'We need to leave a strong footprint in Antrim': Out-going GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl
OUT-GOING GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl has expressed his disappointment at the slow progress of the Casement Park project – but believes the new stadium “will happen” and that the GAA's “footprint” will be felt in Belfast over the coming years.
The Cavan man will step down from the presidency at this weekend's annual GAA Congress at Croke Park, handing over the reins to Dubliner John Horan.
While claiming the GAA has never been stronger, Ó Fearghaíl says there is still some heavy lifting to do in Belfast and confirmed that the eagerly awaited cash windfall for the city from Croke Park would arrive “very, very soon”.
The prospects of rebuilding the famous west Belfast venue moved a step closer earlier this week when the PSNI confirmed that “issues of concern” relating to health and safety had been addressed.
“It [the Casement Park project] has been a disappointment,” Ó Fearghaíl acknowledged.
“Belfast is the second city – and I believe we need a very strong footprint in Belfast. I'm disappointed that it hasn't happened.
“We have worked very hard, as a GAA community – on the ground in Belfast, with the Ulster Council, the Antrim County Board and Croke Park – and I don't believe we would have done things much differently.
“I think the whole climate is difficult and challenging, but you never give up on a challenge and I believe it will happen.
“If it's a good enough project and it deserves to happen, I'm looking forward to seeing it happen.”
Last June, The Irish News revealed of Croke Park's plans to back the Antrim County Board's ‘Belfast's Gaelic Games Plan' with a six-figure sum over an initial five-year period to put more GAA coaches in its schools.
Antrim officials submitted a proposal to Central Council last year and it was expected to be rolled out last September/October time.
Ó Fearghaíl said: “Our revenues have improved, we have more people coming to our games and we need to make sure what comes in, goes out. But it will only go out with well-documented, costed plans. Belfast certainly needs that and I'm delighted that there will be a well thought-out plan and it will happen.”
Ó Fearghaíl will also bow out this weekend alongside the GAA's Director-General Paraic Duffy with the latter's successor expected to be announced soon.
The President also trumpeted yesterday's news that closer links have been fostered with the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
“We are not just talking about it, we're putting pen to paper and we are working together to become one big Gaelic Games family,” said the Drumgoon clubman. “And we have agreed a whole series of joint initiatives.”
In a statement from the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, it welcomed the news that “draft memorandums of understanding have been agreed”.
The statement continued: “The memorandums reflect the shared vision of the three organisations for a new overall organisational model within which the games, ideals and aspiration of all three Associations are equally developed and promoted. They recognise areas of common interest and give the Camogie Association and the LGFA representation on GAA committees, and vice versa.
“The memorandums have been drafted to a similar template but differ in that they reflect the different stages that the organisations have reached in discussions on developing a new relationship.”
Ó Fearghaíl dismissed the criticism the association has received in sections of the media, insisting that the GAA has never been in better health.
“I have visited over over 450 GAA clubs in the past three years. I have a bird's eye view of the Association that few get. By visiting those clubs, I know the GAA is in a very strong position.”