Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Looming Battle for GAA Landscape

With the championship season well and truly in full swing at both club and inter-county level, GAA followers can be forgiven for not taking notice of the impending battle between clubs, county boards and Croke Park as cash rich property developers threaten to cement over Ireland’s GAA landscape.

Over the last number of weeks a number of clubs and grounds have come to the fore-front of these developments, namely, Cusack Park, Co. Clare, St Patricks, Co. Down and Killmallock, Co. Limerick.

The most significant of these involves a consortium of developers who are keen to buy the home of Clare GAA for a staggering €80m. The latest figure for Cusack Park in Ennis has emerged as the closing date for submissions of interest passed. A prime town centre site, it is understandable that Cusack Park is an attractive proposition for developers even with the €80m price tag. What makes the deal all the more sweeter for the Clare County board is the promise of a purpose-built GAA stadium close to the town with additional on site facilities.

With these types of figures and additional sweeteners on offer it is easy to see why Clare County board are examining all of the options. What would the much malaigned David O’Leary have given for 80m during his tenure at Aston Villa. In response to these developments been covered by the various media, headquarters issued a statement stating that no club or county board could sell on any GAA grounds without prior consent from Croker. This will have undoubtedly angered many within grassroots GAA, as the type of deal outlined above would literally catapult any GAA club into a very exclusive group with rich coffers and top class facilities.

Earlier this year, Kerry County Board admitted it was considering selling Austin Stack Park in Tralee, after “tentative proposals” had been received from local developers. The trend is expected to grow in the coming months and years, with grounds like Dr Cullen Park in Carlow, Cusack Park in Mullingar, Pearse Park in Longford amd St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge occupying prime development location. But then again, what GAA club doesn’t have the prime development location in most towns and villages across the country?

Most villages grew up around the local GAA club, with the local pub and post office or shop usually in close proximity. The grounds are an integral park of rural towns and villages, however the development and expansion of these towns and villages around the grounds has also meant that any attempted re-development is usually hampered by a lack of space and also crucially by a lack of funds. With many clubs development plans been subject to the lottery of government grants, the opportunity to clinch such property deals as are been reported must be a huge temption for clubs and county boards alike. In contrast, the latest dictate from Croke Park will be viewed as an attempt to control the future of grassroots clubs, taking responsbility away from the hardworking officers and members.

When you consider that Dublin City FC, a premier league team recently went into administration the decision currently facing Clare County Board is a huge one, any accountant worth his or her salt would scream for the deal to be completed, ensuring the clubs future as well as top class facilities for generations to come. On the other hand side, you can bet you bottom euro that the morale compass of every club will be steered by those few hard-line GAA men and women that are resident features in every club across the country.

So as developers are drawing up proposals and identifying potential GAA grounds as sites for desirable apartments and town houses the battle to radically redefine the GAA landscape is well and truly on the horizon. Whatever the future holds, there are undoubtedly some men at headquarters waking up in cold sweats at the thoughts of clubs becoming richer then county boards and god forbid county boards becoming financial heavyweights in their own rights, no longer needing to produce the begging bowl everytime the face the Pale. If the developers get their way, there could be concrete poured on GAA grounds yet, one suspects if Croke Park has its way the only thing poured will be cold water!


Supporter said...

If clubs can make money from selling their pitch..what interest is it of the GAA as long as the club gets another pitch!!

Anonymous said...

Croke Park have to have a say..we must protect the clubs and grounds otherwise, we could lose our positioning within towns and villages and become sidelined!

An Smuigin said...

Looks like the rugby lads are also beginning to see the sense in the developers wallets!

Blackrock rugby club may sell part of grounds
Fiona Gartland

Land worth an estimated €15 million at Blackrock College rugby club in south Dublin could be redeveloped for residential development, The Irish Times has learned.

Proposals to redevelop part of the Blackrock RFC grounds could be brought before its members by October, the club's chairman has said.

The executive committee is currently considering proposals for residential development on about two acres of the grounds at Stradbrook Road, Blackrock.

The real estate is among the most valuable in the country and is estimated to be worth about €15 million.

Funds from the development would be used to upgrade facilities at the 124-year-old club.

The land under consideration for redevelopment is zoned objective E under the DĂșn Laoghaire-Rathdown County Development Plan, to provide for economic development and employment, while residential development is "open for consideration".

The club is considering undertaking the project in partnership with a development company.

Blackrock RFC has played at Stradbrook Road since 1962. The land there, approximately 14 acres, is member-owned and contains three pitches.

Club chairman John Cranfield, said there was no question of the club ever moving from its grounds, but they are considering redeveloping the land to fund much-needed work at the club.

"We have an ongoing need to upgrade our facilities, the last time we touched anything was in 1989," he said.

"We would like to improve the pitches, upgrade the pavilion and develop a gymnasium. A lot of our members would wish to see those facilities. We are not near finalising the proposals but when we do we will bring them before the members first."

He said some of the land at the grounds was "under-utilised" and could be better used to fund improvement works.

"Rugby clubs are the third tier of rugby in Ireland and the IRFU put little resources into clubs in cash terms. Clubs have got to fend for themselves."

Mr Cranfield said the club was very conscious about developing a community-friendly facility and would be careful about consulting local residents, with whom they had "a very good relationship", should the development go ahead.

"This is a members' decision, I will bring the option to them and if they don't embrace it, so be it."