Former Antrim star Anto Finnegan to bring GAA to the home of Ulster Rugby…

So, interesting developments in sport recently. Whilst the Executive has still to discuss Northern Ireland’s end of a bid to host the Rugby World Cup, Leo Veradkar has already had approval from the cabinet in Dublin for an all island bid to host the tournament in 2023.

The two venues apparently slated to hold matches in Northern Ireland are redeveloped stadia at the current home of Ulster rugby Ravenhill and and a new showpiece GAA ground at Casement Park, if they can get around some pretty stern objections to the current plan from local residents.

In the meantime, whilst Casement is being rebuilt, Ravenhill is likely to host its very first Gaelic Football match as a fundraiser organised by former Antrim football captain Anto Finnegan in aid of a charity he set up to help tackle/highlight motor neurone disease.

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  • Coll Ciotach

    Excellent idea from Anto. This will get the letsgetalongerists in paroxyms of delight, so much so they may even pay out good money to show how noice they are, at least some good will come out of it.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m sure that between them FJH and Drumlin will organise a cross community protest to keep those getalongerists on their toes!

  • Drumlins Rock

    Would love to go Mick but organising a band parade up the Andersontown Road that night, going to collect for a charity set up by a fellow Orangeman, Dr Banardo, you might have heard of it.

    Genuinely though wish Anto and the other organisers well as a novel fundraising idea for a worthy cause.

  • Dec

    That should be, Mr Barnardo.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Br. Barnardo ? 🙂

  • Alan N/Ards

    It sounds like a good idea. Hopefully Ulster Rugby will be talking with the residents who live in the area. I’m just not sure if everyone who lives in and around Ravenhill will be supportive of the GAA playing there.

  • ThomasPaine

    Why would they have a problem ‘with the GAA playing there’ Alan, let alone a Gaelic match being played there for a very worthwhile cause?

    And why would it matter to Ulster if a few bitter ignoramus’s objected to it anyway?

  • Alan N/Ards

    Why indeed ThomasPaine? As an Ulster rugger fan since there were four men and a dog going to the games, I personally have no problems with it.

    This is not a natural GAA area, and to bring thousands of GAA fans into it could cause difficulties. It has nothing to do with bitter ignoramus’s. Ulster Rugby should be open to everyone as the tax payers have paid for the new ground, so the GAA are entitled to use the ground. Likewise, when the refurbishment of Windsor starts, the IFA will need Ravenhill as well.

  • ThomasPaine

    I am an Ulster rugger fan too. I was at Ravenhill in 99 when Toulouse and Stade Francais went down. I also used to live in Mount Merrion Avenue.

    I am a sports fanatic. There are very few sporting events around the world I haven’t been to, be it an Aussie Rules game, a UFC event, a Champions League game in Italy, multiple All Ireland finals, Wimbledon, a lot of local football games, Heineken Cup games, Shinty, an NFL game, Olympics, Ryder Cup, a Carl Frampton fight etc etc.

    And unlike most of them, GAA games have been completely absent in uncomfortable atmosphere, snobbery, racism, sectarianism and any other form of bigotry, as well as full of community and culture – I’m no lover of bands but those at GAA games lap the pitch in a peaceful, non-triumphalist nature and manage to bang their drums without gratuitously offending anyone.

    So I am asking why playing a gaelic game at Ravenhill would be so problematic?

    I think if there was to be a problem, it would be bitter ignoramus’s. They believe, without being to a single match, that all gaelic and hurling lovers are anti-protestant, pro-Catholic PIRA men. Maybe if this had any basis in reality then there would be difficulties in staging a GAA contest at Ravenhill. But it doesn’t.

    A lot of players and fans for clubs and counties south of the border are atheist/protestant. When ever there has been any case (thankfully extremely rare) of bigotry within the GAA, they are quick to jump all over it and hand out massive suspensions. The GAA is an inclusive organisation. It’s most valuable trophy is named after a protestant.

    Now, having said all that I understand some people may be annoyed that the GAA permits clubs to name themselves and as a result some (very few) clubs are named after who many would deem terrorists.

    But to the people naming their club after an INLA man for example, he was not a terrorist, he was a freedom fighter. And they have chosen his name due to his ties to the sport, not singularly because of his violent fight against imperialism. Whether you or I agree or disagree with this is neither here nor there, especially as Kevin Lynch’s GAC is not the club playing at Ravenhill.

    All the evidence is there to suggest James Craig was a terrorist, an anti-democrat and a traitor to the British Crown and parliament, but the PUL community ignored it and named a great big town after him. You don’t get nationalists constantly complaining about it and boycotting the town though. There are many other examples of PUL terrorists being celebrated by their community, but you don’t get half the crowing.

    Some people on both sides view their own not as terrorists but as men fighting for the right cause. We need to recognise that, say fair enough, the past is the past, there were multiple battles and wars, let’s agree to disagree and let’s move on. No-one is asking PUL’s to play for Kevin Lynch’s GAC, but just because PUL’s disagree entirely with how one club named itself, that does not mean PUL’s cannot or should not join another club with no naming issues (99% of clubs), all of whom would be delighted if they joined.

    Sport is a very powerful weapon used to cross boundaries and bring people together. We need to use it more here and the GAA have a role to play, but first all people need to be educated about who and what the GAA is (ie. not a tool used by Republicans to keep fit during the summer, as was put to be once by a bitter, ignorant in-law)

    PS: No-one criticises the GAA more than me. The Grab All Association’s corporate greed is getting out of hand and their constant tinkering with the rule book is making gaelic and hurling less and less a spectator sport. They have their issues, but it’s right to stick up for them when necessary. And playing this game for this cause is such a time.

  • Alan N/Ards

    As I said earlier, I’m ok with the game being played at Ravenhill. I simply believe that Ulster Rugby should be talking to residents in the area before the match takes place. Maybe a bit of education is a good thing. The GAA while far from perfect have made strides to make the game more inclusive. That is a good thing but they still have a long way to go. It wasn’t so long ago that eight out of the nine Ulster counties snubbed the Queen when she visited Croke Park. Well done to the County Down who were brave enough to go. The GAA is not just a sporting body. Far from it.

    Do you think the residents of Mount Merrion will support the game? Genuine question.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Was Sam Maguire not also a republican terrorist? In the eyes of unionist’s obviously.

    I don’t have a problem with the sporting side of the GAA, especially the counties who made the effort when HRH visited recently. There will come a day when unionist’s will deem it ok to embrace the GAA. That time hasn’t arrived yet but this game is a start. Invite unionist’s to the game. Let them see what it is like in an enviroment hey would feel comfortable in.

    Maybe there will even come a day that NI can play at Casement. Now that will be a good news story.

  • sportisall

    I am a Ravenhill resident and I would absolutely welcome a GAA game at Ulster Rugby. I am also a GAA fan, a former player, and a friend of Anto Finnegan.

    This would not only be a wonderful occasion for his cause, but for NI at large, showing off one of our grand new stadiums.

    I too hope that one day major soccer matches will be played at Casement Park.

    By the way, it should not be a shock to the system to see a GAA game played at Ravenhill. It was, after all, originally a GAA venue.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    You’re a nice guy. I’ve always liked you. But I feel I have to point out that your position is nowhere near as tolerant and enlightened as you seem to think it is. You say: ‘I’m ok with the game being played at Ravenhill.’

    As if this is big of you.

    It’s a fundraiser for motor-neurone disease research. So well done for not siding with motor-neurone disease against Gaelic football.

    ‘…Ulster Rugby should be talking to residents in the area before the match takes place’

    Yes they should. It’s just good neighbourliness.

    But they should also take the view those who are opposed to the game are rancid bigots so filled with hate that they prefer motor-neurone disease to taigs.

    So sure, consult: but let’s not fail to recognise bigotry when we see it.

    ‘Maybe a bit of education is a good thing.’

    Physician, heal thyself.

    ‘The GAA while far from perfect have made strides … they still have a long way to go.’

    You know what? The GAA does not need your imprimatur. It does not require any patronising remarks from you about the ‘progress’ it has made. The last thing the GAA should ever do is attempt to placate people who hate everything it stands for.

    Who do you think you are, telling your betters that they have ‘a long way to go’?

    You, my friend, are the one who has a long way to go. And unlike the GAA, you (and unionism generally) has scarcely taken a single step yet. For example – ever been to a game? If not, why not?

    ‘The GAA is not just a sporting body. Far from it.’


    The GAA has never claimed to be ‘just a sporting body’. It is, and always has been, much MUCH more than that. It is nothing less than our most vital cultural institution. God forbid it will ever be so reduced as to be nothing more than a piddling little organiser of games.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    I realise I got a little hot under the collar in that post.

    The reason, I guess, is that your post, ostensibly reasonable, was chock-full of exactly the sort of pernicious and obnoxious lies that ‘moderate’ unionists still tell themselves, in order to justify a bigoted attitude towards Gaelic games that has not changed much in twenty years.

    (Note: I don’t doubt for a second that you BELIEVE everything you wrote. That doesn’t mean they’re not lies, just that they’re not your lies.)

    The alienation that exists between the PUL community and the GAA is almost 100% the fault of the PUL community. The GAA has done a huge amount in recent decades to narrow the gap – the PUL community has not reciprocated. This is an ongoing scandal.

    The PUL community should be ashamed, should grow up and come join the party. Instead, we find the deal-breakers get ever more esoteric, ever more puerile, such as the tsunami of horseshit about Kevin Lynch – or in this case, you’ve even turned the visit of the queen to Croke Park into a grievance against the GAA! Fair play, that took some doing.

    The problem here is not the GAA. The problem here is unionism’s attitudes to the GAA, which are purest bigotry, informed by invincible ignorance.

    No surrender to bigotry!

  • Alan N/Ards

    You think the GAA is perfect. That’s fair enough. I have no problem with you believing that. I believe that my children are perfect, although other people probably think differently.

    The fact, that only one of the Ulster counties thought it was worhwhile to meet the Queen, speaks volumes about the majority of Ulster GAA. How is that reaching out to the “pul” community? The other 24 counties have gained respect as far as many unionist’s are concerned. Down made the effort to reach out to unionist’s why couldn’t the rest. Do you support this snub?

    I have nothing to be ashamed about concerning the GAA. I don’t hate the GAA. Nor do I hate the people who play/watch it.

    Billy, I know that I’m not perfect. I have many faults and strive everyday to lose them but I don’t consider myself a bigot. I will not be commenting again about the GAA to avoid offending people but will comment on the piddly games organisers of Ulster and Irish rugby

    What lies did I write?

  • Billy Pilgrim


    I’ll try to turn down the heat a little. Please don’t stop posting re the GAA. And please do accept my highest regards. I think it’s perhaps because you ARE among the most enlightened posters on this site and you WERE trying to strike a ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ note that I was so offended. If you were just one of the usual bigots, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

    For the record, I’m firmly of the opinion that you are a thoroughly good egg. And I daresay a much more agreeable fellow than I am.

    As to the details: I don’t think the GAA is perfect – indeed scarcely a day goes by when my blood pressure isn’t heightened by some GAA-related issue. But I do think it’s wonderful. Many of the best moments in my life have been GAA-related, in one way or another. And sometimes, when little else does, the GAA makes me proud to be Irish.

    As to your point about the queen’s visit to Croke Park, I will just reiterate what I said earlier, because it may have passed you by: you have turned the queen’s visit to Croke Park into a grievance against the GAA.

    This demonstrates clearly your desire to find fault, to nurse grievances, and to invent them where they don’t exist.

    For the record, it wasn’t an easy thing for we, the membership of the GAA, to invite the queen to Croke Park. But we did it. And yes, not everyone turned up for the circle-jerk itself, but they didn’t protest either.

    And for all your praise of County Down, I’ll bet you haven’t been seen on the terraces at Pairc Esler all the same. Do you even know where / what Pairc Esler is? And I’ll bet your name isn’t to be found among the at Ballycran. Do you even know where Ballycran’s pitch is?

    ‘I have nothing to be ashamed about concerning the GAA.’

    Yes you do. It’s the largest sporting organisation in your country (which I’m assuming you would define as NI?), the most significant cultural institution on the island you call home, and an absolutely vital part of the lives of hundreds of thousands of your fellow countrymen. And yet you know almost nothing about it. And most of what you do know is lies. Such as the lie that the GAA ‘still has a long way to go.’

    I’d be ashamed if I knew as little about the IFA, Orange Order, unionism or the Protestant churches as most unionists know about the GAA – even though most of these institutions have done infinitely more harm to me and mine than the GAA has ever done to you and yours.

    Almost everything you think you know about the GAA is a lie, which means that every time you talk about it, lies come out – even though you yourself aren’t consciously lying. Which is why it’s a wicked thing to be so completely ignorant of such an important institution.

    ‘What lies did I write?’

    That the GAA ‘has a long way to go.’

    No sir; it’s you (especially you, because you AREN’T a bigot) that must make the effort to open your eyes and ears and mind.

    But in truth, most unionists don’t want to know about the GAA, and prefer to keep incanting ever more esoteric pretexts (Kevin Lynch blah blah blah) because they know if they let their guard down, they’ll like it too much. And then where would we be?

  • Alan N/Ards

    When I first commented on the game I said it was a good idea. I did say that Ulster Rugby, should to the people in the area about the game. That was all I was going to say on the threaf. I was responding to ThomasPaine in the other posts.

    That I believe the GAA has a long way to go in persuading unionisn doesn’t make it a lie. I should be allowed my own thoughts on that. I’m not calling you a liar because your opinion is different. You are right when you saythat unionism needs to try and understand the GAA.

    I first watched gaelic football on Channel Four back in the 80’s. I enjoyed the game but I then listened to the GAA President’s speech after the game. He starting speaking about “the artificial border” etc. As a unionist, that was enough to make me believe that I could never be part of the GAA. It was as simple as that. That kind of talk was alien to me.

    I played sport , from school days until I was in my late 20’s, alongside people from different backgrounds. We played hard and shook hands and after the game. We never discussed the border or politics. It had nothing to do with sport. Unionist’s struggle with the mixture of sport, politics and culture that makes up the GAA.

    Billy, I watch the Down games on tv. I enjoy watching the sport that is gaelic football. I don’t really feel comfortable with the other aspects of the GAA. My irishness is not defined by the GAA. It doesn’t make me a bigot. It doesn’t make me a bigot by saying that Ulster Rugby should talk to its neighbours before arranging this worthwhile game.

    You’re right about Parc Esler but wrong about Ballycran.

  • Alan N/Ards


    I have been to Ballycran. I’m not a member. I don’t want to mislead anyone.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think that all the sporting codes should play at each others grounds at least 10% of the time.

    IFA at Casement and Ravenill; GAA at Windsor (might need to accept pitch size restrictions) and Ravenhill; Rugby at WIndsor and Casement. All of this should happen a few times each year as part of the CSI strategy.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Good idea. The IFA will probably be wanting to use Ravenhill when Windsor is being refurbished. Once again, Ulster Rugby, should consult with the residents concerning non rugby games.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alan: it was an idea inspired by you. I am with you: always very wise to consult with residents groups.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Well, I was definitely right about one thing. You’re a much more agreeable fellow than I am.

    I hope you don’t think I’ve called you a liar. I’m saying that unionism’s attitude towards the GAA is predicated on great big whopping lies, which function like doctrine. You don’t have to be a liar to believe lies.

    People from the unionist tradition are usually the victims their own zealously-cultivated communal ignorance, and seem absolutely determined not to allow their hostility to be diminished one iota.

    Your example: a remark by an official whom I bet you couldn’t name, which you only half-remember, made thirty years ago – yet, you say that ‘as a unionist’ that told you everything you needed to know.

    Really? That was the deal-breaker, and nothing could ever undo the damage?

    If it’s any consolation, back in the 80s I was a primary school kid playing for a mixed soccer team and getting called a Fenian b*****d every week. Didn’t put me off soccer for life. (My lack of pace did that.)

    Personally, I’m tired of colluding in the lie that unionism’s screwed-up attitudes towards the GAA is the GAA’s problem. That the GAA is used as some sort of talisman for PUL sectarian discipline says a lot about unionism, but very little about the GAA.

    And I’m tired of the lie that the GAA has something to prove to unionism. The GAA has nothing to prove to anyone. It owes its position of pre-eminence to absolutely no-one but its own members. It has made a more positive contribution to this society than any other major organisation, sporting or otherwise.

    Those who hate it need no further comment. Those who don’t hate, but are still trapped in the communal ignorance of unionist doctrine should try to educate themselves. It’d transform their lives.

  • Charles_Gould

    Calm down, Billy!

  • BluesJazz

    Watched some GAA Gaelic football games. It’s ok but you have to come from the background. The hurling is better. But then I love watching cricket, especially the Ashes.
    Premier League Football is the top cat of sport and now BT has the Bundesligue-brillliant- and the World Cup next year.
    Charity games are excellent and the cross community support needs it.
    But GAA, like Rugby League, is a parochial pastime.

  • Alan N/Ards


    Here endeth the conversation. I wish Anto Finegan well with his charity game. I wish you well in championing the GAA. I can see that you are passionate about it. I’ll cheer on County Down when they playing, albeit from my armchair. I’ll keep my passion for Ulster Rugby and Ards.

  • turnpike

    GAA is best ignored. It’d have withered away before any Unionist need bother about it.

    Hurling is played by a diminshing handful of counties.

    Gaelic football is a 19th Century amalgam of football and rugby which doesnt’ come anywhere near the value of either – as borne out by the constant changes of rules, complete lack of any means to tackle the oppostion etc.

    Gaelic football is increasingly only played by culchies with no other option (many rural Catholic school still frown upon ‘foreign games’), and nothing better to do and the counties in Northern Ireland that desperately cling to the GAA as the embodiment of their version of Oirishnes – Billy typifies this constituency…

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Fair dues. No hard feelings. For what it’s worth, you have my sincerest regards. See you at Ravenhill.



  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    turnpike (profile) 26 November 2013 at 11:47 am
    GAA is best ignored. It’d have withered away before any Unionist need bother about it.

    Hurling is played by a diminshing handful of counties.

    Gaelic football is a 19th Century amalgam of football and rugby which doesnt’ come anywhere near the value of either – as borne out by the constant changes of rules, complete lack of any means to tackle the oppostion etc.

    Gaelic football is increasingly only played by culchies with no other option (many rural Catholic school still frown upon ‘foreign games’), and nothing better to do and the counties in Northern Ireland that desperately cling to the GAA as the embodiment of their version of Oirishnes – Billy typifies this constituency…

    And the LAD award for comedy post of the week goes to…

  • Skinner

    Very interesting exchange between Alan and Billy above. For what it’s worth to Billy, I am now a member of the GAA and share some of Alan’s issues with it. I joined primarily because I wanted to play the sport and as a secondary reason because I like the trappings of Irishness that come with it – the focus on community, parish etc. There is a niggle and there is no point pretending there isn’t (though I am not vocal about it): I do not believe in the same 32-county political project that the GAA has rooted itself to. It is not an issue in the day-to-day, and I have never once heard any team-mate or management say anything remotely political in my 3 years of being involved. Some people would say that illustrates a non-issue, but my view is that if the organisation wants the written ethos to reflect the practice on the ground, it would be as well to keep the Irishness but not express it within a unified 32 county political project.