'Casement is a killer' for Antrim GAA, bemoans Paddy McBride
Antrim footballer Paddy McBride believes the ongoing frustration with the Casement Park project is a 'killer' in trying to advance the fortunes of Gaelic football and hurling in the county.
The PE teacher in Colaiste Feirste has first-hand experience of trying to raise standards, both at grassroots as a teacher, and as a key component of Lenny Harbinson's senior football team as they prepared for life back in Division Four in 2018.
"Casement is a killer. It is a problem," said the St John's man on the vast concrete bowl now lying redundant on the Andersonstown Road.
"It seems like there is not a GAA home for the community. Wednesday night and Friday nights, no matter what you were doing if you saw the lights on in Casement you wanted to go down there.
"Casement would help kids to enjoy it more and we would have more participants around the county."
McBride only got three seasons at the start of his senior career to play at Casement Park, and believes their identity is being eroded without it, although they have an impressive record since their home games switched to his home ground of Corrigan Park.
"Walking into Casement, it feels like 'this is our stadium.' You want to protect it. St John's is good for us because we play there regularly now and it has sort of become a fortress for us. Anyone coming up the Whiterock Road, we are going to make it hard for them and we haven't lost a league game there in two years.
"St John's has been brilliant for us, but obviously you want to be playing Casement."
He continued: "It has been a disaster. You got to play club matches and played semi-finals and finals there, underage club games and it's hard not to get a home draw in the Ulster Championship.
"In Championship football, if you get a home draw, that's massive for you, it's a big advantage, but we haven't had a home draw in six years.
"It's depressing sometimes even going past it and looking in. You see the state of it and you think what could have been.
"When you are in your twenties you are in your prime but not being able to play is harming us."
With new coaches due to begin a new coaching project throughout Belfast in 2018, McBride sees the need for improvement right across the board.
To that end, he believes all schools should aspire to compete at a higher level.
"Belfast GAA needs to improve as well. The school I teach in, we were playing 'E' football last year and I am trying to improve that.
"Now, we are playing 'C' across the board now. I am trying to focus on that," he states.
"What you want to be doing is getting the kids at school participating as well at higher levels. If you look at Tyrone, the CBS, St Pat's Dungannon, they are all at the higher level. We have St Mary's but they are not competing like others.
"I want to keep building on it so that they can bring it back to their clubs and make the clubs better in Belfast."