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Stormont green light for revamp of Casement Park

Casement Park, Belfast will become Ulster GAA's playing headquarters over the next few years following redevelopment as a 40,000 all-seater stadium.

Funding for the project, which was first mooted in 2002, is all but guaranteed following a pledge by Northern Ireland's Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson in yesterday's draft budget that money would be made available for sports stadia projects.

That includes an £80 million allocation for the redevelopment of Casement Park. A further £15 million will be forthcoming from the GAA to complete an exciting project which will result in a fantastic facility at the west Belfast venue.

As well as providing 40,000 seats, over 80 per cent of which will be under cover, it will also feature international standard floodlights, premium and corporate facilities, as well as other amenities associated with modern stadium developments.

When completed, it will take over from St Tiernach's Park, Clones as the venue for Ulster football finals, as well as other major games.

Describing the development as “as exciting and great news in these difficult times”, Ulster Council president, Aogan Farrell said that, when completed, Casement Park would be an outstanding venue and a fitting tribute to the

many people who put so much hard work into GAA activities in Ulster.

“Apart from that, the redevelopment will have major economic, regeneration and social benefits for the entire community. The project is another example of the positive role that sport can play,” said Farrell.

“We have recognised for a long time that we needed a major stadium facility in Ulster and this certainly fits the bill.

“We have one-third of the entire GAA membership in Ulster so it's only right that we would have a stadium that befits the province's status. We're all very excited about it,” he said.

A 40,000-seater stadium in Belfast will be a major boost for the GAA in Antrim and beyond although it won't be welcomed in Clones whose days as HQ for Ulster football finals are numbered.

l A major drive is to be launched in Tyrone to recruit new young referees. A development squad of rookie whistlers is to be set up as a first step towards helping them progress to become inter-county referees.

Tyrone county board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin is the man behind the initiative and he cer

tainly won’t be allowing the grass to grow under his feet in implementing this.

“The time to be looking for new referees is right now,” insists McLaughlin, “I think it is imperative that we attract young, good quality referees into gaelic football and we certainly intend to give them all the encouragement we can.”

McLaughlin confirms that he has asked the Tyrone referees committee to oversee this move which he believes will have potential benefits for the GAA in the county.

“I know some people will not agree with the idea that people in the 20-25 age group may not be interested in refereeing but they might just be surprised. Young people are a lot more mature nowadays and they have a lot of moral courage. Besides, they are fairly sharp on IT and as we all know young people can be very single-minded — that certainly helps if you are a referee,” says McLaughlin.

And he makes it clear that potential referees should not allow themselves to be put off because of what happened to leading Tyrone whistler Martin Sludden earlier this year.

“The physical abuse to which Martin was subjected at the end of the Louth v Meath Leinster final has no place in the GAA. While we all felt for Louth in the way they had lost the game, nonetheless what took place out on the pitch after the final whistle did not show the GAA up in a good light. This was an isolated incident ,” adds McLaughlin.

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