Brexit a ‘very real concern’ as Cushendall eye All-Ireland final

Antrim club and Neil McManus focusing on task at hand against St Thomas

Neil McManus is preparing for a fifth AIB All-Ireland club semi-final. Just one has been successful but, encouragingly, that was against Galway club Sarsfields three years ago.

This Saturday in Dublin's Parnell Park Cushendall face the current western champions, St Thomas's, hoping to reach another final and enjoy it a bit more than the 2016 defeat by Limerick's Na Piarsaigh.

There’s more than St Patrick’s Day on the horizon in March, though. Later that month the UK is scheduled to withdraw from the EU and, in the current chaos over how to avoid a disorderly departure, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is uncomfortably vivid for someone from Antrim, who travels regularly to Dublin.

“Aye,” says McManus. “It’s the only thing we hear about in the North, anyway. If the outcome of Brexit means a hard border then it’s a huge problem. I’m in Dublin a couple of times a week.


“Are you going to be getting out and having your hurls – all the lads who are finished playing will tell you, they remember crossing the Border, bus stopped, off you get, through your kit bag, soldiers taking your hurls, throwing them away and all this carry on. We don’t want to be involved in that, that’s for sure.”

McManus has vague childhood memories of the Border.

“I remember sitting in the car with my father driving and just sitting in queues and stuff but very little. Things have changed hugely apart from a couple of times when a police officer would stop and say, ‘What are you doing?’ with a hurl in your hand when I was waiting on a lift in Belfast, this type of stuff. There’s very little of that going on nowadays really and certainly not in the Glens. There’s more people walking about with hurls than without them.

Relatively untouched

“Certain areas in the North have moved on further than others probably to be totally honest. The Glens was relatively untouched by the Troubles. There were instances where there were fatalities and things like that but they were fewer, a huge amount fewer than in Belfast or Border areas. So I don’t see a huge change for the Glens but for the people of the North, Brexit’s a very, very real concern.”

On Wednesday Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna also expressed his concerns for the GAA in the event of a disorderly departure.

“I think the uncertainty of the Irish economy is the real concern and we are a subset of that. In terms of conferencing, an orderly Brexit won’t have a huge issue in my view. We have operated with different VAT rates and different currencies and so on.

“An open border would be the ideal solution in many respects. Import tariffs that would come in on agricultural products would definitely have an impact and I guess we anticipated that by putting our own pitch facilities in the Naul (GAA grass farm). Other things are hard to put a finger on. It is the uncertainty that we would be concerned about.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times