New dawn at Oriel beckons for Dundalk after sorry saga ends
Published 22/11/2016 | 02:30
Dundalk's future at Oriel Park is secure after the League of Ireland's dominant force forked out around €500,000 to gain full ownership of the antiquated stadium.
Protracted negotiations about acquiring the lease from former owner Gerry Matthews and settling legacy levies with Louth County Council over the Youth Development Centre (YDC) built by the developer before he departed in 2012 reached a successful conclusion.
It's understood all of the liabilities owing to the council have been discharged, while Matthews received most of the €250,000 due to him in a separate deal he claims was brokered before Dundalk's unprecedented run in European competition.
Factoring in the legal fees incurred from the four-year battle, Dundalk will see little change out of €500,000 for their efforts.
It's a significant sum, yet prudent expenditure in the context of the €7m they've generated to date from a run which has them positioned second in their Europa League group with two games left.
An unsavoury saga which at one stage involved Matthews threatening to demolish the YDC didn't end without further acrimony as a strongly-worded statement released by the club's owners Paul Browne and Andy Connolly yesterday slammed their predecessor's recent conduct in allegedly leaking details of the deal last week.
So entrenched became the dispute that the possibility arose of Dundalk having to relocate from their home of 80 years.
Leaving aside the warring factions, however, retaining full ownership of Oriel facilitates the present hierarchy's desire to apply a much-needed infrastructural upgrade on the ground, starting immediately with their controversial pitch.
Dundalk have already engaged specialists to assess the options, and although a move from the artificial surface is the ultimate priority, it's believed a hybrid version could be installed for the start of next season in February.
"Since the takeover of the club from Gerry Matthews in August 2012, Dundalk have achieved unprecedented levels of success on the pitch," noted the club last month crowned League of Ireland champions for the third year in a row.
"The new administration fully expected the transfer of the lease of Oriel Park into our name following the takeover (but) this was not forthcoming from the previous owner.
"Without ownership of the lease, Dundalk FC were unable to make any improvements to Oriel Park, including any upgrade of the pitch. Therefore, a resolution of this issue was vital to both the short and long-term future of the club."
Former UEFA vice-president Des Casey, whose family owns the land but not the lease, had for the last number of years attempted to chart that resolution, without success.
His sterling work, though, eventually yielded dividends and the club outlined their appreciation by naming the stalwart their new honorary president.
Still, there was no degree of collegiality afforded to local businessman Matthews by the top brass.
"In a planned (joint) statement last week, we stated that the agreement with Mr Matthews was based on 'genuine goodwill'," Dundalk's statement continued.
"While we wished to put a positive note on this agreement, given Mr Matthews' behaviour over the years, repeatedly making inaccurate statements in the press, interfering with the licensing process, wrongly claiming that money was owed to him and, even last week, attempting to portray this agreement as the settlement of a debt to him, we are compelled to state that, unfortunately, there was absolutely no goodwill between Dundalk FC and Mr Matthews at the conclusion of this process."
Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers plan to continue their recruitment drive by completing a deal to sign St Patrick's Athletic striker Christy Fagan in the coming days.
Prolific in helping the Saints win the League in 2013 and the FAI Cup 12 months later, Fagan is a free agent and has interest from Rovers, Dundalk and Bray Wanderers.
Liam Buckley will this week mount one last attempt to keep his star striker but a lucrative offer from the Hoops looks to have swayed the 27-year-old towards Tallaght.
Newly-appointed full-time head coach Stephen Bradley yesterday signed Darren Meenan from Dundalk and retained defender Simon Madden in the face of competition from Cork City.