Hurling & Camogie

Dunloy heading to Croke - but Shiels hoping for return to Casement soon

Paul Shiels of Dunloy Cuchullain's, Antrim, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final against St Thomas's of Galway this Sunday at Croke Park.
Paul Shiels of Dunloy Cuchullain's, Antrim, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final against St Thomas's of Galway this Sunday at Croke Park. Paul Shiels of Dunloy Cuchullain's, Antrim, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final against St Thomas's of Galway this Sunday at Croke Park.

CROKE Park is always somewhere Paul Shiels is happy to play – but a return to Casement Park is high on his priority list too.

The Dunloy stalwart will travel to GAA HQ in Dublin to take on Galway champions St Thomas's in the All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final this Sunday, but remains to keen to play major matches back at the home of Antrim GAA.

The best case scenario for the re-opening of the west Belfast venue is almost three years from now, so 34-year-old Shiels may not be back playing on the pitch there.

However, he wants club and county colleagues to enjoy the Casement experience, explaining: "We've had more players play in Croke Park than in Casement Park which is very disappointing, because we grew up watching that great Dunloy team of the 90s and early 2000s winning championships and Ulster titles in Casement Park. We are going to possibly have a full generation of players that might not experience that.

"So, look, it would be great to see it get built, sooner rather than later. It's a great venue. There was always a great atmosphere and great buzz about it.

"Credit to Antrim County Board, they have redeveloped Corrigan Park and brought the county final back to Belfast that way. Still, the home for Antrim really is Casement and it would be nice to see it done."

Shiels doesn't subscribe to the theory that Antrim teams' on-pitch fortunes have suffered away from Casement, but he does point out difficulties:

"I don't know if it's damaging. That's a hard one to say, if it's doing any damage or not. I'm not really sure.

"I know from my time when Casement was closed we spent a lot of time travelling to different venues for training. Floodlights, everything that goes with it, whereas when Casement was open, that's where we trained, that was our base.

"But, we have Dunsilly up and going now which is great. The county team is based there.

"It would just be nice to see from an Ulster Gaels' point of view, big games returning to Belfast in a state-of-the-art venue like Casement.

"You look at Pairc Ui Chaoimh [in Cork] and the redevelopment they done there and it's a fantastic stadium. Leinster obviously have Croke Park. It would be nice to get one up in Ulster."

Shiels is obviously looking forward to playing at Croke, even though it's a fairly familiar venue to many in Cuchullain's colours:

"Aye look, as a club it's always nice to take your club to Croke Park. We've had quite a few of our players have experience with Antrim playing in Croke Park, so I think there is only four or five maybe haven't played there.

"That's what you want to do, where you want to be playing whenever you are growing up. As you develop you want to play in Croke Park so look we are looking forward to it. It is exciting for the club as a whole.

"We have plenty of experience of having played there so I don't think the venue really will affect us. We are obviously coming up against a very experienced side in St Thomas's. That's a bigger challenge than playing in Croke Park."

Indeed the five-in-a-row Galway champions are hot favourites to reach the decider, and Shiels talks up their quality, even if their last All-Ireland came back in 2013:

"Aye, we'd always be watching all the club championships. We've watched their games, not only this year, but obviously they've been in the All-Ireland series for a number of years. They have won five Galway titles in a row.

"We've obviously watched them - they won a club All-Ireland in 2013 and they played Loughgiel in the semi-final that year. We were at that game. They are a great side. They have a lot of quality players.

"Obviously a few boys with inter-county All-Ireland medals in their back pocket so we are well aware of the task at hand. Look, we are glad to be there. It's a nice problem to have. The boys are looking forward to it."