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Rovers' stadium in peril as GAA prepare for fight

SOCCER SHAMROCK ROVERS fear that GAA clubs in South County Dublin could scupper their dream of playing in Tallaght if they carry out threats made to councillors in the run-up to last month's vote on the stadium project.

On February 13, the members of South Dublin County Council voted 22-4 in favour of completing the half-finished soccer stadium and rejected overtures from the GAA to extend the playing surface and increase the size of the changing rooms to cater for Gaelic games.

A letter, dated February 10, and signed by the chairman and secretary of six South Dublin GAA clubs - Thomas Davis, St Judes, St Anne's, Croi Ro Naofa, St Marks and Faughs - was sent to every councillor prior to the meeting, calling on them to stick by the decision they made on December 12 to revamp the stadium plans to cater for Gaelic games.

However, prior to the February 13 meeting, Minister for Sport John O'Donoghue made it clear that Government funding for the completion of the project would be withdrawn if councillors decided to proceed with anything other than a soccer stadium.

Following their to proceed with completing the original project, South Dublin County Council posted the necessary notices on March 1 but Shamrock Rovers now fear that the GAA clubs will carry out threats made in the February 10 letter to councillors.

Escalation

The clubs letter stated: "If the December 12 decision is reversed, Tallaght's GAA clubs are committed to a significant escalation of its actions to seek 'the right answer' for Tallaght. Actions under review include a judicial review of the Part 8 planning process and, in particular, the legitimacy of any revisions to decisions made under that process, and/or an EU challenge on either planning or state aid grounds.

"Councillors are becoming increasingly aware that there has been considerably more to the whole process in relation to the Tallaght stadium than has been in the public domain. An Oireachtas enquiry and/or media enquiry such as a special Prime Time investigates programme might also serve the community very well," the letter added.

Shamrock Rovers officials are extremely worried about the damage that would be caused to the project by any more delays.

"We have already used up eight lives and don't have too many more left," said Rovers director Noel Byrne.

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With the FAI and Eircom League set to merge later this year and the imminent introduction of a new Premier League, Rovers need Tallaght to be finished before the start of next season to have any chance of being selected for the new elite division.

In addition, both the FAI and the Government are keen to encourage ground-sharing among Dublin's big four clubs and envisage St Patrick's Athletic moving from their base in Inchicore to also play in the new Tallaght stadium.

Rovers officials are due to meet the Minister for Sport and his officials later this week and they will be joined by Australian-based director Ray Wilson, who played a major role along with the 400 Club in saving Rovers from extinction last year.

Wilson is surprised by the opposition from the GAA clubs. "We are very disappointed with the stance the GAA clubs are taking because they are going against the expressed wishes of the Minister for Sport," he said.

"These clubs know how important it is to have facilities because they have excellent complexes of their own so we would have expected them to have empathy with us on this issue.

"Over ?4m has already been invested in this project by Shamrock Rovers and the Department of Sport and we agreed to a request last year from South Dublin Council to hand back their lease on condition that the stadium would be completed in the manner originally intended.

"If there is any further delay, or if the project is abandoned, the only losers will be Shamrock Rovers and the soccer community of Tallaght.

Beacon

"We envisage this stadium being a beacon for entire football community of South Dublin. The club is already proactive in the area, with 22 schoolboy teams as well as sponsoring the local basketball club and helping out soccer at Tallaght IT by sponsorsing gear and introducing soccer scholarships," added Wilson.

For all that, the GAA clubs do not appear to be for turning if a line from an email sent last September by David Kennedy of Thomas Davis to Dublin County Board secretary John Costello, and seen by the Irish Independent, is anything to go by.

"I'm confident that in any nbout (sic) with Rovers that the GAA will be the last man standing," wrote Kennedy.


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