GAA Football

Casement Park's continued closure 'an absolute disgrace' - Harbinson

Antrim senior football manager Lenny Harbinson in front of a sparse support in Armagh, partly due to the unavailability of Casement Park.
Picture Seamus Loughran

THE continued closure of Casement Park is “an absolute disgrace” says Antrim senior football manager Lenny Harbinson, who claimed “there is a political element to it.”

The Saffrons haven’t been able to host an inter-county game there since 2013 and the St Gall’s clubman says that absence has an adverse knock-on effect on Gaelic games within the city.

Antrim had to forego home advantage again in their Ulster SFC quarter-final against Tyrone on Saturday, instead taking on the Red Hands in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

Harbinson had hoped to be able to host their round one qualifier match, either at Corrigan Park or as part of a double-header at Dunloy with the Antrim hurlers in the Joe McDonagh Cup, had Monday morning’s draw been favourable.

Instead, Antrim were paired away to Louth, who will be favoured to progress to round two.

Tyrone were always likely to beat Antrim, no matter where that match took place, but Harbinson argues that the lack of Casement contributes to the weakness of Gaelic games in the county:

“It’s an absolute disgrace that since 2013, when Casement closed down, we don’t have a home pitch. Yes, it’s been well-documented, it’s gone back and forth through the courts, but it’s gone on for far too long.

“Decisions should have been made by the legislators from a point of view of planning and there is a political element to it.

“The second-largest city in the island of Ireland and we don’t have a proper stadium… That’s wrong and it shouldn’t have gone on for as long as it has. Casement should be built.”

Harbinson contends that the presence of Casement Park as an active centre for the GAA in Belfast would attract greater numbers in terms of participation, as well as attendances:

“The knock-on impact on down the road is that youngsters, be they from south-west Antrim, Belfast, are driving past Casement every day, the iconic stadium… It should have been built. Needs to be built.

“The knock-on impact it has on youngsters, it could give them a home, give them a focal point, give them a desire to want to play Gaelic Games in Belfast, in what should have been and needs to be a fantastic stadium.”

Harbinson took his Saffrons squad there on Saturday morning as a ‘thank you’ to people who have backed Antrim GAA over the decades:

“We met at Casement. We went in to see the Casement Social Club, Casement has been very good to Antrim down through the years, they continue to be very good and supportive, Bob Murray and the committee there. So we were delighted to get in there.

“We stood in Armagh when we should have been standing in Casement. That’s wrong. Yes, thank you to the people of Armagh and the Ulster Council, it is a great facility but it’s our home match.”

Since losing to Monaghan at Casement in 2013, Antrim have won just once in the Ulster SFC, against Fermanagh in Brewster Park the following year.

The luck of the draws, or lack of it, has meant the Saffrons have been drawn away in Ulster every season since then, although this year they should have hosted Tyrone as the Red Hands had home advantage in the preliminary round.

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