Video: Casement Park will be ready long before Euro 2028, insists Stephen McGeehan
CASEMENT Park's driving force is confident that the Belfast stadium will be ready long in advance of Euro 2028, with GAA matches perhaps played there as early as 2025.
Ulster GAA's Stephen McGeehan, whose role is Casement Park Project Sponsor, told the Irish News that work will begin on the massive redevelopment next year, with an anticipated two-year period of building work.
Involvement in a successful bid for European soccer's major continental tournament would put Casement on the international map, as was the case when Croke Park hosted Six Nations rugby and Republic of Ireland soccer matches late in the first decade of this century.
Casement is one of three Irish stadia on the 14-venue shortlist in the joint bid dossier for Euro 2028, along with Croke Park and the Aviva in Dublin. That number is set to be reduced to 10 if the bid is approved by Uefa next year but for symbolic reasons Belfast remains a likely venue, along with the Scottish and Welsh settings of Hampden (Glasgow) and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
As Casement will be the home of Antrim GAA and also Ulster's regional stadium, the northern provincial GAA body has been working hard behind the scenes on Casement Park planning since the judicial review came out strongly in its favour at the end of May.
"In terms of timeframes, one of the big decisions that Ulster GAA took following the successful court decision was to invest almost £2million in the next part of the design," Ballinderry man McGeehan said. "That's the part that we're working on now and that design will be complete around the spring, February, March of next year.
"Then we will be finalising the business case to be submitted alongside the design to the Department of Communities. We'll be looking for decisions in summertime around the funding and the support for the new stadium. We expect that will take a number of weeks.
"Our ambition at the moment with the design being finalized, the business case being approved, the funding position being settled, is that we will start on site towards the back end of 2023."
If all goes according to plan, the expectation is that Casement will be ready to host GAA matches by late 2025, said McGeehan:
"The building programme is generally going to be for two years. So it'll be towards the end of 2025. Probably more realistic for major events, the 2026 season would be the season we would be targeting for our first full GAA season back in a newly revamped Casement Park."
Clearly funding is a major issue, with an estimated £33m shortfall in the then calculated £110m construction cost, a price which has undoubtedly risen significantly in recent years.
However, McGeehan insists that the political will to 'make Casement happen' is there across the board, despite these troubled financial times, and that the west Belfast venue will be hosting major matches, in both Gaelic games and soccer, in the latter part of this decade.