New chairman Ciaran McCavana ready for the challenges that lie ahead in Antrim
Antrim's new chairman Ciaran McCavana speaks to Brendan Crossan about his hopes for the county during his stewardship. The St Enda's, Glengormley clubman wants to see Casement Park rebuilt, more progress made at Dunsilly and the Gaelfast project to flourish...
BC: Were you nervous ahead of the count for the new chairman position?
CMcC: I was a bit nervous at around five o’clock; I felt like I was going onto the pitch to play a championship match. But then I put it in perspective. What’s meant to be is meant to be.
BC: You topped the poll with 74 votes…
CMcC: I was delighted to get through after the first count because there was supposed to be two counts. I was really happy to get the majority and it gave me a boost in confidence and I hope I can bring the county together as one.
BC: Give people an idea of your GAA background…
McMcC: In my playing days, I wouldn’t have been known for my silky skills. Some might even say I was more of a carthorse than a workhorse! I played full-back in the football and midfield or wing half-forward in the hurling for my club. I’m 44 now and I stopped playing 10 years ago.
After retiring from football and hurling I played for my local Rugby Club Ophir for a season or two, loved the experience and picked up a few useful insights that I believe could be carried over to GAA, e.g. greater respect for refs and understanding that players have a life outside training and games and to be a bit more flexible in putting demands on players to make every training session, every match.
After the Rugby I turned my hand to Triathlons and running. I have completed five marathons to date and last year completed an ‘Iron Man’ in Vichy France, which was a great experience, pushing your body physically and mentally to the limit. Watching and learning about diet, training, recovery, mental strength etc. I fully embraced it.
I would love to complete another ‘Iron Man’, but finding the 16 hours per week to train for six months’ preparation isn’t realistic. At the moment I am finding myself getting up at 5.30am not to go out for a cycle/run before work, but to read updates on Casement or go through GAA documents, so the next ‘Iron Man’ will have to wait a few years, God willing.
BC: Was your GAA career a fulfilling one?
CMcC: Fulfilment for me was making my way onto the Naomh Éanna senior team and being a steady player. I played Division One football for the guts of 10 years and most of my hurling was in Division Four and some of it in Three. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Outside playing, I’ve been involved in juvenile coaching – football, hurling, camogie – and I was involved in senior hurling management set-ups twice in the club. I helped manage our reserve footballers. I was chairman of the club, cultural officer, treasurer – most roles, basically. I’m happy when there is grass under my feet and being involved at the coalface with teams, but I am conscious that without the administration side we don’t have games. So I see that side of the role as just giving something back.
BC: What did you put your name forward for Antrim chairman?
CMcC: I suppose there was good work being done and I felt it was your duty to put your shoulder to the wheel and give something back to Antrim GAA because it’s given so much to me. That’s the way I see it. Collie Donnelly and Terry Reilly [out-going chairman and vice-chairman] did great work, as there is a huge workload involved, and hopefully I can build on that. My disadvantage was I wasn’t overly well known so I made a lot of personal phone calls and drew up a CV to give people a better picture. I’d hope the people I spoke to realised I’d be straight talking and to have faith in me producing the goods.
BC: What are your objectives in the role?
CMcC: I would like to see Casement Park commenced. We need a home ground. Casement will be built.
BC: Why are you so confident?
CMcC: I’m just confident the rebuilding of Casement will get started under my watch.
BC: Does Stormont have to be up and running to see work on Casement Park commenced?
CMcC: The GAA has put huge money into Casement Park; people keep forgetting that fact. The Ulster Council and the GAA are fully behind Casement. The only thing delaying it has been planning issues. I think everyone is on board once we get over the planning issues, which I’m confident we will. We have to overcome another planning hurdle and hopefully that will be early next year. Now, these things can take longer. But it doesn’t matter, if we don’t get over this planning issue we’ll go at it again. There is no other show in town.
BC: The GAA want Casement Park to be a provincial ground, while Antrim GAA still proceeds without a home of their own…
CMcC: It’s not one or the other. A stadium will be built on Antrim’s land, so we can all avail of a great facility. First and foremost, Casement Park is Antrim’s home ground.
BC: What about ensuring the residents around the site are firmly on board?
CMcC: Well, I’ve some relatives whose houses back on to Casement Park. They are some of the residents. Of course they have to be on board. We are a grassroots organisation and we have to work with people and minimise any disruption to their lives as far as possible.
BC: Collie Donnelly, the previous Antrim chairman, wanted to see an upgrade to Corrigan Park, a covered stand, which has now been given the go-ahead. I know the GAA were quite receptive to that idea.
CMcC: I’d be delighted to see a covered stand back at Corrigan Park. As a player, I loved playing there and as a supporter it’s been a good ground for Antrim. There have been some great games played in it in recent times. I suppose I’d rather see the stand at Corrigan Park reinstated would be a better way to put it. But I don’t want people to get the wrong impression that it’s Corrigan or Casement. They are two different ventures.
BC: You are a chartered accountant. Do you think your business life will help you in running the affairs of Antrim?
CMcC: I think it does help you, but you don’t have to be a successful businessperson to be chairman of Antrim. Hopefully, my passion and knowledge of Antrim GAA plus my knowledge of business will complement one another.
BC: There will be huge time commitments to the chairmanship. How will you manage to juggle it?
CMcC: I was taking our senior hurling team last year and I was out of the house three times a week. I was taking juvenile camogie and football teams and I was on a board that was running a £1.8m community hub project. I don’t drink, smoke or gamble. My wife, Sharon, says I’m out of the house most nights anyway so there’ll be no difference! And my two young daughters both play football and camogie and they love the matches, so I’ll be bringing them along to the matches.
BC: Is there any update on the Dunsilly [centre of excellence] project [in Antrim town]?
CMcC: I’d like to see Dunsilly used more and I think down the line you’d like to see it become a centre of excellence. Dunsilly is central to the whole of the county. There is a lack of changing rooms and toilets. There are only two changing rooms so not all pitches can get utilised at same time. We also need more toilets so underage teams can use more and local club St Comgall’s can utilise the facility, especially for Go Games etc. I’d like to see more happening at Dunsilly; we need a gym, floodlights, additional changing rooms.
BC: How important is it to you for Antrim’s county teams to be performing well on the provincial and national stage?
CMcC: County teams are your flagship. You want every child and every player in the county to want to aspire to play for Antrim, the way I aspired to be the next Terence McNaughton when I was younger.
It didn’t work out, mind you! It was a real eye opener for me to see the level of professional resources made available to the county teams. It did my heart good and credit needs to go to the people before me and all the current sponsors and financial supporters such as Saffron Business Forum etc., who make it possible for us to provide such a high level of resources to our county squads.
In hurling, the Joe McDonagh Cup is a very tight competition. You could easily be relegated as you could be promoted. It’s a puck of a ball either way. It’s a good competition where I think Antrim can flourish. Joe Maskey of our club wouldn’t have been our marquee player when he went to Antrim but he has developed with the county hurlers. He should be an example to all club players how training with the best and playing at the highest level you can will only develop you as a footballer or a hurler and in turn will strengthen your club.
And for the Antrim footballers, be under no illusion, Division Four is very tough to get out of it. But there is no reason why we can’t get out of it.
Lenny Harbinson and his team are running a very professional outfit and I’m confident that they can take us out of the division.
BC: What way do you see the ‘Gaelfast’ project developing?
CMcC: ‘Gaelfast’ is one of the most exciting things happening in Antrim, but you won’t see the fruits of that labour for 10 years. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But some day I hope to be standing on the newly built Casement Park with my family looking at a player who I watched playing in a ‘Gaelfast’ competition and now playing in a provincial final. The important aspect to ‘Gaelfast’ is participation and getting our kids away from x-boxes and out playing our games. Not every kid can play for their county but I firmly believe the project can be a game-changer.
BC: The GAA has committed £1m to ‘Gaelfast’ over the next five years. Do you envisage heavier financing of the scheme in the future?
CMcC: Our hope is that we show that we are capable of putting that money to good use and encourage the GAA to provide more finances for it. We are the second city in Ireland and, you know, a lot of money was poured into Dublin – granted, we don’t have the same population – but if we can show that it’s working we would like to roll it out throughout the county.
BC: What are your thoughts on tiered championships in football?
CMcC: That’s a decision for the county to make, not me. My gut feeling is I wouldn’t be in favour of it. Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic because I grew up watching Antrim in the Ulster Championship. I remember some great days at Casement Park when Antrim were putting it up to Derry, Armagh and Tyrone. Fermanagh not that long ago were in the latter stages of the All-Ireland. I don’t believe with the population and the GAA clubs that are there that we can’t be competitive against the top sides. You look at Cargin against Gweedore in the Ulster Club. When Cargin kicked off the shackles in the second half they could have taken Gweedore, and Gweedore went on to win an Ulster Championship. My whole life people have told me what I couldn’t achieve and I’ve always aimed high. I won’t accept that Antrim can’t win the Sam Maguire or the Liam MacCarthy. I just won’t accept that. I believe that we could fill Casement Park to the rafters if Antrim were playing Tyrone or Donegal. Will you fill it to the rafters if you’re playing in a tiered Championship? You won’t and that’s just the reality.
BC: On the same weekend that you were announced as Antrim chairman, your club Naomh Éanna won an Ulster Intermediate title. You won’t have many weekends like that again.
CMcC: Well, I think we can win an All-Ireland and I think there is a senior championship in our club too. I’m an optimist. It can be done. I don’t like the word ‘can’t’. That’s just my nature.
BC: Are you happy with the team that has been assembled at county executive level?
CMcC: When Collie and Terry came in they more or less cleaned the boards. That’s not the case now. Eamonn Grieve is another new face on the county board [as treasurer]. He is a stalwart and has great knowledge. I’m lucky that I’m coming in and can avail of the knowledge and experience that is already within the county board. We will be a team that I believe will work collectively, and advance the cause of Antrim GAA.