Thumbs up from Gaels as Casement Park redevelopment edges closer
GAELS from Belfast and beyond reacted with optimism and relief to yesterday's announcement that final planning permission has been granted for the redevelopment of Casement Park.
In the latest move in a long running saga for Antrim's county ground, Stormont infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon announced the successful completion of the planning process for what will be a 34,500 capacity stadium.
Planning approval was initially granted for a 38,000 capacity all-seater stadium at the Andersonstown Road site in 2013 but after objections from residents and question marks over how the project was handled, that decision was later reversed. Now, with the plans having been revised and the thumbs up received from the relevant minister, the return of high-profile football and hurling to Casement Park appears to be edging ever closer.
Work is due to begin on the site in the early part of next year, with a target date for completion by 2024. The news came on the same day in which Newry, Mourne & Down District council gave planning approval for a proposed GAA centre of excellence at Ballykinlar.
While question marks remain over where all the funding will come from for Casement – current estimates sit at over £30 million more than the original figure of £77 million – there was optimism in the air last night among Ulster Gaels.
Veteran Antrim footballer Declan Lynch has fond memories of playing at his county ground and is delighted to be “one step closer to having our home back”.
“Children will know what it feels like to play at Casement Park. Young Gaels have missed out on getting that chance to play there, but the news today brings it a step closer for dreams to come true for so many young Gaels. The sunny Championship days at Casement Park are coming back soon,” the Lámh Dhearg clubman added.
Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, chair of the Laochra Loch Lao club in west Belfast whose players have never had the opportunity to play at Casement, was equally enthusiastic.
“As a newly established club, we have been watching developments with Casement Park closely and are delighted that it is one step closer to realisation,” he said.
“We look forward to the day when we get an opportunity to play at our county ground and to watch the best talent of Antrim and Ulster. This will be huge lift for our young members and it is a great day for all Gaels.”
Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan said he hoped the return of Casement would also herald the rebirth of senior inter-county hurling competition within Ulster.
“I think it's tremendous and hopefully having Casement will see the return of the Ulster Hurling Championship as there were some fantastic games and occasions there in the 1990s and early 2000s,” the Newry man said.
“The second city on the island needs a fitting home for GAA and hopefully Casement can help inspire a new generation of young Gaels.”
Referring to the similarly positive developments on the Down centre of excellence, Sheehan added: “The news on Ballykinlar is fantastic for Down Gaels, having a top class facility to train our county squads in and somewhere for our development squads to play consistently is great news and a great tribute to all those who have worked so hard in the county executive to bring this about.”
Tom Daly is chair of the Casement Park Stadium Development Project board and said yesterday's news would have a positive impact on the wider west Belfast community as well as the GAA.
“Casement Park is a now a live catalyst for the development of Gaelic games and it will not only host some of the largest, most significant and exciting sporting occasions on this island, but it will also be a venue that GAA clubs, schools and community organisations will access and use,” the Donegal man said.
“With a strong community focus, the project will create employment opportunities, increase footfall, support local businesses eco systems and supply chains and it will significantly add to the vibrant cultural and arts heritage that exists in west Belfast and across the city.
“The combined impact of the construction phase of the project and its operations, when complete, will leave a lasting sporting, economic, health and cultural legacy for many generations to come.”