Neil McManus: Antrim hurler believes Casement will happen but too late for him

Antrim hurler Neil McManus and Donegal footballer Jamie Brennan at the launch of the Football and Hurling Leagues at Malone House in Belfast on Wednesday
Neil McManus and Donegal footballer Jamie Brennan will in action when the Hurling and Football Leagues start this weekend

Neil McManus thinks it's a "matter of when and not if" work on the Casement Park redevelopment will start but fears it may not be soon enough for him to play again at the west Belfast venue.

McManus is the only member of the Antrim hurling panel who played a senior county game at the old Casement.

The restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive has given the Cushendall man belief the project will happen.

"I'm hearing good noises in the background," said the 31-year-old.

"We have commitment from Croke Park and Ulster GAA.

"Stormont is up and running again and the two ministers we need to back it have publicly stated that they want to see it start.

"We have commitment from Deirdre Hargey the Minister for Communities and also the Department of Infrastructure headed up by Nicola Mallon.

"I think with those people all putting their weight behind it, it's a matter of when and not if," added McManus, who was speaking at the launch of the Allianz Leagues in Belfast on Wednesday.

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Casement Park project go-ahead 'a matter of when not it' says Antrim's Neil McManus

Ulster GAA hope for Spring planning permission

Last week, Ulster GAA said it was "hopeful" the long-delayed project could receive planning permission by early April.

But while hopes are rising over the prospect of redevelopment work finally starting, McManus wonders whether it will be too late for him.

The venue has lain derelict since the last game was played there in 2013 with the High Court's quashing of planning permission for the project in December 2014 effectively mothballing Ulster GAA's plans.

"As a group of players, we want to be back in Casement. We want Casement to be our home again. We would love to turn it into a fortress once again.

"At the moment really and truly, we would just want to see the first sod cut. That's what this group of players want because they are all young enough for where when the development does begin, within two years, everybody else in the panel will still be there.

"Casement could be a stretch too far for me but not for any other member of the panel which is a really good thing.

"There are only two or three others outside of myself that have played there. That's including underage games."

'Residents have genuine concerns'

Casement Park pictured last summer - six years after the venue last staged a game
Planning delays have effectively mothballed the Casement Park project

McManus added that everybody involved in attempting to get the project over the line needs to be mindful of residents' concerns.

"Those matters have to be handled very sensitively. There are genuine concerns from the residents and they have to be addressed openly and fairly.

"Hopefully we can bring the residents on board because they will be a huge part of the area which it is developed."

With Casement still out of commission, the Antrim hurlers will play their Division 2A League home games in Loughgiel this year after the nomadic existence saw them welcome teams to Dunloy, Cushendall and Ballycastle in recent seasons.

First up, the Saffrons have an away trip to face Wicklow in Arklow on Sunday before hosting Mayo in Loughgiel in their first home contest on 2 February.

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