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'United Park is not fit for purpose' - Drogheda chairman calls on FAI and Government to invest in facilities

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Conor Hoey

Conor Hoey

Conor Hoey

Drogheda United chairman Conor Hoey has called on new FAI CEO Jonathan Hill to place the improvement of facilities at the top of his agenda when he starts work next week - and advancing the stadium plans of the newly crowned First Division champions is a request that will be coming his way.

Hoey was speaking after Drogheda's victory in Cabinteely last night secured a top flight return for the Louth club, and he acknowledged afterwards that the club's United Park base is not up to the required standard.

The ground is owned by the FAI and in 2018 plans were unveiled to move to a new base in a partnership between the Irish football authorities and Louth County Council with the hope public funding would be secured.

However, that was announced by John Delaney in advance of an AGM and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

Drogheda's project did not figure in the sports grants announced at the start of the year, with turmoil surrounding the FAI flagged as a potential reason in the aftermath.

The grounds owned by the FAI have also come under the spotlight in broader talks around the valuation of assets in the context of the troubled football body's financial situation.

Hoey has stressed he will be pushing the case with Hill when the Englishman lands into his new post on November 1.

"The main thing now is; we need a stadium to play in. United Park is not fit for purpose. Turner's Cross (Cork City's home) has now gone down to the First Division and we're replacing it. It's not good enough," said Hoey.

"We have a site (in North Drogheda). We have a buyer for United Park ready to give us €2.5m and we need the FAI and the government to pull their fingers out and start investing in facilities. Not just for us but for every club in the league. And that's the big thing that the new CEO of the FAI has to focus on. Facilities.

"That's the only way the league is going to improve whether it's a new stadium for Dundalk or Drogheda or whoever it is.

"We don't need to own a stadium. I like the municipal idea that it's there for all football in the town. This is hopefully a springboard to propel that. We all know what United Park is like. And we're not going to invest in it. We have to move and now is the time to push it."

When asked what level of outside support was required, Hoey said it depended on what the bottom line target was.

"For €2m or €3m you can build an Athlone type stadium. For €7m or €8m, you start to get to 3,000-5000 capacity. That's what we need," he said.

"It's not going to happen overnight and this isn't just for Drogheda but for all clubs in the league. If you talk to anyone in the FAI now, they all say 'facilities, facilities, facilities.'

Hoey admitted that the Boynesiders would have to wait to see what the FAI's plans for the league are in 2021 before committing to a budget.

He praised his young manager Tim Clancy for steering Drogheda to promotion at the third attempt after back to back playoff defeats.

Clancy opened up afterwards on the pain he felt following last year's playoff reverse to Finn Harps which resulted in a miserable trip home from Donegal where he didn't speak a word to his assistant and good friend Kevin Doherty.

“To be honest, I didn’t even sleep in the house. I slept in my car that night," said the Meathman who had a long playing career in Scotland.

“I couldn’t face anyone. Those next few days were really difficult last year. But we got together and tried to get a good squad together for this season and I’m just thrilled by the way they played all year.

“We rebuilt and kept a hold off a lot of our promising young players. We got in a little bit more experience at the back with Hughie (Douglas) and Jack Tuite.

“We got over the line just about this year. But, listen, I think it’s a good reward for all the young players who have been with us the last three seasons. And some of them deserve to be in the Premier Division.”

The 36-year-old is hopeful the resources will be there to support his plans going forward.

"In fairness to Conor (Hoey)and the lads who have come in, the club has run a profit the last two seasons which is the way League of Ireland clubs should be run," he said.

“There are too many clubs who have a go and be successful and then you see them just disappear for a year or two.

“So we will live within our means. But we’d hope to rattle a few pockets and get a few quid out of locals in the community and get the fans back in which would also help us.

“We’ll work on next season over the next few weeks.”

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