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Casement Park. Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO
euro 2028

GAA president says he’s ‘pessimistic that the Euros will be played in Casement Park’

The Belfast venue has been named as one of the ten venues chosen to stage games.

GAA PRESIDENT JARLATH Burns admits he is ‘pessimistic’ about the prospect of Casement Park hosting games for the Euro 2028 tournament.

It was confirmed last October by Uefa that Ireland would host the championship with the UK, and the redeveloped Casement Park in Belfast was named as one of the ten venues chosen to stage games.

But there have been serious doubts cast about the rebuild of the stadium being completed in time, with uncertainty continuing over the British Government’s commitment to helping finance the project.

Burns pointed to next month’s July election as a further obstacle in the path of the redevelopment.

“There’s an election on in the north. And whenever an election is called, you enter into what we call purdah, where governments are not allowed to make big donations or big announcements. It’s very handy for the Conservative government that they get out of having to do it.

“The Gaelic Athletic Association will always be in a very precarious position when we find ourselves depending on the goodwill of the British government. It’s never worked out for us before. I’m very, very disappointed with the pace of how it’s gone. It’s not looking as if we’re going to get the Euros.

“The whole project is being run by the Strategic Investment Board and they have been telling us that in order to get the tenders in and to find out what it’s going to cost, it’s going to take six weeks and then there’s going to have to be another four weeks for appeals to that. We’re working away, we’re clearing the site and that, but at the end of the day, it’s Uefa and their timelines are important.

“It has to be up and running for almost a year before you can actually say that it’s properly functional, so I’m now pessimistic that the Euros will be played in Casement Park.”

Attending the recent Europa League final between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen at the Aviva Stadium reaffirmed Burns’ belief of the potential positivity for the city of Belfast at being involved as a host in an international soccer tournament.

“Having attended the final of the Europa League in the Aviva, I can see what Uefa bring to a stadium and to an event. West Belfast deserves that and we’re not getting it. It’s just a great pity because the carrot was dangled in front of us and then it was taken away.

“And actually the big loser here is going to be the game of soccer in Northern Ireland society and the economy. The Department for the Economy were waiting to weigh in with all sorts of other things that were going to come from there.

a-view-of-casement-park-as-preparation-works-begin-on-its-redevelopment A general view of Casement Park. Presseye / Jonathan Porter/INPHO Presseye / Jonathan Porter/INPHO / Jonathan Porter/INPHO

“As somebody who was born and reared in Northern Ireland with a particular affinity to West Belfast, because that’s where my wife is from, I would have felt that it would have had the same impact as U2 playing in Sarajevo at the end of their Zoo TV tour, having spent most of that tour reporting from war-torn Sarajevo. It was sending out the message that this city is now back, it’s now a modern, major European city.

“It’s just a pity. But we’re still very hopeful and expectant that we’re going to get the funds to make a provincial stadium where we can play our Ulster finals.”

Burns, speaking yesterday at the Michael Cusack Centre in Carran, Clare, as the 2024 All-Ireland hurling championship was launched, admitted the specifications for the rebuild would be altered if it did not have to meet requirements set out by Uefa.

“One of the things we’re going to have to do in order to get the number of people in that’s required (by Uefa) is that we’re going to have to dig further down and take out maybe four or five metres to create more seating.

“That’s massive money that it will cost to do that. That obviously wouldn’t have to be done now, so it would take a lot less to build Casement to Ulster GAA final spec as opposed to European Championship spec. That is correct.”

gaa-hurling-all-ireland-senior-championship-national-launch-2024 Jarlath Burns with inter-county hurlers at the 2024 GAA All-Ireland hurling championship launch. Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

The GAA President believes the Government’s contribution to help fund the Casement project would hold even if the Euros were not held there.

In February, then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed the Government would be pledging €50 million towards the stadium redevelopment costs, as part of an €800 million package for cross-border projects.

“Firstly, I would have to take my hat off and thank the Irish government for that money. It was a very generous shared island donation. It didn’t come with any stipulations. One thing about the Irish government when it comes to the GAA is that they do not act in bad faith. 

“From time to time they might say something that we might disagree with, but they’ll always act in good faith and they have always been very generous to the GAA, understanding the role that the GAA has in Irish society.

“And it is a genuine shared island project because there will be teams from the south up and down all the time playing there.”

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