Tuesday 28 March 2017

Bertie Bowl's €30m expansion

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Three years ago, it had a leaking roof and was facing financial meltdown. Now, the National Sports Campus, which is better known as 'The Bertie Bowl' is planning a €30m expansion.

"We're the fourth most popular paying destination in Ireland," said chief executive Barry O'Brien, a former Army officer who has also taken over the running of Morton Stadium in Santry, Dublin, and plans to link the two facilities in a bid to transform Irish sport and improve international performance.

"We've attracted 17 organisations to the Abbotstown complex and we think the indoor training facilities for athletics, rugby, soccer, hockey and other sports is the missing link in Irish sport," said Mr O'Brien.

Despite the dire state of the government finances, he said "we are going to get it done", and he also plans to attract more sports organisations, to the new campus.

"Already, we've got the US synchronised-swimming team booked in to use our facilities for six weeks before the London Olympics in the summer of 2010."

The American team is a major contender for a gold medal and its decision to base at the National Aquatic centre is a major boost.

Mr O'Brien credits the improved reputation of the centre to David Conway, and his team, who have "achieved the highest international standards which are now recognised worldwide".

Over the past four years the annual State subsidy for the centre has been reduced from €3m to €1m per year.

"Our campus will become the focal point for Irish sport," said Mr O'Brien. "We have the land, we have the buildings, we have the planning permissions, now we just need to develop the facilities," he added.

O'Brien's high-powered board on the National Sports Campus Development Authority includes Olympic boss Pat Hickey, the CEO of the Irish Sports Council John Tracey and television presenter Miriam O'Callaghan.

Since arriving at the Abbotstown complex, after serving as director of sports services at the College of Surgeons in Dublin, Mr O'Brien has had to counter the bad publicity that surrounded the so-called 'Bertie Bowl' and the National Aquatic Centre swimming facilities near Blanchardstown in Dublin.

"The proposed facilities are of vital importance to the development of football in this country," said CEO of the FAI, John Delaney, who is among supporters of the campus project, as are Athletics Ireland, The Federation of Irish Sports and even the GAA who says it is "broadly supportive" of the development.

"Both Derval O'Rourke and swimmer Grainne Murphy competed in their respective national championships at our facilities before going on to win silver medals at the European Championships," added Mr O'Brien.

Sunday Independent

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