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Casement Park holds key to our future: Danny Murphy

Retiring Ulster Council secretary frustrated by impasse

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/08/2016

Must make progress: Danny Murphy feels failure to resolve the Casement Park issue is holding back the GAA in Ulster
Must make progress: Danny Murphy feels failure to resolve the Casement Park issue is holding back the GAA in Ulster

Retiring Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy has expressed his frustrations at the delay of the Casement Park project.

"Rugby and soccer have had their stadiums built. We are still being messed about," stated the Down man.

"From when we appeared before the DCAL committee last June, there's been an enormous lot of people creating problems for the project of one sort or another.

"In reality, we need to go back to basics. Prior to 2007, we were in support of a multi-sports stadium. Then after 2007, it became unlikely to occur. In 2009, the Government asked us to come up with a strategic stadium requirement for the GAA. The same happened for rugby and the same happened for soccer."

He added that the Ulster GAA expect to have a new planning application in by the end of the year, but they may not necessarily come down on their desired capacity.

He said: "At this moment in time, we haven't conceded on capacity. The capacity needs to be a certain threshold. As far as we are concerned, the consultation is still ongoing and we don't create the belief that it is 'our way or no way.'

"Having said that, it also needs to meet the strategic need. If we are going to play Ulster finals on it, it needs to be able to take Ulster finals. If we are going there, we have to go there."

After 19 years as Ulster Council Secretary, his health had become a concern.

"I have had a long and ongoing battle with various cancers. The issue with regard to dealing with them now requires my full focus," he admits in a meeting room of the Ulster Council offices in Armagh city.

"My health issues are the most critical issues I have to deal with going into the future. It doesn't mean that my commitment to the GAA, or the Ulster Council, the people and staff here who work in the offices, will be in any way diminished."

His role in high office is captured by the quirk that by 1991, he was Down County Chairman, and also a selector for Pete McGrath when they bridged a gap and brought Sam back among the Mournes.

"In 1991, there were quite difficult times. But after a meeting that took place in Ballykinlar at the end of April, I felt at that stage that Down would be a major force," he revealed.

"All our players went into a room and we had a discussion with no holds barred. There were many uncomfortable and unkind things said. But when the players left, they left unified and absolutely focused on one thing, that was to win the Ulster Championship."

Two months later, they beat Tyrone in the final.

Murphy was invited by the late John Vesey to act as the Provincial secretary, a role he has been in since 1997, and admits there have been trials along the way.

"Getting properties burned was a problem. There was still a reluctance to see that an attack on community property was an attack on a community," he said.

The dropping of Rule 21, forbidding members of British security forces from playing Gaelic games, was also a huge time of change.

Murphy explained: "This had implications for all our clubs and all our people.

"We could have done two things. Done nothing and let the system stagnate, or the GAA could get active. A lot of our young members joined."

In time, he would advise the PSNI on forming a club.

In capital projects, he believes the safety of sports grounds legislation accelerated the process of improving and upgrading the county grounds of Ulster. After that, came the floodlights.

"It was a massive undertaking that arose from a massive dispute between us and the British Government," he said.

"It all became a problem when Michael McGimpsey introduced the soccer strategy, where soccer was going to be treated as a favourable case, while GAA was not. We took great exception to that.

"Then, David Trimble brought down the Executive and matters were referred back to Westminster. We challenged the British Government on it and we had some very testy sessions, which were ultimately resolved by Angela Smith, who is now Baroness Smith."

Other occasions threatened to rip the heart out of the GAA, such as the murder of Bellaghy Chairman Sean Brown, who was abducted in May, 1997.

"The death of Sean Brown was and still is a massive tragedy," stated Murphy.

"The fact that the ombudsman's report has still not been released makes you very sceptical.

"From a point of view to do with the GAA, it was difficult, and very uncomfortable," he said.

"Having said that, Sean Brown was such a wonderful person, it was not difficult to pay testament to a man who was held in the highest of esteem by the community in which he resided."

Now, he leaves an Association in rude health, and the wishes of many for good health.

Belfast Telegraph

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