For anyone with an interest in seeing Casement Park finally redeveloped and Antrim GAA getting the home it deserves, this was an incredible week.
The announcement that Casement Park was being put forward as a venue in the official Ireland and UK Euro 2028 bid was practically unbelievable up until the last year.
To see its name in the company of Wembley, the Principality Stadium and Hampden Park as host venues was astonishing.
That's, of course, because the stadium doesn't exist yet.
Casement Park isn't the only unbuilt stadium on the Euro 2028 list. But unlike Everton's new ground being built in Liverpool's docklands, securing the construction of Casement Park means rising above a stalled and dysfunctional political logjam.
And just as the wave of excitement began to ebb, the tired politics of Northern Ireland have reared their head again.
The two leading unionist parties in the North today released statements stating that Casement shouldn't receive the additional government funding it needs to be built.
Casement Park funding issues
Just over decade ago, Stormont committed £110m to the redevelopment of Windsor Park, Ravenhill and Casement Park. Only Casement Park remains unfinished, as the project has been hampered time and again by local planning objections.
However, the stadium planning was finally been greenlit last year. Casement became part of the Ireland and the UK's Euro 2028 bid because Windsor Park didn't have the capacity to be a host venue. The GAA has granted permission for the ground to be used in the tournament.
So now comes the hard part: building the thing.
The condition of Casement Park is not much different than it was when we profiled it with Neil McManus back in 2019.
"GAA is dying in this city."
This week we went to the desolate stadium that is Casement Park. It should be the pride of the county, instead it's abandoned. It's time to #buildcasement. pic.twitter.com/kUufCkCUQb
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) June 22, 2019
The GAA has pledged £15m to the redevelopment project. Back when it was functioning, Stormont had promised in the range of £62m. The total cost of the redesign was projected at £140m by one politician as recently as 2021, and according to journalist Brendan Hughes, there is a suggestion that the British and Irish governments could fill the funding gap, even if no one seems to know the full cost of the stadium.
Speaking to the BBC this week, Stephen McGeehan of Ulster GAA sounded very confident for the future of the stadium, saying "we now see a pathway and a way forward to work with officials to get the necessary approvals, either with an Executive or with the support of the UK and Irish governments, to ensure that Casement Park can and must now happen."
Significant statement from Ulster GAA.
Casement Park stadium redevelopment is "close" says @mcgeehanstephen in spite of funding & political issues. pic.twitter.com/e0IkgQn8rD
— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) April 13, 2023
A month out from local Northern Ireland elections, it's interesting to see unionist politicians today push back on the notion of extra funding for the stadium.
Tonight, DUP sports spokesperson Stephen Dunne released a statement saying his party does not support 'additional funding' being allocated to the stadium.
“When we met the IFA some weeks ago, we explained that we do not support additional funding for the building of Casement Park in Belfast beyond what was originally allocated by the NI Executive to the three sporting bodies.
Whilst we support the joint Euro 2028 bid, we would be greatly concerned if Treasury was to unilaterally allocate additional resources to meet the GAA’s shortfall in the Casement Park project at a time when other vital public services are in need of additional and necessary resources.”
The UUP released a statement echoing that same sentiment today, saying “it is inconceivable to expect the public purse to cover the additional cost”.
Public funding for stadia is a sensitive subject all around the world, especially amidst a cost of living crisis. But for the likes of the DUP to mention public service funding when they've pulled the plug on the administration of powersharing is a bit much. If the prospective funding was to be earmarked for the redevelopment of Windsor Park, would we hear similar objections?
You'd presume the bid backers wouldn't have put Casement Park forward without full confidence the financing is in place. But given the fragility of politics in Northern Ireland, Friday's developments are not positive.
An Ireland and UK Euro 2028 that doesn't feature a Northern Ireland stadium: that would be an apt symbol for the political dysfunction of Northern Ireland.
It would just be devastating if Casement Park were to again be held back by the pettiness of Northern Ireland politics.