Sunday 25 February 2018

Connacht targeting 10,000-plus new stadium as part of long term vision

The Sportsground has been a fortress for Connacht this season
The Sportsground has been a fortress for Connacht this season
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONNACHT want to build a new stadium with a capacity of around 10,000 in the next four years. Their preference is to stay in a redeveloped Sportsground, but chief executive Willie Ruane says they are open to moving.

Speaking at the launch of their ‘Vision and Strategy’ document at the Aviva Stadium, the former Connacht player says they want to have a “clear idea by the end of this summer” and says negotiations with the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB), from whom the province lease the stadium, have begun. The Galway venue is sold out for Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Glasgow Warriors and Ruane believes that they could have doubled their 7,800 capacity for that game.

“The stadium is something we have as one of our utmost priorities,” Ruane said.

“We’re clear that we’ll quickly reach a ceiling in terms of where we’re at. Whether that’s capacity or the experience, we’ve done a lot of work as to what we believe a stadium should look like and how big it should be.

“We have two options, one is staying and we’re in discussion with the IGB and it has to be a shared vision.

“The other is moving and we believe we have some strong potential in that area. There’s a considerable amount of work to be done.

“We don’t want to have fans outside who can’t get in and we want those who do get in get the experience that they deserve.

“10,000 would be a decent start, but we want something that’s scalable. We don’t want in something that too big, or something that we outgrow. We’re not looking to build a coliseum, but it’s taking a lot of our time.

“The Sportsground is our home, but it has to work for both. That would be our preference. But it’s our duty to look at all other options.

“We’re pretty maxed out in capacity in terms of additional terracing we can bring in. We can try and improve facilities, but there’s not a lot we can do in terms of capacity. We’ll look at alternatives, it’s not an easy decision.

“We could have moved the match this weekend, our supporters have waited a long time for a home semi-final.

“I wouldn’t rule anything in or out, it would be foolish to do so. It needs to make sense.”

Asked about the demand for this weekend, Ruane said: “We would definitely be over 10,000 this weekend. If it’s 12,000 or 15,000 I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of people around the province who want to be there, who wanted to be there for the Leinster, Munster and last Glasgow match as well.”

From a playing perspective, Connacht are targeting a Champions Cup quarter-final in the next four years as part of their plans to build on their historic season in 2015/16.

This morning’s launch was attended by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and IRFU performance director David Nucifora as well as Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane, coach Pat Lam, Academy coach Nigel Carolan and clubs and communities manager Eric Elwood.

Lam’s team face Glasgow Warriors in Galway in a first semi-final this Saturday.

They have already secured qualification for Europe’s top competition for next year, the first time they have done so on their own merits.

And, according to the western province, this is just the start and they will target qualification for the Champions Cup every season from now on and are looking to qualify for the last eight of the top competition in at least one season.

They also wish to have an average four players in every Ireland match-day 23 during the period, while hoping to have 30% of their squad coming from within the province.

"There's some of these goals we've already achieved. But it would be nice to get to the Champions Cup play-offs by 2020. A lot of the planning as a management team is about managing the squad," Lam said.

"Our number one goal for next season will be reaching the last eight. We'll be targeting winning the Pro12 too.

"They've given us four years to do it, but we want to do it next year."

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