Cushendall star, Neil McManus insists that the home of Antrim hurling, Casement Park, needs to be restored to its former glory in order for the sport to grow in the county.
The once formidable ground has been lying idle since 2013 when it was closed for a major 38,000 seater refurbishment, which was granted planning permission in February 2014.
However, it was quashed a year later by the High Court in Belfast following a judicial review taken against the Planning Service, and although a further application was made in 2017, there has been no movement since.
Speaking at an AIB Club Championship media day, McManus reminisced on his memories of the stadium and lamented the fact that Antrim hurling has suffered since, with the county now operating in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League.
“When I was being brought up to Casement Park, along with my brother and father to watch games, Antrim were a team performing at a higher level then, they would have been playing the big teams, Kilkenny, Galway, Cork, Limerick in Casement Park. 10/12,000 people there. The Ulster final, a big day in the Ulster hurling calendar.
“What did that do? It made me, a young fella, want to get out there and play myself, we don’t have that at the minute.
“I have a great grá for Casement because every Friday at 1pm I’d finish work and go down, hit frees for an hour then go to Andytown Leisure Centre and you got to know people in that area of West Belfast. What a brilliant area, diehard Gaels, massively proud of their Irish traditions and heritage, and they want to see Casement thriving and we need to deliver it because we have no home.”
Though it was never a metropolis, fans were shocked last year at photos released by Antrim GAA of the stadium looking derelict and abandoned. McManus admitted that the rough nature of the stadium was what gave the home team the advantage.
Aerial footage of @CasementPark as it is today.
— Antrim GAA (@AontroimGAA) October 4, 2018
“The old Casement was decrepit, it was damp, cold. It was brilliant. I remember leaving it one day and one of the Offaly players absolutely hated the place and I thought ‘brilliant’ because it was home, welcome to the jungle, we played in that because it was useful to us.”
Six years later, the 31-year-old remains frustrated at the fact that the stadium was closed before planning permission was granted for the refurbishments, saying the move by Antrim GAA cost them their “home”.
“It should not have been closed in the first place. The decision to close at the time obviously without having planning permission secured was not the smartest move that Antrim GAA have made and it’s cost us millions of pounds, cost us our home as well, we are where we were.”