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Sunday 22 September 2019

'Páirc' strife may scupper plans in other counties

Overspends are a regular feature in State projects but for the GAA it could shake confidence

Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Last August Antrim GAA posted pictures of a forlorn-looking Casement Park at its dilapidated, decaying worst.

Five years on from its closure, a promise of a brighter, bigger future seemed so far away with the images presented.

Antrim's teams have been nomadic since and the logic of ever closing its doors in the first place is, naturally, being challenged hard.

With £62.5m being pledged by State funding, all it was going to take was a £15m GAA contribution to get the venue up and running with a 38,000 capacity.

But then problems over planning started before the absence of a Stormont Government raised questions over the legality of civil servants giving the go-ahead to big infrastructural projects like it.

Throw in the prospect of a hard Brexit and further complications may arise down the road.

Casement Park: Bogged down in red tape
Casement Park: Bogged down in red tape


But into the mix for Casement Park, and every other ground under consideration now for redevelopment, must be the spiralling cost of Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork and the shaken confidence that comes with knowing now that the bigger a project is, the harder a potential fall is going to be.

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For much of this decade, the redevelopment of both venues took priority at central level. The idea that there would be state-of-the-art stadia to complement Croke Park in the island's two next biggest cities seemed a logical one to pursue.

But as Casement Park got bogged down in red tape, Páirc Uí Chaoimh got bogged down in just 'red', it seems.

St Conleth’s Park: Change in the pipeline. Photo: Sportsfile
St Conleth’s Park: Change in the pipeline. Photo: Sportsfile

Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna's assertion last week that the final bill for the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment will be around €110m was challenged at the weekend convention in Cork by current chair Tracey Kennedy who said the cost of the work still stood at €86m, according to their most recent set of accounts.

Bringing clarity to a €34m gulf between two of the senior Association officials, albeit at different levels, is the first task the new stadium committee which met for the first time last night should complete.

Whatever the outcome of that is, the impact on other county boards and potential developments will be felt at a number of levels.

First, in terms of scale and specification. Like anyone building or renovating, the temptation is to push the boat out but the build-up of too many boats being pushed out in this manner is what inevitably leads to overspends and future plans being submitted for approval are likely to be subject to a lot of red pen being stroked through them.

Second, there is the actual money available for new projects in the future. If it is a case that an additional €34m has to be budgeted for, is it pragmatic to think that Cork can trade their way out of that on Páirc Uí Chaoimh business alone, even with favourably restructured loans?

As a rule of thumb, between 25 and 30pc of a project comes from Croke Park.

In Cork's case it was €20m for the 'Páirc' but it's hard to see how that contribution would not rise now.

It potentially shrinks the pot and even the confidence to press ahead with plans, as they are, for Páirc Tailteann in Navan, St Conleth's Park in Newbridge and Walsh Park in Waterford to name just three at the head of the queue.

Even Louth, with their purchase of 10 acres from Louth County Council near Dundalk for a new €8m stadium will have to pitch hard to make their case as to how often they'd fill a 12,000-capacity ground.

At the very least, intentions will face a much greater level of scrutiny, the need to know why as much as how.

There is also the question of State scrutiny. Some €30m was pumped into Páirc Uí Chaoimh from Government funds - the doomed Rugby World Cup bid was still alive then - so the Public Accounts Committee might want some answers as to the direction that took though, in fairness, they might just have their hands full looking over the detail of the estimated €400m extra required to build the National Children's Hospital.

When it comes to landing a project on the intended pecuniary pathway, no one gets their co-ordinates wrong more than the State itself.

How confident would the GAA be now that, even if Northern Ireland Assembly funding is drawn down at some stage of the future, and that's more of a long shot with each passing day, that all it will require is a £15m top-up?

The experience of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and before that, MacHale Park in Castlebar, points to the need for much greater central involvement as the scale of these projects brings such pressures on local officers and volunteers.

Three years ago, the GAA had to assume control of a €5m loan for MacHale Park, on top of the outstanding €5m loan the county already had with Croke Park on the redevelopment of the venue.

It brought annual savings of €200,000 but it still needed an intervening hand which raised questions over the blueprint in the first place.

Coupled with financial troubles in Galway which were also getting ventilated on a bigger scale at last night's convention the case of Páirc Uí Chaoimh highlights the enormity of financial management in the Association.

Brand Galway is close to reaching a turnover of €5m on this year's figures. Infrastructure, together with the growing urban-rural divide, will be the biggest challenge over the next two decades.

On one hand, clubs must find more space and better facilities to accommodate their greater underage numbers being driven by many more coaches and then compete to keep them.

At county level there is a need to keep pace with the requirement for improved spectator experience.

There is hardly a ground in the country that won't need a touch here or even a bulldozer there to maintain standards over the next decade.

Everyone wants their own statement piece but balancing its requirement with budget has just got a lot harder.

Irish Independent

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