Antrim chairman Seamus McMullan lays out ‘robust’ five-year strategic plan

Glenravel man says Casement Park rebuild will reinvigorate Antrim GAA and beyond

Antrim chairman Seamus McMullan
Antrim chairman Seamus McMullan hosted Monday night's county board meeting at Casement Park PICTURE: Curly McIlwaine

ANTRIM’S new county chairman Seamus McMullan says a new Casement Park will transform Belfast and be the catalyst for increasing participation levels in Antrim.

The Glenravel clubman, who took up the reins from Ciaran McCavana of St Enda’s, Glengormley, has also commissioned a strategic review on behalf of the county board as he gets to grips with his new role.

McMullan’s sporting peak was winning a junior football championship in 1999 but he and the Glenravel club have always been firm supporters in both the small ball and big ball codes.

Describing himself as a “statistician by profession and a farmer by vocation”, McMullan also wants to see the rejuvenation of the much-heralded ‘Gaelfast’ – an ambitious GAA-funded scheme that was designed to increase participation rates among primary school children.

The GAA committed £1m to the city-driven project in 2018 but it lost serious momentum during COVID.

Giving more energy and funding to ‘Gaelfast’ is one of the central planks of McMullan’s chairmanship as he surveys what he regards as the “continued improvement” of Gaelic Games in Antrim.

Glenravel farmer Seamus McMullan
Glenravel farmer Seamus McMullan who is also Antrim county chairman PICTURE: John McIlwaine

“COVID came right in the middle of the ‘Gaelfast’ project and we weren’t actually able to go out and engage,” McMullan said.

“We have been in dialogue with headquarters and how we take that forward. You need a roadmap to see where you’re going.

“It’s about driving the thing on in Antrim; there is that desire to continually improve. We’re working with Dr Paul Donnelly [Ulster University academic and former head of ‘Gaelfast’] on a strategic plan and looking to chart and set out where we’re going to go over the next five-year period.

“We had our last strategic plan which lapsed in 2022, which covered the COVID period and that was a world-changer. We’re putting together a vibrant, robust, strategic plan now which takes account of the world where we’re at now in a post-COVID era and we’re trying and catch the opportunities that are there. That’s why we’ve commissioned Paul Donnelly and a team in Sheffield to take that forward.”

McMullan added: “We’re going right out to the clubs. For example, you look at GAA in the city. Is there room for further development there? Hurling specifically in the city?

“Can the level of involvement and participation be improved? I suppose there is a changing dynamic and the people that are coming into the city too and obviously the challenge of rural clubs running alongside that.

“We’re looking at our coaching games structures there, including second-level schools – where are we with that? Are we functioning as well as we can be? Perhaps we are or perhaps we can focus on getting better.”

Referring to his day-to-day job as a farmer, he says: “The decisions that’ll be taken today will influence what happens in two or three years’ time, and it’s the same principles when Antrim GAA is concerned.”

On Monday night, McMullan had the novel idea of hosting a county board meeting in the grounds of Casement Park as hopes remain of the famous stadium being rebuilt for Euro 2028.

“Casement Park is a project for Belfast, it’s also a project for Co Antrim and the north as a whole – it’s not just for ourselves,” he said.

“The Euros will be a major international sporting event and attraction. That in itself has an opportunity to inspire many people who are involved with Gaelic Games. It would be a great catalyst for Belfast and the GAA.”

McMullan feels Antrim GAA is already well equipped for full blown integration with so many Antrim clubs already engaged in the promotion of female codes.

“I think the opportunities are fabulous and there are huge benefits for the organisations coming together. I think we’re in quite a positive place in Antrim; there are 40 or 41 of our clubs in Antrim that work together, fully, in terms of committee structures.”