Casement key to Antrim fulfilling potential in years to come insists Liam Sheedy
IF you build it, they will come – that’s the message from Liam Sheedy as the former Tipperary boss stressed the need for Casement Park to become Antrim’s “field of dreams” once again.
Sheedy, who guided the Premier County to the 2010 All-Ireland title, is currently working in an advisory role alongside the Saffron hurlers’ management team as they prepare for life in Division 1B of the National League before the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup in the summer.
He is also helping the county board as they develop a vision for hurling going forward, and believes the redevelopment of Casement is key if Antrim is to have any chance of fulfilling its potential in the long-term.
“I’d like to think the Casement Park project will move on again in 2018, that’s hugely important from an identity point of view,” said Sheedy.
“Like, Semple Stadium had a massive impact on me as a child – it was like walking into a field of dreams. I remember thinking ‘I’d love to play in here’, and Casement Park can have a similar effect in Antrim.
“Dunsilly is a fantastic facility that can only go from strength to strength in the same way Morris Park had a huge impact on Tipperary as a high performance training centre.”
Sheedy has been working closely with county chairman Collie Donnelly, and highlighted the need to “broaden the base” to ensure there is a supply line of quality hurlers coming through from underage.
Achieving that, though, is easier said than done.
Current Antrim captain Simon McCrory, a hurling development officer within the county, has spoken in the past of the challenges faced when support is in such short supply.
However, with the GAA expected to announce an ambitious financial plan to rejuvenate Gaelic Games in Belfast during the coming months, Sheedy believes it is only a matter of time before significant progress is made.
He added: “Participation numbers are a challenge.
“You have to broaden the base, and that starts with the primary schools, the club-school link, and really getting the kids involved and interested in the game of hurling because it’s a wonderful game.
“If your overall base is narrow at the bottom, it becomes difficult when you’re looking at the high performance peak at the top. If you broaden out that base you’ve a much better chance of getting that flow up to the top.
“The reality is there are some very good, talented players coming through but we just need more of them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution – it’s a combination of a number of things.
“I’m sure there are numerous schools that would welcome top class, quality coaching. The challenge is to add value every time they go into a school, and you do that by ensuring the kids enjoy themselves every time they go out on the pitch.
“There are pockets of really good work happening in Antrim, and it’s just about how you get more pockets like that, because a rising tide lifts all boats.
“It’s a long-term project, and I believe there’s huge energy and support from outside of Antrim too. The GAA is anxious to try and help Antrim, and a plan has already been presented.
“There’s huge potential here.”
Increasing the number of coaches across the county will be a key part of the ‘Belfast Plan’ once it finally kicks into action, but that is only part of the problem.
And Sheedy insists that, while he is happy to lend a helping hand, the answers to Antrim’s ills must come from within the county.
“People can dip in and dip out from time to time, but ultimately this is something the county has to solve for itself and really look to get people involved.
“The overall number of coaches and people within the county who are willing to up-skill themselves is really important. You can get help from outside, but the solution to this has to be found within Antrim – that is the reality.
“This is about taking small steps, understanding where they’re at and where they want to get to.
“But all I’m seeing is energy and enthusiasm. Everybody knows it’s not where it needs to be, but there’s potential to take it up in the coming months and years, and that’s an exciting project for Collie and his team to take on.”