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Casement Park is finally shaping up to expectations

By Declan Bogue

Published 26/10/2016

Stadium of light: how new Casement Park will look
Stadium of light: how new Casement Park will look

Derelict stadiums are monuments to failed optimism. At present, Casement Park is such. Last August, a series of pictures were taken by the 'Urbex: Forgotten Ulster' project inside the ground.

There had been pictures uploaded onto the net previously, but they were of round bales perched on what was once the second-finest playing surface in the country, behind Semple Stadium in Thurles.

The round bales were almost nostalgic, a novelty as the ground returned to its natural state as Hoppy Dobbin's farm on the edge of town at Andersonstown.

The more recent pictures were grimly depressing. The notion of baling grass has given way to a tangled mess of ragweeds and cowslip.

When the ground opened in 1953 with a hurling challenge match between Cork - featuring Christy Ring - and Galway, each club in west Belfast had a section of the Mooreland Park terracing to maintain. The role that intensely local rivalry plays in the GAA extended to how these sections were kept, each left pristine.

Those terraces, built from household waste piled up to create the hill, are now crumbling.

The stand is a hazard. It was built from reclaimed steel from abandoned American Airforce World War II aircraft hangers in Fermanagh. It now rusts, forlornly.

If only construction was that simple now, or you could get away with banks of rubbish for a stand!

A sum of £6million has already been spent in the vacuum created by the delay in starting the project. It had been fraught with difficulties from the start, even allowing for an extensive public consultation process.

Residents felt that the stadium should only be designed to house 25,000 spectators, whereas the GAA stakeholders required much more.

This year's attendance at the Ulster football final was 33,343. The year previous was 31,997. In 2014, it was another sell-out, north of 33,000. Clearly, there is a demand for a new stadium, with Clones looking ever-more careworn. But the stadium has to be fit to house the biggest days in the Ulster GAA calendar, as well as the vague promise of the occasional All-Ireland quarter-final.

On Monday, there was significant optimism that this project can finally get a kickstart, although the new proposals still await approval from the Safety Technical Group on how the stadium could be cleared in the event of emergency.

Purely cosmetically, the second draft is a gorgeous architectural imaging. The bowl shaped canopy is a tribute to the space-age Allianz Arena in Munich, or at least a nod.

While the local residents group MORA (Moorland and Owenvarragh Residents Association), who have proved stubborn opposition to the first draft, peruse this latest proposal, they must be encouraged that the highest point of the roof is now 12 metres lower than before.

The capacity is also reduced. What once was a 38,000 all-seater stadium has now become a 34,500-capacity venue, with room for 8,500 people standing.

This is important to note because in the GAA there is no such thing as an all-seater stadium. Standing at games among opposition support has always been one of the more unique factors of the GAA.

Simply put, there is no need and less appetite for all-seater stadiums, and this adjustment has allowed the designers to meet the wishes of MORA somewhere in the middle.

As pleasing to the eye, and impressive as this stadium can be, it will live or die by how the safety concerns are addressed.

Can it be evacuated within eight minutes?

To that end, the GAA have created five side exits and purchased a strip of derelict land between Moorland Park and Stockman's Lane in case of emergencies.

As for the travel element, some people are aghast that supporters, typically coming from the west of the province from places such as Fermanagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and south Donegal might have to park at the site of the Maze prison and catch a park and ride service.

Go to the major stadiums of Europe such as the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and Rome, or Wembley. Can you imagine throwing the Passat up on a kerb close by and walking?

Casement Park has been a long time coming. And it will be a while yet. But at least they are getting it right, after all.

Belfast Telegraph

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