VIDEO: Ulster Rugby ace Darren Cave dreams of playing big knock-out games at a new Casement Park after EU windfall
ULSTER rugby star Darren Cave says it’s his “dream” to play Champions Cup and Pro14 knock-out games at a new Casement Park.
Speaking at yesterday’s EU-backed ‘Sport Uniting Communities’ launch at Queen’s University Playing Fields (The Dub), Cave hoped the £1.8m cash windfall – to be distributed between Ulster Rugby, the Irish FA and Ulster GAA over the next four years – will help break down religious barriers.
The Ulster centre said: “I don’t know if it’s something people are working towards – I don’t know if it’s a viable option in terms of the rules of the tournament - but I just think to have Ulster back playing in semi-finals and finals of both competitions [Champions Cup and Pro14] at Casement Park would be a fantastic.
“We’re here today about trying to change perceptions and bridging divides and, for me, that would be a really big occasion. What a special way for the two communities to reach out to each other and to say: 'We’re a small country, we need to work together.' It would be a magnificent way to do it.
“It’s a dream of mine because I want to get back playing and playing in those big knock-out games for Ulster, but also for what it would mean to this city and this whole country.
“If it happens in my playing career I would feel incredibly privileged to be involved. I hope that it happens one day. If I’m not playing, I will 100 per cent be there as a fan.”
The ‘Sport Uniting Communities’ initiative is a “collaboration project that will promote positive relations and cultural diversity” by staging multi-sports events and hosting shared workshops and programmes and it hopes to reach 17,000 children.
Cave, however, appeared to be dreaming bigger than the Special EU Programmes Body’s funding plans, with his Casement Park proposal.
For too long, he claimed, local sport has had a divisive impact on northern society.
“There are very few sports teams and sports stars that don’t divide communities.
“I think we’re ready for it – I think the country is ready for it, we’re ready for communities to start working together. We’re ready for the Ulster rugby team to go to Casement Park.
“It’s something that would have seemed ludicrous 20 years ago but those days are gone. We’re talking about the future and we’re talking about our kids.
“Do we want our kids to grow up with division [in sport]? Or do we want them to grow up thinking: ‘I’m from Ulster – I support the Ulster rugby team. I’m from Antrim and I support the Antrim Gaelic team’?
Cave added: “I don’t normally talk politics in interviews but I do [get turned off] because I don’t think people vote on the best policies.
“I think we’re very quick to complain about the MLAs but you just can’t just rock up and be an MLA – you have to be voted there.
“We are the ones that put the people there... People vote on colour [green and orange]. I think it would be great if that wasn’t the case one day.”
All three sports were well represented at yesterday's launch.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill and defender Jonny Evans were in attendance, while Down’s double All-Ireland winning manager Pete McGrath and Monaghan’s Allstar forward Conor McManus lent their support.
The SEUPB’s Acting Director of the Joint Secretariat, Paul Boylan, tried to reassure yesterday’s audience by suggesting the prospect of ‘Brexit’ would not impact negatively on the £1.8m sports fund.
“The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker recently stated that they see no more important use of the EU budget than guaranteeing peace by financing [such initiatives],” Boylan said.
Ulster GAA councils also claimed the £1.8m was already “ring-fenced”.