CLARE GAA county secretary, Pat Fitzgerald favours completing the Caherlohan project, near Tulla, ahead of improvements at Cusack Park.
In his report, which will be presented to the annual convention on Thurrsday night next, he says, “Personally speaking, I think we have to prioritise Caherlohan ahead of Cusack Park. That’s my opinion but ultimately it is you the clubs of Clare who will be the final arbitrators.
He acknowledges the board will have to invest further in upgrading Cusack Park, particularly the playing surface.
“After any prolonged period of rain, the surface badly deteriorates and this year, not for the first time, games had to be moved to alternative venues in order to avoid the embarrassment of the county grounds not being able to host games.
This year’s county hurling final was played in a continuous downpour and on a pitch that cut up badly. So bad were conditions that Sixmilebridge supporters were banned from getting onto Cusack Park to celebrate their victory at presentation time.
It was an unprecedented step but one that had to be taken to protect the surface for the football final the following week. It also crystallised the need for serious investment in Cusack Park.
Similarly, Cratloe supporters were banned from entering the field after they claimed an historic first county title, because of their Munster Club engagement the following day.
We also had a situation where the Cumann na mBunscoil football finals had to be moved to Clarecastle because Cusack Park was hosting the Munster Club hurling final and the surface had to be preserved in the event of any deterioration in the weather conditions.
It was a call, as difficult as it was, that had to be made. I appreciate Cusack Park should host the schools finals and that the youngsters should get the opportunity to play at the county grounds. Unfortunately, not everything works as one would wish.
The board is becoming too reliant on clubs like Sixmilebridge, Clarecastle and Tulla to literally dig them out of a hole and perhaps it’s time that we consider installing a sand based surface at the park.
But that’s not the only work required – the roof on the covered stand needs to be replaced, the PA system needs to be overhauled, the turnstiles need to be replaced and a new system installed.
Furthermore, a wall has to be erected around the area purchased at the rear of The Cloister, at the town end, to include 12 turnstiles and three exit gates. These are the directives that are coming from Croke Park but I must caution that what we will be able to undertake and what we need to do are two different propositions.”
Mr Fitzgerald, cautions, however, that certain remedial works cannot be put on the long finger; they have to be tackled immediately and will require investment.
“The county ground has already been downgraded to a capacity of 14,500 following an audit by independent inspectors for the GAA’s National Infrastructure and Safety Committee. Arising from that, further investment will be required if Cusack Park is to be recognised as a top-flight county grounds.
Over the past two years, we have invested in the order of €200,000 in the development of Cusack Park through drainage works, replacement of fencing and in improving facilities at Clareabbey.
Our financial situation is no different from possibly all other county boards, it is serious. While we have exercised prudent management of our resources in the past and will continue to do so in the future, I think we will need to find additional resources if the pitch is to be upgraded so that it is playable all year round.”
The county secretary points out that this work could have an impact on other initiatives. “The flip side to this is if resources are made available for continued improvement work at Cusack Park, it will happen at the expense of our centre of training excellence at Caherlohan where we’ve already invested over €3million.
It is also important for clubs to be aware that if there isn’t continued substantial investment in Caherlohan then the facility, which is urgently required, will remain a work in progress and will remain closed.
At Caherlohan, the sand based pitches are ready; the dressing rooms are in place but if the facility is to be opened up for regular use there is an issue of securing the grounds with the erection of a perimeter boundary wall. The entire facility will have to be closed off. Because of the insurance constraints, we can not have a facility with having it properly secured.
Against that background, clubs will have to decide where we invest our money – in Cusack Park where we won’t get high profile games or in Caherlohan which will be to the benefit of every single county team, development squads and even clubs.