Wednesday 18 September 2019

Grassy Naul to serve Croke Park in new pitch farming business

Peter McKenna. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter McKenna. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The grassy knoll, complete with the many theories about John F Kennedy's assassination, may be famous in Dallas and it's now only a matter of time before the grassy Naul becomes known in Britain and possibly across Europe too.

It starts in Croke Park, which will be the first beneficiary of the GAA's pitch farm, situated in Naul, north Co Dublin.

The GAA bought 50 acres at a cost of €700,000 in order to become self-sufficient when the need arises to re-lay the surface in Croke Park.

They will harvest the first pitches next year, thus ending the need to import surfaces, as has been the case since Croke Park was redeveloped more than 15 years ago.

If it's practical, the pitch farm will also supply surfaces to other GAA grounds and the export market will also be explored.

demand "We haven't fully cooked our plans yet. The first thing we wanted was to de-risk what we're doing. Using our own expertise to develop our own pitch farm is the first objective," said Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna.

"My own view is that we can also develop a business wherever people are looking for pitches. There's huge demand for pitches all over Europe for soccer, rugby and other sports."

Pitch-production is a specialised business so it's a relatively small industry, which leaves the GAA well-placed to capitalise on international openings once their own needs are met.

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"We have an advantage over European counties in that our climate is more suitable for pitch farming. We don't get anything like the same level of cold that they do in winter, which is a big help," said McKenna.

There was criticism of the state of the Croke Park pitch after concerts last summer but McKenna does not expect that to arise once the pitch farm comes into use as it will be easier and quicker to re-lay the surface at headquarters.

"The concerts took place in July alongside three-match weekends, making it our tightest turn-around yet for pitch replacement. Some criticism was levelled on the quality of the surface but whilst we were comfortable with the playing characteristics we achieved, we will continue to review our processes to achieve best in class," said McKenna.

The pitch farm will help achieve that target from next year on.

Croke Park Ltd, which operates the business side of the stadium, enjoyed another good year in 2017, generating total income of over €27 million, an increase of €400,000 on 2016.

That was despite holding one concert fewer than in the previous year.

Rents for games increased by €700,000 to €7.8 million while corporate facilities yielded €12.7 million.

Croke Park Ltd contributed €7.5 million to the Central Council's coffers.

"We had 27 match days with an average attendance of 42,818, an increase of 25 per cent on 2016. Strong attendances were mirrored by strong demand for suites and premium seats. All suites are currently in contract," said McKenna.

A total of 156,000 people visited the Museum and Skyline tour while 135,000 attended conferences and other events at the stadium.

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