GAA Football

Lynch convinced he'll get to play in new Casement

Antrim's Declan Lynch in action against London in 2019.

ANTRIM'S Declan Lynch remains convinced that he will get to wear his county's jersey in the redeveloped Casement Park – but says it is up to the players between now and then to provide some momentum.

While the county's hurlers enjoyed a fine 2020 that moves them back into the top tier in league and championship this year, the footballers remain pinned down in Division Four.

A new high-profile management team of Enda McGinley, Stephen O'Neill and Sean Kelly will bring hope if and when games are able to restart.

Lynch admits that the absence of Casement Park has been used too often as an excuse for the footballers and says they must be upwardly mobile of their own accord.

“I think there's been too much emphasis put over the years on Casement and not having a home as a reason why Antrim have underachieved in both hurling and football, men's and ladies'.

“The hurlers have put together a very successful year last year, but I'm sure if you spoke to Darren Gleeson or Conor [McCann], it's just the foundations.

“They're into the Liam McCarthy and into Division One, and it's trying to keep making forward steps. The footballers under Enda, Stevie, Sean and Stevie Quinn, it's up to us, the lads pulling on that jersey, to make sure that people will come out to Casement when it's redeveloped.

“There will be hard times for the next few years after this pandemic. We need to give people hope and encouragement of going to watch Antrim teams again like they experienced in 2009 and '10 and '11.

“I think it's a job of work for the whole of Antrim to make sure the supporters and Gaels of Antrim have competitive teams that can fit into a state-of-the-art stadium.”

The GAA earlier this week cast doubt on its ability to fund its £15m portion of the project in the “short-to-medium” term, but insists it remains fully committed to the new stadium.

A planning decision is long overdue and if the need for a judicial review is avoided, the GAA is aiming to be on site later this year and finished by the end of 2023.

On that timeline Lynch, who captained the county last year under Lenny Harbinson, would be 32 by the time the stadium opens.

“Yes, I do see myself playing in it for Antrim. That's my ambition anyway, it's up to whoever's manager to give me the good news and tell me I'm allowed to play in it.

“My ambition is, and I think it's an ambition of many players in their late 20s and early 30s, that they're going to try and hang on to make sure we're able to play in the new state-of-the-art Casement.

“The lockdown for the last year or two might help extend players' careers. I'm not at the stage of even discussing the idea of retiring but a year and a half of less football than you'd normally hope for will hopefully extend it by another year or two.

“It's frustrating that it's been so long in terms of when we last played in Casement to where we are now, still not at a stage where planning has been approved.

“I've been fortunate enough to play many times at [the old] Casement, it's more the generation of youngsters that have grown up and missed that opportunity.

“The ones coming up now, we need to ensure that there's not another generation of young girls and boys that miss out on playing in Casement Park.”

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