‘Game for Anto’: Gavin says Kingspan ideal for competitive GAA games

Finnegan along with his son Conall, 14, and daughter Ava, 10. Picture: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Now new ground has been broken, Jim Gavin sees no reason why Kingspan Stadium can’t be used to host competitive GAA matches in the future.

The Dublin manager was part of history on Saturday night with the first gaelic football match to be played at the home of Ulster rugby in over 90 years being staged to raise funds and awareness of Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The unique occasion was the brainchild of former Antrim football captain Anto Finnegan, who was diagnosed with the terminal condition in 2012, and the creativity of the fixture attracted over 6,200 people to Kingspan Stadium. With the redevelopment of Casement on hold due to an ongoing legal dispute with local residents, Gavin speculated on the possibility of returning to Kingspan for a competitive match.

“We could indeed be back and I have to say there’s a lot of county grounds that wouldn’t be much bigger, certainly Parnell Park wouldn’t be much bigger,” he said. “Shane Logan, chief executive of Ulster Rugby, has really shown the value of sport in society and to extend that friendship to the GAA and to have gaelic football here, the symbolism of that gesture means a lot to us in Dublin and we are privileged to be here.

“In terms of Casement Park, we wish the Ulster Council well on that endeavour because it’s important to be fully supportive of having stadia in the key cities on our island and I would always encourage investment in sport. In the meantime, there is an iconic stadium here with outstanding facilities which could be used by everybody.”

Joe Kernan, who managed the Ulster select, echoed Gavin’s sentiments.

He said: “we helped our rugby friends when Lansdowne Road was closed and if rugby were asked, I’d say there is no reason it couldn’t happen”.

Due to the narrower dimensions of the rugby pitch, the ‘Game for Anto’ was played as 13-a-side.

Anto Finnegan was delighted with the success of the event and admitted: ” “it was an emotional night but we wanted to make sure everyone had a smile on their faces. Having the rugby and GAA kids out playing at half time showed it was two organisations coming together for a good cause.”

Ulster won by two points but the result was irrelevant (2-18 to 1-19).

“We spoke about Anto in our dressing-room after the game because knowing the illness that he has and to see the courage he has is inspirational,” added Gavin.


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