Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: Get Casement built

WHAT a big seven days it has been in this part of the country for GAA. Last Saturday afternoon, Jarlath Burns became the 41st Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. I have had the privilege of knowing Jarlath personally for 20-plus years now and he genuinely is what you see portrayed in the media – a real down to earth GAA man who values the work put in at grassroots level and club level right the way up to the higher echelons of Croke Park.

Jarlath will have done a lot of groundwork in the last 12 months setting a lot of things in motion as in reality you only get a short window at the chance of GAA Uachtarán.

All the preparation and groundwork has to be done in the 12 months from when the position is secured so he can hit the ground running.

In the North here it couldn’t be better timed in terms of having a man who understands the complexities and that is with no disrespect to anyone else.

Unless you have lived through it and been a part of it you can’t fully understand it. Given that Stormont has recently been up and running again, the first issue on the horizon for the political parties is that of Casement Park.

While most of the mood music has been overall positive, this seems to be the one area of contention that there is differing views on and there has not been a consistent answer given on right across the political divide.

Having a GAA Uachtarán who can press hard on behalf of the GAA in the North might prove to be very beneficial in terms of getting this project finally up and running, but I do note Jarlath himself did an interview whereby he has said the GAA has reached its limit in terms of funding. This won’t change under his watch but I am sure wherever else Jarlath can lend a hand with he will.

That is just the first in a long list of issues Jarlath will have to deal with. In the worst case scenario, if Casement is not built and Northern Ireland have to come to Croke Park to play their home games, which would provoke another outcry from certain quarters.

I am sure the Devenish Complex in South Belfast can put up a big screen to show the games and maybe some post-match entertainment to cheer punters up in the event the result does not go as planned.

On the pitch, it was a mixed bag for the Ulster contingent last week with a massive weekend for some coming up.

My own county Derry continued with their recent run of form, and by recent I mean 14 months. Since the McKenna Cup started last year in January 2023, Derry have only lost two games – the Division Two league final to Dublin and the All-Ireland semi-final to Kerry last year. That is remarkable consistency over a prolonged period.

Saturday coming will be another massive test against a Dublin side who looked impressive last week but taking them out of Croke Park there is a chink in their armour so it will prove to be a big game for both teams on Saturday. Our neighbours across the Sperrins in Tyrone showed what they do best when they have doubters or their backs are against the wall.

They came out in the second half against Mayo with the bit between their teeth and played with the type of aggression and intensity that when it is not there people question not only their ability but their teak toughness and mental fortitude which is a slight against most at that standard, especially a Tyrone man with a chip on his shoulder. Praise them from all angles I say.

Our fellow Division One team Monaghan just seem to be struggling at the minute and this week’s game against Galway will be a big game for both sides in determining who might fall into Division Two.

Talking about Division Two, the top three teams in the table are three Ulster teams and it is a safe bet to say that two of them will be in Division One next year.

It is still in all three of their own hands at the minute but with Cavan yet to play Armagh, this will be the big game for both counties. Whoever can win that one has a fair chance of taking the second promotion spot alongside favourites Donegal.

I don’t think playing in Division Two will have any major effect on this Donegal team long term. In 2014 I remember playing for Derry in a Division One final in Croke park which was preceded by a Monaghan and Donegal Division Two final.

Fast-forward five weeks later and Donegal beat us in the first round of the championship at Celtic Park and went onto an All-Ireland final where Kerry fell over the line against them. If anything, it might give the players the chance to build momentum and implement different game-plans in a less pressurised environment knowing that against Derry at Celtic Park all bets will be off. I for one can’t wait for that one.

Down are doing in Division Three what Derry are doing in Division One, winning games and building momentum which will be perfect for them coming into the championship and allow them time to build a squad.

With the management team in year two, any excuses of finding their feet at this level and developing game-plans etc are out the window but the addition of Ciarán Meenagh was a master stroke by Conor Laverty.

All the Derry lads who worked with him previously are highly impressed by everything he has done and to have that wealth of knowledge and experience in any set up is vital.

I look forward to this weekend’s football and can’t wait to see what the league produces this weekend in Celtic Park…..and maybe the Devenish too.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW