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Casement Park: Scaled-down version may be the answer to conundrum

John Campbell

Where do we go from here? That's the big question being asked in Ulster GAA circles following the refusal to grant planning permission for the re-development of Casement Park into a 38,000 all-seater stadium.

Suddenly, the vision of Ulster senior football finals along with other major fixtures embracing a miscellany of competitions has, temporarily at least, faded.

Instead, Ulster Council and Antrim county board officials are left to ponder their next move in relation to what is a rapidly decaying venue.

Not only had the proposed new-look Casement Park been ear-marked for high-profile GAA fixtures but only a fortnight ago the ground was described by Hugo MacNeill, the man heading up the bid to bring the 2023 World Rugby Cup to Ireland, as "crucial" to the plans to host the competition.

And it was proposed, too, that the stadium would house concerts and community events that would help show west Belfast in an enviable light.

For now, that is pie in the sky. The Project Board is left to reflect on a decision that could have serious ramifications for the future welfare of the GAA.

Objections to the concept were both detailed and vociferous, the local residents' groups citing a litany of complains that ranged from the height and potential glare of what would be ultra-modern floodlights to what is considered to be inadequate parking.

Certainly, the redevelopment scheme is ambitious and far-reaching, the venture driven by a palpable desire on the part of the stakeholders to ensure that the GAA not just in west Belfast, Antrim and Ulster but in Ireland as a whole would be well served for the future.

Instead, while Ulster Rugby now boasts a state of the art venue in the impressive Kingspan Stadium and Windsor Park is rapidly acquiring the status of a stately home for international soccer, the GAA is left to reflect on its next move.

It may well be that a decision could be made to go back to the drawing board and perhaps exercise the option to go for a scaled-down version of what was initially proposed given that a number of refurbished grounds dotted around the country - Wexford Park, McHale Park Castlebar and Pearse Stadium, Salthill to name but three - are only sparsely populated for the greater part of the year.

Even a 25,000-capacity stadium in any town or city never mind Belfast is unlikely to require the erection of the house full sign on a regular basis given the costs associated with attending games on a regular basis nowadays and the fact that there is virtual wall-to-wall television coverage of major matches with TV companies robustly vying for the relevant broadcasting rights.

A big decision was put into the public domain yesterday - now Ulster GAA is tasked with making a decision of its own. It has faced down major challenges in the past, this is another on the road to progress.

Belfast Telegraph


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