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Hammam meets grass-roots on whistle-stop tour

WIMBLEDON'S plans to re-locate in Dublin is gathering apace following a series of meetings between officials from National League clubs, and other FAI affiliates, with the Dons' colourful club governor, Sam Hammam, this week.

Hammam, who arrived in Dublin on Monday, spoke with officials from Cork City, Cobh Ramblers, Athlone Town and Drogheda United on a whistle-stop tour before meeting Fran Ray, the secretary of the country's biggest schoolboy league, in Dublin yesterday.

The Wimbledon chairman was with Owen O'Callaghan, the Cork based property developer, who owns the Quarryvale site in West Dublin, where the Dons intend to set up a new home.

Unlike previous meetings where secrecy was the by-word, Hammam and O'Callaghan were open in their latest round of talks with parties directly affected by Wimbledon's proposed Dublin move.

Officials from Athlone Town went on the record after talking with Hammam and O'Callaghan on Wednesday and Ray had nothing to hide when contacted by the Irish Independent last night.

``Sam Hammam and Owen O'Callaghan know that the Dublin and Districts' Schoolboys League are in favour of the move, and the reasons why.''

``Look at the plusses from our point of view. There is money on the table for the grassroots of the game, including the Schoolboy Leagues, and there will be centres of excellence with qualified coaches right across the country.''

Ray has agreed to another meeting next week with Hammam and O'Callaghan when representatives of the Brenfer League and South Dublin League, the second and third largest Schoolboy Leagues in the country will be invited to attend.

``There are 33 Leagues in the SFAI and it's only right that schoolboy officials are kept in the picture about the situation.''

With 50,000 kids under their wing, the SFAI are the largest membership body under the umbrella of the FAI but because of the lop-sided makeup of the FAI Council, only have one vote.

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``The League clubs have 22 votes and they have the final say when it comes to making any decision which explains why Sam Hammam is talking to them.''

``We've only one voice at the table but we feel it should be heard on this issue. Put it like this, if all of this was a cake, we'd be entitled to the biggest slice because we have more mouths to feed than anyone else,'' said Ray.

While the FAI continue to distance themselves from the Wimbledon move, they are not the power brokers in Ireland's biggest sports story. The final say lies with the National League clubs who have the most clout when it comes to a vote.

If the clubs give the green light for the `Dublin Dons' they would have enough power to push it through with FAI Council approval.

Most clubs are reluctant to come out of the long grass, but the carrot of a £250,000 sweetener, for starters, is difficult to ignore.

Resistance is at its strongest in Dublin, not in Merion Square where high-ranking FAI officers are tacitly in favour of the move, but in four clubs, St Patrick's Athletic, Bohemians, Shelbourne and UCD.

Meanwhile, O'Callaghan's plans to start work on a new 60,000 all-seater stadium this Spring have been hit by a hitch in the planning application. A revised application, including provision for a retractable roof, has to be submitted so building work will not commence until August.

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