Northern Ireland fans have been urged to embrace the idea of Casement Park being used as a venue for the 2028 European Championship venue.
Traditionally used to host Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) competitions, the stadium is set to undergo a revamp which will see it become Northern Ireland’s host venue at Euro 2028.
There has been widespread opposition to the move, with critics suggesting that using a GAA stadium during the tournament will have negative impact on football’s legacy in the country.
Casement Park has previously hosted numerous GAA championship matches, each of which have garnered massive interest among sports bettors.
GAA betting is the number one sports-related pastime for many people in Ireland – a factor which leaves other sports battling to get recognition.
In addition to the rivalry between the different sports, the proposed staging of Euro 2028 games at Casement Park is fraught with political complexities.
The stadium is situated in an area of west Belfast which has a sizeable nationalist population who would not traditionally support Northern Ireland teams.
Politicians have also questioned the potential cost of the project and raised objections about how much of it will be paid for by local government funds.
Despite the opposition, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill believes the country must unite behind the plans to use Casement Park at Euro 2028.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion on it,” O’Neill said. “This is what the association have done in terms of the bid. There’s a lot of opinion on that, we have to take that into account. Supporters, of course, are equally as important as anyone in this situation, but I can’t change it.
“I would like to see it supported. I think it’s really important we get the opportunity to play and be a host nation, but equally I respect the opinions of everyone and what their view may be on it.”
One of the biggest hurdles to Northern Ireland’s bid to be included as a joint-host for Euro 2028 is the lack of a football stadium with a suitable capacity.
The team’s home ground for international games – Windsor Park – has a capacity of just 18,500. This is 11,500 below the threshold set by UEFA for tournament venues.
Funding for the project is another major obstacle, with the original estimate of £77.5 million for the rebuild nowhere enough to get the job done.
The GAA were scheduled to contribute £15m of that figure and have refused to increase it despite recent estimates placing the eventual cost at around £170m.
However, with the UK and Irish governments reportedly willing to help financially, the GAA has remained steadfast about how much they will pour into the project.
While there are still numerous obstacles to overcome, incoming GAA President Jarlath Burns believes Ireland should unite on this issue to ensure the nation plays its part in successfully hosting Euro 2028.
Burns insists that Casement Park staging Euro 2028 games is ‘a really good news story’ and urged Irish citizens on both sides of the border to support the idea.
“What better way to show that the GAA is an inclusive organisation, because inclusion is one of our values, than to see the Northern Ireland team playing there?” Burns said.
“I fully understand where the Northern Ireland supporters are coming from on this. Windsor Park is their ground and it’s the ground where their team has always played.
“I understand they would have difficulty coming over to west Belfast because west Belfast and my community would never have been known for their support of the Northern Ireland team.
“But that’s the challenge and, if we’re all prepared to overcome that challenge, it would be great to see everybody coming out to support them.”