GAA Football

Antrim GAA to lobby for Corrigan Park upgrade

Antrim chairman Collie Donnelly hopes to see a covered stand at Corrigan Park

ANTRIM chairman Collie Donnelly says the county board can’t wait on Casement Park being built and that a meagre upgrade of Corrigan Park is essential in the interim period.

In a candid interview, the St John’s man lamented the fact that the county’s elite teams don’t have a home or a ground that has a covered stand.

Antrim’s senior footballers and hurlers have played the vast majority of their games at Corrigan Park in west Belfast this year.

Following the closure of Casement Park, the county’s footballers have had to play all their Ulster Championship games on the road.

The hurlers, meanwhile, have hosted Championship games at Ballycastle, Dunloy and Loughgiel in recent seasons.

“The biggest task is being without Casement Park,” Donnelly acknowledged.

“If you don’t have a home, you don’t have a base for the players it’s difficult.

“We’ve obviously got Dunsilly and that’s a plus, but there’s still a bit of work to be done there.

“People think we’ve got this big training centre but we’ve four changing rooms and two pitches up there.”

Donnelly revealed the county board would lobby Central Council and the Ulster Council to help fund a 500-seater covered stand at Corrigan Park.

“I think we’ve made people feel welcome at Corrigan Park this year and we can’t do much more,” he said.

“Again, we’re talking to Central Council and the Ulster Council to try to get some money to get a small covered stand in Corrigan because we feel that’s only right for the patrons of Antrim.

“We don’t have a covered ground in the whole of the county. It’s alright talking about Casement Park – and even if it’s built in 2019 – we’re going to need somewhere to play our lesser matches whether it’ll be our minor teams or whatever.

“Hopefully we can find money from somewhere to get a 500 or 600-strong covered stand at Corrigan. That would be the hope.”

Donnelly was part of the Saffron Vision group that swept to power in late 2015.

While acknowledging there is “no quick fix” in Antrim, the former county hurler has been heartened by the fundraising efforts of Saffron Business Forum who have signed up almost 80 businesses.

“Last Friday morning at seven o’clock we had a Saffron Business Forum – the fundraising group – and we’d 80 people in the room and about 60 companies.

“People are genuinely interested if we can have the patience to stick with it and get it right on the field.”

Last weekend was one of the most crucial for Antrim’s senior hurlers and footballers.

The hurlers managed to gain promotion back to Division 1B while the footballers suffered relegation with the last kick of the game against Longford at Corrigan Park.

“You can have all the fundraisers and meetings in the world but your senior teams are your shop window and if we get things right on the field a lot of the other problems fade into the background,” insisted Donnelly.

“I don’t know if our players realise that because there can be a bit of disconnect. When the senior teams are doing well it makes our job an awful lot easier to go to sponsors.”

“The hurling result was a great fillip for the people involved. Next year we’ll be looking forward to having two or three of the bigger counties coming to Antrim to play us.”

Donnelly added: “I was pleased for the management team as well; they quietly went about their business and we couldn’t have asked much more from them.

“Last Sunday was as a step back [for the footballers]. After getting promoted last year and to go back down is hard to take.

“But I suppose you have to look at the whole weekend. A lot of people are trying hard but it’s such a big task. We are a dual county with probably too many clubs.

“In Belfast, I think there are some clubs just surviving. If you mention amalgamation, people think you’re talking about changing your religion.”

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GAA Football