Friday 27 April 2018

John Greene: Campus dreams becoming a reality

The news last Friday that Horse Sport Ireland is the latest association to make a meaningful move towards the national sports campus in west Dublin is one of a spate of announcements which confirm beyond doubt that this concept is no longer a flight of fancy.

HSI is looking to construct a high performance training centre, with outdoor arena and stabling in Abbotstown. "This is an opportunity for equestrian sport to be part of what is a huge and exciting development of a national campus for all sports in Ireland," a spokesman told the Irish Examiner.

What was once the site of the crazy dreams of politicians and others high on the cash buzz, is now evolving at a steady pace into a real home for Irish sport.

There has not been anything spectacular this time round in the campus' second coming -- no megaphone announcements of grandiose projects. Instead, there is the National Sports Campus Development Authority's plan, which has been carefully thought out and costed, and is now being implemented.

True, the indoor sports arena which is the cornerstone of the vision for the campus is some distance off, but in a matter of years the site will have transformed from its agricultural landscape into a headquarters for Irish sport. HSI's move will include modern pentathlon. The FAI is already there, as is the Irish Institute of Sport and the National Aquatic Centre.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has signalled another announcement on the campus this week. This will confirm the HSI development -- but more progress is also expected.

This will more than likely include confirmation of major site clearing work to pave the way for the commencement of developments of pitches and dressing rooms by the GAA, FAI, IRFU and the Irish Hockey Association, as well as groundworks for the campus' own multi-purpose pitches which will be open to the public.

Of the four associations, it is thought that the GAA and the FAI will be first to get going. The IRFU remain committed to the project but have yet to draw up firm plans.

The GAA are at an advanced stage in their plans for the site, and are close to finalising the lease arrangement and preparing the ground for the laying of pitches. It's also understood the association has sounded out Dublin County Board about possible uses it might have for the new facilities.

There were fears that the FAI's financial worries would cause a significant delay to their work but the $500,000 grant from FIFA means the association hopes to begin work on two full-size pitches and dressing rooms by next March. The government has pledged a further €500,000 but in order for the FAI to draw this money down, it must first match it. Obviously the FIFA grant -- which equates to about €380,000 -- is a good start, but the association will have to come up with the balance. "The Government funding of €500,000 will be matched with the difference being made up from other sources," confirmed an FAI spokesperson on Friday.

Varadkar (pictured), who is determined to oversee clear progress at the campus on his watch, is also expected to confirm that work will soon begin to prepare offices for the next batch of tenants to move in, led by the Irish Sports Council, and a number of the national governing bodies.

Only a few years ago, the idea that the campus would become the home of Irish sport seemed far-fetched. But the NSCDA -- which also runs the aquatic centre and Morton Stadium in Santry -- has shown itself to be very capable in how it goes about its work.

A new report, for example, says that there is a significant economic benefit derived from the aquatic centre and stadium. This report, to be published shortly, quotes a net figure of €14.68m, generated largely by the aquatic centre, and which dwarfs the government subsidy of approximately €800,000.

Last year, the aquatic centre had 825,051 visitors, a marked increase on the previous year's figure of 721,871. It is thought that by the end of this year 36,000 people will have attended events at the centre in 2012, almost double the number of people who attended similar events in 2008. And although the authority only took over Morton Stadium in October 2010 -- which means full year comparisons are not yet possible -- all the indications are that numbers either attending or using the facility are also notably up.

So clearly the NSCDA is proving that it can deliver, and that it is well equipped to manage and improve facilities under its care. And step by step, as more Irish sporting organisations buy into the project, we can see it take shape. In 10 years we will wonder what all the fuss was once about.

Sunday Indo Sport

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