Experienced Antrim hurler Neil McManus has admitted he fears a disorderly Brexit could spell a return to the days of being stopped at border checkpoints on the way to GAA games.
The Cushendall hurler, preparing for Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland semi-final against St Thomas in Dublin, said he recalls being questioned by police in Belfast merely for holding a hurley in his hands.
The Good Friday Agreement and the removal of a physical border made life easier for GAA players, but the possibility of border infrastructure being reintroduced has prompted fears of tensions returning.
“[Brexit] is the only thing we hear about in the North,” said McManus. “If the outcome of Brexit means a hard border, then it’s a huge problem. I’m in Dublin a couple of times a week. Are you going to be getting out and having your hurls [checked]?
“All the lads who are finished playing will tell you they remember crossing the border, bus stopped, off you get, look through your kit bag, soldiers taking your hurls, throwing them away and all this carry on. We don’t want to be involved in that, that’s for sure.
“Personally, I remember sitting in the car with my father driving and just sitting in queues and stuff, but very little. Things have changed hugely apart from a couple of times when a police officer would stop you and say, ‘what are you doing?’ with a hurl in your hand when I was waiting on a lift in Belfast, this type of stuff.
“There’s very little of that going on nowadays really and certainly not in the Glens. There’s more people walking about with hurleys than without them.”
Asked if he fears a potential return to tensions in Antrim and Ulster with talk of border infrastructure potentially returning, McManus shrugged.
“Certain areas in the North have moved on further than others probably, to be totally honest. The Glens were relatively untouched by the Troubles. There were instances where there were fatalities, but they were fewer, a huge amount fewer, than in Belfast or in border areas, so I don’t see a huge change for the Glens, but for the people of the North, Brexit’s a very, very real concern.”
The talented forward, 30, was also critical of the ongoing Casement Park impasse, with the ground lying in decay for six years and a decision about its redevelopment no closer.
“The decision to shut down the ground has cost Antrim GAA millions of pounds and cost us the use of Casement Park,” said McManus, who described his own ‘special connection’ with the ground.
“For the first five years of my working life, every Friday I finished work and I went to Casement, hit frees and then bounced into the Andersonstown Leisure Centre for a bit. There’s a group of Antrim hurlers there now and their generation is going through their entire Antrim career without any affinity to West Belfast. They haven’t got any grá for it.
“West Belfast is a class wee place, Andersonstown, and it’s turning into a Gaeltacht quarter as well now and they have no interaction with it, because they’re never there.”