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The rebuilding of Casement Park will commence under my watch: new Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavana

Ciaran McCavana takes over from out-going chairman Collie Donnelly

ANTRIM’S new “straight-talking” chairman Ciaran McCavana has declared Casement Park will commence during his watch and believes the new ‘Gaelfast’ project can be rolled out across the county in the next few years.

The Naomh Éanna clubman was installed as the new chief of the county after winning a sufficient number of votes after just one count at Antrim’s county convention at the beginning of the month.

The 44-year-old takes over from the out-going Collie Donnelly, the St John’s man stepping down after three years due to family and work commitments.

McCavana, a chartered accountant, also wants to see more progress at the county’s centre of excellence site at Dunsilly.

In an in-depth interview in today’s Irish News, McCavana insisted the rebuilding of the stalled Casement Park project was not contingent on the re-establishment of a power-sharing executive at Stormont.

“The GAA has put huge money into Casement Park; people keep forgetting that fact,” said McCavana. “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.”

The GAA wants the new Casement Park to meet the capacity criteria to become a provincial venue – estimated to be 34,000 - but before he stepped down from the chairmanship, Donnelly prioritised Antrim’s need for a home.

McCavana echoed his predecessor’s view.

“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.

“We need a home ground. Casement will be built and will get started under my watch.”

Casement Park closed its doors in 2013 with the hope that building work would commence soon afterwards, but the ambitious rebuild project has been beset by planning issues.

Antrim’s county teams have been playing their games at club grounds such as Corrigan Park, Dunloy, Cushendall and Ballycastle.

Currently, Antrim don’t have the facilities to stage an Ulster Senior Football Championship match and have forfeited home advantage since 2013.

While McCavana is confident of seeing the first sod turned in a new Casement Park, he reckons the ‘Gaelfast’ project – a scheme to rejuvenate Gaelic Games among primary schools in Belfast – is “one of the most exciting things” happening in the county.

St Paul’s clubman Paul Donnelly, formerly of Sport NI, is heading up the £1m ‘Gaelfast’ project.

“You won’t see the fruits of that labour for 10 years,” McCavana cautioned.

“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 the county but I firmly believe the project can be a game-changer.”

He added: “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.”

Describing himself as “straight-talking”, McCavana felt privileged to be taking over the chairmanship at a time when strong foundations have been already dug by the likes of Collie Donnelly and out-going vice-chairman Terry Reilly.

“I wasn’t particularly well-known in the county,” he said, “But I’d hope the people I spoke to realised I’d be straight talking and to have faith in me producing the goods.”

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