M50 stadium plan back on agenda for Leinster GAA
Exploring the feasibility of a new regional 40,000 capacity stadium around the M50 is at the heart of Leinster GAA's Strategic Vision and Action Plan 2015-2018 which has been launched in Croke Park.
Leinster officials believe they must put in place a clear strategy for long-term development to cater for major games involving counties from the northern half of the province that don't require Croke Park's 82,300 capacity. The north-east is poorly served by modern stadia which can suit those needs and this deficit is a cornerstone of the plan.
The concept of an M50 stadium has been floated in the past. Leinster included it in their 2011 Strategic Plan, while former GAA president Liam O'Neill advocated it during an interview in early December last year.
But GAA director-general Páraic Duffy, while welcoming it as an aspiration, poured cold water on the idea because of the requirement to develop and upgrade other stadia, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park being the priorities.
Leinster chairman John Horan believes location should be paramount to a stadium of the size he is proposing and has ruled out upgrading some of the existing stadia in need of upgrade in Drogheda, Navan, Mullingar and Newbridge and believes 40,000 is a "reasonable figure when you step back from" the 82,300 capacity of Croke Park.
"All of those (north and east Leinster stadia), if they're developed, the thinking would be to suit the needs of the actual counties. Rather than going putting massive stadia into every county, to have one regional stadium strategically placed so that when you have major games that you would be able to facilitate them (would be a preference)," he said.
"I'm talking in terms of something outside the M50. I think we have to address the needs of the counties first but we certainly have to look, where, infrastructurally, we'll have rail networks and road so that people can gain access to it.
"But there is no point in us developing massive stadia in Navan, Newbridge and Mullingar. For what? To have them half-empty for half the year?
"Croke Park is fantastic but from going to the Spring Series, if you have 25,000/30,000 people here, they can be lost in the venue. As against putting 25,000/30,000 into a stadium with a 35,000/40,000 capacity. It would have a massive difference on the atmosphere.
"I would see it as the next serious development that the GAA should take on, and there's Aogán ó Fearghail saying it as well in a recent interview that something has to be looked at. I'd say it's on the cards."
Asked about a time frame for an 'M50' plan he said "traction" could take four to five years. "Again, it will take buy-in from Croke Park but the president is talking about it and other people see it as an inevitability and I think that will happen."
Horan outlined development plans at five of the north and east Leinster venues to realise a goal of all 12 counties having a minimum of 2,000 seats at their main ground. Agreement in Louth between the board and the local O'Raghallaighs club in Drogheda on a lease is nearing completion which would allow the development of a new 1,500-2,000 capacity stand where the grass bank is, he pointed out.
In Pearse Park in Longford, the stand must be demolished and rebuilt while Westmeath have plans to increase the capacity of their seating. Navan has most scope for big development with Horan suggesting that plans for overhaul varying from €6m to €20m were being discussed.
He expressed the hope that a framework for a new stand in St Conleth's Park, Newbridge could be agreed "within the next 12 months".
Horan echoed Dublin chief executive John Costello's recent criticism of Nama, not just in the sale of the Spawell site. "Nama need to take on a bit of corporate and social responsibility in a lot of what's going on in this country at the moment," he said.
"I'm not just saying this to have a pop at NAMA, but in a real sense, I see absolutely no reason why Nama can't lease land to sporting organisations."
Cross-county leagues to improve the standards of hurling that are already in place will continue to be developed while support structures through links with Athlone and Carlow Institutes of Technology and the €1m investment in five hurling counties including Westmeath, Laois, Offaly and Carlow will be enhanced.
"I'd call it equalisation. And that's what it is in a strict sense. You're trying to equalise the potential that Dublin have - and you can't take that away from them," said the chairman.
"You're trying to equalise them by not giving Dublin money for any of these things but to give it those counties. And give them the link in with those colleges. Most counties in Leinster have their own centres of excellence. But from the sports science point of view, you need to have the colleges involved."