Antrim craving a return to Casement Park says former Saffron star Kevin Madden
IT IS eight years since Antrim last played a home game in the Ulster Championship and former Saffron star Kevin Madden believes the loss of Casement Park is at the root of his county’s on-pitch struggles.
Antrim’s final appearance at their now abandoned west Belfast home was back in 2011 - the Saffrons had beaten Westmeath and Carlow on home soil before Down ended their run in the third round of the Qualifiers.
Since then plans for the redevelopment of the Andersonstown Road stadium have gathered dust due to planning concerns and further delays are now possible because of the absence of Stormont ministers.
Antrim meet the winners of the Tyrone versus Derry preliminary round clash in this year’s provincial quarter-finals. Madden says it is vital that his native county rediscovers its identity and he expects the Red Hands to come through both games convincingly.
“We finished on six points in Division Four this year although we lost some games by a point but I would expect Tyrone to beat Derry with a bit to spare and it’ll be a damage-limitation job then for Antrim,” he said.
“But there’s a bigger problem for Antrim in that we haven’t had a home game in the Ulster Championship since 2011 and we are craving that stadium to get that identity of Casement Park back.”
Meanwhile, the Portglenone clubman who managed Kickham’s Creggan to the brink of a league and championship double in Antrim last year, expects reigning provincial champions Donegal to be the next Ulster side to win the Sam Maguire.
Donegal reached the Super8s last year after beating Fermanagh in the Anglo-Celt decider and Declan Bonner’s men begin the defence of their title against the Ernemen at Brewster Park on May 26.
“Although his style of football isn’t to everybody’s taste, Rory Gallagher has done a tremendous job with Fermanagh,” said Madden at the recent PIPS Ulster Championship preview night in Newry.
“He has them playing the style of football that’s going to make them most competitive and in the Donegal game I think they’ll shut up shop for the first 40 minutes but in the last 20 minutes I think Donegal will pull away from them.
“Donegal have their own problems too, a number of players have left the panel recently and Odhran MacNaillais is a huge loss to them. But out of all the teams in the province, I think Donegal have the most potential and I think they’ll be the next team from Ulster to win an All-Ireland.”
Donegal comfortably beat Fermanagh in last year’s Ulster final after the Ernemen had shocked Monaghan in the semi-final thanks to a dramatic last-minute goal from Eoin Donnelly in the semi-final. Monaghan had beaten Tyrone at the quarter-final stage but the Red Hands regrouped and progressed to the All-Ireland final. Madden tips Mickey Harte’s men to reclaim the Anglo-Celt Cup this summer.
“In the last 10 years Donegal have won four Anglo-Celts, Tyrone have won four and Monaghan have won two so I don’t seen anybody outside of those three winning it this year,” he said.
“I would just about tip Tyrone this year.”