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Sale of the century

Gaelic Games Martin Breheny THE nationwide property boom will have major implications for the GAA over the next decade as grounds situated in central locations at the heart of thriving towns become prime targets for developers.

The Clare County Board are currently considering selling Cusack Park, Ennis for a sum in excess of ?30 million and using the windfall to develop a new ground on the outskirts of the town.

There's a proposal in Kildare to sell St Conleth's Park, Newbridge and move to a new site on the Naas side of the town; Louth are examining the possibility of disposing of their ground in Drogheda and re-locating elsewhere while selling Tuam Stadium and moving to a greenfield site was mooted in Galway.

Temptation

With sites close to the centre of towns attracting massive prices, more GAA property is certain to come to the attention of property moguls in the coming years. And with several GAA grounds requiring upgrading, the temptation to cash in on their prize locations and build new stadiums will increase.

In many cases, a move to a new site would alleviate traffic and parking difficulties which have become a serious irritant for GAA fans at a time when attendances are at their highest in history.

The GAA estimate that their network of grounds and other facilities nationwide is worth around ?3billion and while many are in excellent condition, quite a few are in urgent need of development. County Boards are already stretched financially so selling grounds in town centres and relocating to other venues is moving higher up the agenda.

Other counties will be keeping a close watch on Clare who will decide over the next few weeks whether to sell Cusack Park. A 40-acre site at the former Doora dump, on the outskirts of Ennis, is believed to be among the sites earmarked as a possible replacement for Cusack Park which would require a spend of at least ?5m to bring it up to the required standard.

Even then, space and traffic restrictions could cause problems and with a sum of over ?30m reputed to be on the table from the developers for Cusack Park, the Clare County Board are facing a major decision.

Clare are anxious to have a county ground capable of holding up to 35,000 spectators which would enable them to host Munster hurling championship games. Together with Waterford, they are not in a position to stage big games which puts them at a disadvantage vis a vis Cork, Limerick and Tipperary, all of whom get to play home games on a rotational basis.

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Advantages

The Doora venue has a number of advantages as it's situated close to the Ennis railway station and by-pass and has space for 1,000 car-parking places.

There will be some opposition to a proposal to sell Cusack Park on the basis that it has been the heartbeat of Clare GAA for a very long time. However, its location causes traffic problems for games that attract large crowds while the lack of space in the ground reduces the redevelopment options.

St Conleth's Park in Newbridge is, similar to Cusack Park, centrally located and would prove a major attraction for developers. It's understood that there are private sector plans for a major development on the Naas side of Newbridge which would include space for a new GAA pitch and complex. That would leave the Kildare County Board free to sell St Conleth's Park which is need of renovation. The Cusack Park decision could prove crucial to the thinking in several counties. If Clare opt to quit their spiritual home and build on a new site, it will serve as prototype for other counties who have prime property in good locations but who would benefit in terms of facilities, access and parking by moving to a new base.


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