THIS SATURDAY, May 11, is a day of celebration for all those associated with Gaelic Games not only in Naomh Eoin GAC, but in Antrim and right across Ireland. 

It is the date when the official opening of the new stand takes place. This is one dream that became a reality thanks to the dogged determination, drive and commitment of a number of club members supported by Antrim officials and others within the wider GAA community.

The culmination of their tireless effort has given Naomh Eoin and the GAA community a place of comfort to savour, support and enjoy our Gaelic games.

When the Antrim County Board took over Corrigan Park in 1926 as their first county ground, it required a huge amount of work to provide facilities for players and spectators alike.

In 1929, the first stand was built to accommodate 900 people, at a cost of £1,439. No finance was available at the time for a pavilion, so volunteers, led by John Gaffney, created a changing area for teams using corrugated tin on earthen floors.

The stand and pavilion were to withstand the test of time, credit to the initial builders. In 1972, a complete modernisation of the stand and dressing room facilities was agreed and by 1974 four changing rooms, a referee’s room and two showering areas, brought the pavilion up to standard for the time. The stand remained functional and mostly unchanged for the next 10 years.

Then out of the flames of disaster in 1984, the stand was refurbished again, after a fire and this time wooden seating was added to the concrete steps, making it more comfortable. It was well used, serving Naomh Eoin, the people of Antrim and visitors from all over Ireland for another 18 years.

However, because of wear and tear, it eventually began to cause concern and in 2002 financial support was sought to carry out essential maintenance. Sadly, funding was not available.

By 2006, the then committee took the decision to close the stand on health and safety grounds 77 years after it was built. It was to remain closed until May 2014 when, following a report from structural engineers, the decision was taken to demolish it completely and when finance would allow, build a new state-of-the-art spectator accommodation.

It was the ambition of Gerry McCann the new chairman at the time to restore Corrigan Park to its rightful position of second county ground. This required a focused attempt to secure the necessary funding to improve spectator accommodation, by building a state-of-the-art stand with terracing.

Gerry and Kevin Gough as treasurer led the way, knocking on doors where funding could be a possibility, while at the same time ensuring that prudent financial strategies were adopted in-house, to raise the club’s contribution, as this would be a necessary requirement.

Initial soundings with County Board executive officers were positive, with an offer to make a presentation to Ulster Council. However, following this presentation it became clear that securing funding for such a project was not going to be easy.

Undeterred, the two executive officers continued to knock doors, presenting to Belfast City Council, where although well received, no funding streams were available at that time.

The next port of call was to Croke Park officials who made up the Infrastructure Committee.

A party of four representing both County Antrim GAA and Naomh Eoin, Colin Donnelly (County Chairman), Frankie Quinn (County Secretary), John Rainey (Club President) and Kevin Gough (Club Treasurer) made a further presentation to this group.

Resulting from this meeting, it became very clear that both the county and St John’s were going to have to make significant contributions to the project themselves, in order to gain any financial support from Croke Park.

Where there is a will, there is always a way and following further meetings between the bodies, a substantial offer was made by Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Naomh Eoin is indebted to the colossal role played by the three County Executive officers at that time, Colin Donnelly, Terry Reilly and Frankie Quinn for their roles in securing this funding.

In the midst of the process, Colin Donnelly handed over the reins of the county to Ciaran McCavanagh who was equally determined to bring the project to fruition.

Ciaran played a key role in not only securing the necessary contribution from the County Board, but also in gaining financial support from Club Aontroma and the Saffron Business Forum.

Approaches to Ulster GAA at this point also secured a significant contribution and the pieces were beginning to fall into place to allow the project to begin.

A steering committee led by Colin Donnelly (Naomh Eoin), consisting of Ciaran McCavanagh, Terry Reilly, Frankie Quinn, Philip Christie and Paul Molloy (all County Board members); Stephen McGeehan (Ulster Council), Denis Rocks (Cumann Lúthchleas Gael), John Rainey, Gerry McCann and Kevin Gough (Naomh Eoin), set about the preliminary work of getting the enterprise off the ground.

The lead person in all of this work, who directed every aspect of the project, was the club president, John Rainey.

Working alongside John on the design of the project was another clubman, Paddy Carlin. To have such expertise amongst our club volunteers made the difference in bringing the project from a dream to reality and we should never forget their diligence, determination and professional voluntary contribution.

O’Boyle Construction was awarded the contract after the tendering process was completed and the work began in January 2020 with Seamus O’Boyle ensuring that only the highest standards of construction were acceptable.

Corrigan Park as it was

Corrigan Park as it was

A support team of club volunteers including Paddy Hannigan, Andy McCallin and Gerry McCann ensured that the day-to-day issues were managed effectively throughout. Like most major projects, unexpected things do happen and when a wall collapsed, Sport NI through their Capital Finance Manager Willie Devlin, grant aided the building of a new one, much to the relief of the Steering Committee who at this point were endeavouring to raise supplementary finance to complete the project to a level of excellency.
A team of club volunteers, led once again by the treasurer Kevin Gough, set about raising funds through sponsoring a seat in the new stand.

Club members embraced this, buying seats as individuals, for families and for loved ones who had passed away, while other members of the GAA community, Antrim and worldwide, also generously pledged their support. Wooden boards displaying the names of all those who helped, are on display in the club house foyer as a mark of appreciation.

Gerry McCann, now club president, made it one of his main duties to organise a celebration for the amazing achievement in bringing this entire project to fruition.

A wonderful day on Saturday, to which everyone in the club is invited, begins with the official opening and blessing of the new stand followed by a day of sporting activities and competitions for the juveniles of the club.

In the evening, Naomh Eoin senior hurlers will play Ballygallet at 5pm with the day culminating in a social event in the upstairs function room.

This project was only made financially possible through the joint funding contributions of Croke Park, Ulster GAA, Antrim GAA, Club Aontroma, Belfast City Council, Sport NI and Naomh Eoin GAC.

Representatives from each body make up the invited guest list on this prestigious occasion.

As the reconstruction of Casement Park is still of a fledgling nature, Naomh Eoin will continue to proudly welcome patrons from all corners of Ireland to Corrigan Park as the county ground.

Naomh Eoin feel immensely proud to steward their state of the art facilities.  What a legacy they have created for the next generation of young GAA members who can in comfort, savour, support and enjoy our Gaelic games. Ar do chompord, bain sult as ar gcluichi Gaelecha agus tacaigh leo: