Casement Park news a boost as Antrim footballers and hurlers prepare for crucial weekend

Antrim's Declan Lynch finds a way past a London defender. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
Antrim's Declan Lynch finds a way past a London defender. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

NEWS that plans for the redevelopment of Casement Park have been passed by the NI Executive was a great start to what could be a memorable week for Antrim Gaels.

After seven seasons without a permanent home ground, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel and work is expected to begin on Casement in three months with games back at the west Belfast venue by 2023.

And the good news could continue at the weekend when the Antrim footballers meet Wicklow in a crucial NFL Division Four fixture, followed by the hurlers' Division 2A final against Kerry the following day.

"It's very positive news," said Declan Lynch, skipper of Lenny Harbinson's footballers.

"It's been a bit late in coming but it's absolutely positive and it's a bit of good news for everybody in this time of uncertainty and I think it'll act as a massive driver in terms of spurring everyone on.

"People who were thinking about retiring will maybe hang on for an extra years or two to play in Casement so it is extremely positive that we're not going to lose another generation of youngsters who won't get the chance to play at Casement. Hopefully it will push Antrim forward.

"It's a credit to all those who have kept fighting for it and kept the dream alive. When some people tried to squash it there were people who continuously fought to ensure that Casement would be delivered.

"I never lost faith in it. I always knew we would get to a stage where planning permission would be granted. Others like Paul Maskey and Sinead Ennis have really kept their finger on the pulse and stayed committed to ensuring that the stadium is delivered.

"There's a massive tradition of Gaelic Games in west Belfast and we've seen a revitalisation of GAA over the last few years due to Paul Donnelly and the Gaelfast team. This news is another step forward and we have a lot to be positive about."

Antrim gave themselves a real chance of promotion when they beat Division Four leaders Limerick in their last game before lockdown. Wins against Wicklow on Saturday and Waterford in their final game will get them out of the basement division.

"This is the best panel that I've been involved with in Antrim," said Lynch.

"I'm sure Wicklow are the same, they're a point behind us so it's a massive game for both teams. Two points is all we are focussed on and then we'll pass it over to the hurlers so they can finish the week off.

"This has been a great way to start such an important week for Antrim. It has the potential to be a very positive week for the county but we're under no illusions that Wicklow will be a massive game."