagship for sport at third level institutions and can strengthen the GAA’s future development.”
The Gaelic Games Academy, based at the University of Ulster’s Jordanstown campus has been established to develop and promote Gaelic games at all stages of the development across all of the University campuses. The Academy includes residential accommodation, access to world-class facilities and equipment along with physiotherapy, lifestyle management and nutrition provision.
All Gaelic sports including camogie, hurling, handball and Gaelic football, ladies and men’s, are covered by the Academy, which aims to provide an environment for Gaelic players at the University to maximise their sporting potential while pursuing their academic career.
The Academy will also aim to make the sports facilities at the University of Ulster available to schools, clubs and youth groups as part of a community outreach programme.
Players from 22 counties are represented in the Academy and it today received the backing of one former University of Ulster player, the Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy MP.
“In a time when there is understandably a sense of great despair I would praise the Bank of Ireland for their financial support to the GAA club at the University,” the Minister said.
“The GAA continues to deliver a positive messages in a time when positive messages are needed. I am very proud to be a member of the GAA and very proud of the young people who play out national sports.
“When I was a Gaelic footballer at Jordanstown there was always the family atmosphere here and, despite being at the other end of the ability scale from players like DJ Kane and Dermot McNicholl who played when I was here, we were always made to feel part of the club.
“The increasing feel of professionalism of the clubs at the University is what impresses me with the world-class facilities and world-class support around the players.”
Professor Jim Allen, Pro Vice Chancellor for Sport at the University of Ulster said: “We are delighted that Bank of Ireland has joined us as sponsors. The University os endeavouring to become the leading University for sport on the island of Ireland and the Sports Academy strives to support and grow all aspects of Gaelic Games, not just the high profile players but anyone interested in playing Gaelic Games no matter what their ability. Bank of Ireland’s contribution will allow us to continue to educate, nurture and develop some of our most promising young sports people.”
Making the sponsorship announcement, Des Crowley, Chief Executive, Retail Ireland and UK, Bank of Ireland said: “Bank of Ireland has had a long standing record of supporting sports including GAA at senior level for many decades. This new sponsorship will allow us to assist in the development of a new generation of sports stars. We look forward to a great working relationship with the University of Ulster and the new GAA Academy, which is a one of the most significant of its kind in Northern Ireland.”