Corrigan Park rebuild the continued shaft of light in Antrim
THROUGHOUT the darkness of the pandemic, one shaft of light has been the speedy resumption of rebuilding work at Corrigan Park.
The planned 500-seater stand with terracing on the left hand side of the famous west Belfast ground has taken another massive step towards completion with the steel frame arriving on Friday.
Corrigan Park Development Group chairman Collie Donnelly says despite everything Corrigan Park’s facelift is still on target to be finished by October.
With many potential GAA projects put on ice because of the financial hole the pandemic has blown in the association’s reserves, Antrim GAA is still able to put its best foot forward.
“Thankfully, the Corrigan Park project was already started [before the pandemic] and any projects that were started were able to continue,” said Donnelly, who held the county chairmanship role between 2015 and 2018.
“It’s a facility that is very much needed obviously for a club that has 30 teams with one pitch and a facility where we can play National League matches.”
Due to financial constraints the GAA was forced several years ago to abandon its ambitious plans to plough money into secondary county grounds, but Corrigan Park – once the spiritual home of Antrim football – got the green light because Casement Park’s doors had been shut in 2013.
“There was no funding for secondary county grounds because that funding had stopped, but the GAA gave it the status of a ‘county ground’ because Antrim don’t have one,” Donnelly explained.
Sold to the GAA hierarchy as Antrim’s ‘mini Parnell Park’, Central Council committed £500,000 to renovation work at Corrigan, while host club St John’s contributed £100,000, a figure that was matched by Antrim’s county board.
The Ulster Council also ploughed £75,000 to help provide the county with a covered stand fit to host inter-county matches.
Corrigan Park’s rebuild is part of a wider emphasis to re-invigorate Gaelic Games in Belfast.
‘Gaelfast’, led by St Paul’s clubman Paul Donnelly, is expected to kick into gear again as the lockdown restrictions ease further, while current chairman Ciaran McCavana has kept Dunsilly – Antrim’s centre of excellence – in sharp focus and continues to apply diplomatic pressure on Casement Park being given the go ahead.
“In the mind’s eye, it’ll be great if there are 5,000 people in Corrigan Park on a Friday night for big games,” Donnelly envisaged.
“This project probably goes back to [former Ulster Council secretary] Danny Murphy’s time, God rest him, and [President] John Horan and [Director-General] Tom Ryan supported the project and were committed to part funding it.”
Donnelly is also hoping the tentative ascent of Antrim’s senior county football and hurling teams in 2020 will also help the overall landscape.
“Our county football team get gates of 500 but hopefully they’ll get promoted and that number will increase. The hurling obviously gets more of a following and we’ve had some good days at Corrigan against Carlow and Tipperary.
“I just think the building work is another addition to the ‘Gaelfast’ project and the emergence of the 4G facilities around the city. Hopefully it’s a ground that all kids will aspire to play in,” Donnelly added.
“The steel arrived on Friday for the stand structure so it’s right on target for October.”
The pitch at Corrigan Park will still be in use with St John’s last round-robin Championship match with Dunloy fixed for August at the venue.
Antrim GAA released an aerial video of the development work at the old ground which once staged All-Ireland semi-finals back in the 1940s and was a traditional hotbed of Gaelic Games activity for club and county.
In more recent times, the county footballers have availed of the excellent facilities at Glenavy and Portglenone, as well as Corrigan, and were on the cusp of promotion out of Division Four before the pandemic called a halt to the action.
It is anticipated, however, that Lenny Harbinson’s men will get the chance to haul themselves out of Division Four when the condensed inter-county scene resumes on October 17.
It has been mooted the last two rounds of the National League will be slotted in first before the Championship throws in at Halloween. Antrim have still to play Wicklow (a) and Waterford (h) with another win and a draw guaranteeing them a Division Three berth next year.
The Antrim hurlers, managed by Tipperary's Darren Gleeson, have qualified for a winner-takes-all Division Two promotion play-off with Kerry which is expected to get the green light later this week when the GAA announces its Championship format.