Thursday 23 November 2017

Portlaoise on the up once more after debt nightmare

John Hanniffy, Cheddar Plunkett and editors Teddy Fennelly and Brian Delaney at the launch of C’mon The Town, a history of Portlaoise GAA club. Photo: Alf Harvey
John Hanniffy, Cheddar Plunkett and editors Teddy Fennelly and Brian Delaney at the launch of C’mon The Town, a history of Portlaoise GAA club. Photo: Alf Harvey
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Portlaoise GAA chairman John Hanniffy believes they "have a better club" after coming through a crisis that left them €6.5m in the red towards the end of the last decade.

At one stage in late 2008, the club were set to receive €19m for their land in the town. However, the rejection of a redevelopment plan for the site, along with the global economic downturn saw them plunge into massive debt as they had already started work on a new site on the outskirts of Portlaoise.

Their ambitious plan included a state-of-the-art clubhouse, several pitches as well as a proposal to build a gaeilscoil on the new property before the crash. The stress took its toll and Hanniffy suffered a heart attack in 2012.

But, after years of negotiating, the old site was acquired by club sponsor Michael Killeen of Laois Hire and now Portlaoise now have "a small manageable, residual debt".

"Looking back, we can ask were we all mad but the whole country can ask the same question," Hanniffy said, at the launch of the club's history 'C'mon the Town'.

"In some respects, given what we have been through, the old ground has ended up as a training centre and is back within the GAA - I think it was destined to happen, even for all the grief we had.

"We were 24 hours away from having everything but possibly we have a better club because of everything that happened. We can look each other in the eye and say we have been through this and we are a better club as a result of it."

At one stage, the crisis was so bad that the club's trustees might have been exposed to the debt but Hanniffy says that some good legal advice, hard work and goodwill of members helped them recover.

"It was tough times but what we have now - we have six pitches, a juvenile pitch, a small juvenile pitch, the gym that 'Cheddar' (Plunkett) built and that is ours - we have a small manageable, residual debt on it.

"Anyone in the club that was a naysayer faded away and we were left with a core of people that were, hand on heart, fantastic in the most dire of circumstances."

Irish Independent

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