GAA Football

It was always Corrigan Park or anywhere for the players: Antrim assistant Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly was part of the last Antrim Championship team to play at Casement Park Picture: Seamus Loughran

FOR one tumultuous week, the angry refrain throughout Antrim was ‘Corrigan Park-or-nowhere’ when Ulster Championship opponents Cavan lobbied for the game to be moved – but for the management and players it was a case of Corrigan Park-or-anywhere.

On Wednesday night, the Ulster CCC held another vote and it was decided the April 23 Championship showdown between the two counties would not be moved away from the popular west Belfast venue following last November's draw.

However, Antrim assistant Sean Kelly insisted the squad never lost any sleep over the controversy and have been too focused on trying to pull off back-to-back NFL promotions this season.

In this weekend’s penultimate round of games, Antrim and Louth sit at the top of Division Three and one of them can take another significant step towards Division Two in Ardee on Sunday.

“To be honest, we were that entrenched trying to get ready for the weekend that we didn’t think a lot about the Corrigan Park stuff. We just left it to the powers-that-be,” Kelly said.

“We would have played the game anywhere, to be honest, it is good to get a game in Belfast but it wasn’t a priority for us because we just didn’t have time to think about it. We couldn’t lose our focus on what’s ahead of us.”

The St Gall’s clubman added: “With the local community around Corrigan it means plenty of kids can get in and see the game.

“If it had been up in Armagh you probably wouldn’t have got as big a travelling contingent. But with a full capacity at Corrigan you’re guaranteed a good atmosphere and hopefully our supporters get behind us - but we have to do our part of the job as well.”

Kelly, who was a key member of the brilliant St Gall’s team that won the All-Ireland in 2010, played virtually all of his Antrim career at Casement Park – a mile away from Corrigan Park.

Indeed, Kelly was part of the last Antrim team that played an Ulster Championship match at Casement, against Monaghan in 2013, before its doors were closed.

Kelly, now in his early 40s, still misses the days when he played at the famous stadium – and to see the ground lying derelict for the last nine years would, he said, “break your heart”.

“We met at Casement for some or our away games this year and I was looking through the fence at the pitch, it’s just so sad,” he said.

“I was speaking to the younger players in the Antrim squad and I forget that the vast majority of them have never played there. That’s a whole generation who haven’t played at Casement Park.

“While Corrigan has been very good to us, there is nowhere like Casement and playing there and the atmosphere it generated. That’s our home ground.

“It was the best surface I ever played on, that was always my memory, the surface.

“It was a big wide, open pitch. I loved going there, I loved everything about it, the changing rooms under the stand. To see it now would break your heart.”

Kelly has been part of Enda McGinley’s backroom team that is seeking to land a second consecutive League promotion with two rounds of games remaining in Division Three.

Sunday’s trip to Ardee is likely to be Antrim’s toughest assignment of the campaign.

“I’ve watched Louth a couple of times and they are a serious team. Yes, they’ve got Sam Mulroy, who is an outstanding player, but they have a solid team around that who have massive work-rate and other quality players.

"I’ll not go through their names but they have plenty to keep us occupied. I can’t imagine anything else other than a close game in Ardee. Hopefully we can keep ourselves emotionally and physically in the game.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football