Casement Park redevelopment: ‘People said it will never happen but I was firm believer it would’

Preparation work gets underway for derelict Belfast GAA ground’s next role as a venue for Uefa Euro 2028 soccer tournament

The sight of a few hard-hatted workmen entering a derelict GAA stadium in west Belfast on Monday morning sent a quiet thrill along the Andersonstown Road.

Step ladders were set up outside Casement Park’s graffitied hoarding by one press photographer in an attempt to get a better view of the secured site as passersby peeked through the gates.

For the first time since Antrim GAA’s home ground closed in 2013, preparation work was finally under way for Casement’s massive redevelopment after being chosen as a venue for Uefa Euro 2028 soccer tournament.

“A lot of people said, ‘it will never happen’, but I was firm believer it would. I wasn’t sure when or how,” said former Antrim All-Star, Jane Adams.


“To be standing here today and it’s all starting to happen – even though it might just be a small number of workmen coming in, it’s still visual for people. It’s not just a great day for Antrim Gaels but the lost generation of kids that didn’t get to play.”

Despite the euphoria, funding has yet to be secured for Casement’s rebuild as costs soared from the original €90 million estimate to more than double that amid the project becoming a highly politicised row, with the DUP last year insisting there would be no “blank cheque” from public money to cover the additional bill.

A shortlist of new contractors have been drawn up – reportedly whittled down to around a dozen after the original contractor went into administration – but time is running out with a looming deadline for construction work to begin this year if the stadium is to host the Euro games.

Standing next to Casement’s weed infested grounds on Monday, Kevin Gamble expressed hope however that a new 34,000 capacity stadium can be delivered.

Pledges by the Irish and British governments to stump up funding alongside Stormont money and the GAA’s contribution are key, according to Gamble, the South Antrim GAA chairman who played one of the last club games at the Andersonstown road stadium.

Speculation is mounting that an announcement will be made by Dublin this week about a significant financial contribution towards the redevelopment.

“I think the political will is there to find the money,” said Gamble.

“Today is a massively significant day and over the next couple of weeks and months, we will literally be getting the ground ready. You can see the state of it, a lot of debris is lying around. That will all be getting cleaned up and the next big thing is the old stand being knocked down and terracing coming down. The real work will hopefully begin September/October time and then you’re looking at a two to two-and-a-half year construction period.”

How does the Antrim Gael feel about soccer and rugby being played on grounds once regarded as the finest GAA surface in Ireland?

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the hair stood up on the back of your neck when you were in the changing rooms at Casement Park; you knew you were coming down those famous steps, there was a crowd behind you,” said Gamble.

“The pitch was like a snooker table. You’ve heard county players from Cork, from Kilkenny, from Tipperary saying that Casement was the best ground they’d ever played on.

“But I’d like to see soccer and rugby played on it – we’ll throw open our doors to other sports and events. First and foremost though, it’s a GAA stadium and we want to see the biggest GAA games we can at Casement Park.”

The new Stormont minister responsible for overseeing the project, the DUP’s Gordon Lyons, has outlined his concerns about its future due to funding shortages since his appointment as Communities Minister following Stormont’s restoration earlier this month.

But for pensioner Colette Herald, who has lived on the Andersonstown Road for 54 years, the commencement of preparatory work to clear the GAA ground is “brilliant news”.

“I’m over the moon,” she said.

“We’re waiting so long on this. I walk past Casement on the way to Mass in the mornings and will be offering it up in my prayers. It’ll be great for all the people on the road and all wee businesses here. It’s good to see something positive.”

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Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times