CLARE GAA County Board plans to proceed with the development of the €3 million sports academy and training base at Caherlohan but it has no plans to finance the project by selling off some of its assets.
Chairman Michael O’Neill confirmed to The Clare Champion that the board “hasn’t even discussed the possibilities of selling off any of its assets” but accepted it is something that “may be looked at down the line”.
While Croke Park has pledged €1.8m, the board has to find the balance of €1.2m from its own resources but Mr O’Neill is confident they can achieve that goal despite the economic downturn and against the background that they forked out in excess of €2m two years ago in acquiring the land.
In its property portfolio, the board owns Cusack Park, Clareabbey and Ballyline, while it also has an arrangement with Clarecastle GAA Club for use of a pitch, known as Ryan’s Field, at their club grounds.
The board chairman is adamant, however, that there would be no auction of board property if at all possible.
“Obviously, we have a certain amount invested in the development already. In conjunction with the upgrade of Cusack Park, we can only do it as funds become available. Croke Park has committed €1.8m, it falls
back on us to generate the balance from own resources or other avenues.
“Two to three years ago, you were looking at a totally different scenario as regards property and its value. If you put Ballyline or any place up for sale now, you don’t know what you’d get for it or even if you’d get a buyer. That’s the situation in the current climate,” he emphasised.
However, he gave a clear indication that the board would be looking and ways of pruning its expenditure levels.
“We just have to look at it on the basis of financing it from within our own resources for as long as it is practicable. We have to try and manage our own situation, cutting back where we can across all operations,” he explained.
Did that mean looking at the costs involved in the preparation of county teams?
“To some degree, we have looked at all operations already. I wouldn’t put it down to any one thing. The big interest is on county teams at the minute, rightly or wrongly. I think you have to spend a certain amount on county teams every year whether we like it or not. That’s a given,” he replied.
Has Clare spent too much?
In 2009, expenditure on the preparation of county teams, hurling and football, amounted to €620,001, down from €743,000 the previous year. This year the costs came in at €627,233.
“That’s a question I wouldn’t even dream of answering,” he responded.
Mr O’Neill admitted that he inherited the project, a legacy of his predecessor Michael McDonagh but it is a project he has embraced with great enthusiasm and no little energy.
“As vice-chairman, I was very involved in purchasing land at the time and that land is paid for. We are starting the development work with no debt. Every cent being spent now is in the project, not in repaying loans.
“The approach we have taken is a sensible approach to the overall running of the county board, I suppose really. I’m not saying that wasn’t the case before but with the volumes of money that we are talking about now, we have to be careful. Even in the economy we are living in, we’re still spending a lot of money,” he admitted.
Placing additional financial pressure on the board is the fact that a proposed €30m deal to trade Cusack Park to a consortium that included Bernard McNamara, Seánie Lyne and Noel Connellan in return for a greenfield site at Doora went belly up. That turn of events forced the board to invest in essential upgrading work at Cusack Park.
“We had planned to funnel funds from the possible sale of Cusack Park to Aisling Chiosóg but that didn’t materialise.
“At the time, that land at Caherlohan was purchased for the purpose of what we are doing with it now. If the Cusack Park deal had gone through and materialised, we would have directed money from the sale into the development. It hasn’t happened and we just have to get on with it,” he explained.
He believes there’s tremendous goodwill towards the association at county level and that such positivity will enable them bring their ambitious project to fruition. Towards that end, they will be leaning on the clubs of Clare.
“I suppose we will be asking them to promote the county board draw. Again, we don’t want to be burdening clubs too much. Many are struggling themselves to come up with finance for day-to-day running not to talk of developments. We just have to look at it on the basis of financing it from within our own resources for as long as it is feasible,” he remarked.
Real centre of excellence
CLARE GAA’s centre of excellence at Caherlohan will place Clare GAA at the top of the ladder regarding playing and training facilities.
That’s according to Niall Fitzgerald, partner in Horgan-Lynch, the consultant engineers and master planners for the project.
The Cork-based firm has worked on a number of major sport projects across the country including Croke Park, Semple Stadium in Thurles, Páirc Uí Caoimh, Walsh Park (Waterford), Cusack Park (Mullingar) and Breffni Park (Cavan). They also designed the Nemo Rangers facility in Cork, which includes four grass pitches, an all-weather pitch and a 4,000msq multi-functional facility.
“At Caherlohan, there is planning for seven pitches and one all-weather pitch. One pitch is seeded at this time and three more are ready for seeding in April with all the preparatory work complete. Work on the construction of the dressing rooms will commence early in the new year and this building should be completed for September,” Fitzgerald explained.
“The idea is to have all facilities in one area. The building will include dressing rooms, referee’s room, a gymnasium and a dining area where players can have food after training. There will also be covered accommodation for 1,500 patrons,” he added.
Design work on the project started in 2005 and as the scheme has developed, it has gone through a number of planning applications.
“Players are getting more and more professional and they need better facilities. This is the way sports clubs are going, developing modern facilities to cater for all of their members,” according to Niall Fitzgerald.
When the facility was designed, the costing for the project was between €2.5 and €3m. “It has to be done in stages as costs allow. We are trying to do it in such a way that it’s up and running immediately and that the rest of the work can progress over time,” Fitzgerald added.
Mr Fitzgerald spoke of the importance of all-weather pitches. “The four that are constructed at present are sand-based which allows for winter use. The four pitches have a provision for floodlighting and two will be floodlit in the short term. By this time next year, four pitches, two of which will be floodlit and dressing rooms will be complete.”
The development also includes a hill-sprint area to allow for intensive physical training during winter months. All teams engage in a heavy physical training programme during December, January and February. Much of the preparatory work for Clare’s successes in 1995 to 1998 was done on the hill in Shannon during winter.
“There is also provision for a hurling alley, a four-sided hurling wall with a synthetic surface. The hurling alley will have a gallery for managers and selectors to supervise the sessions. Long term, it is envisaged to have a running track throughout the development,” Mr Fitzgerald explained.
“As a project, it is up there with all the others. Each time we have a project like this, we try to better the previous one. So far, this has gone very well. The weather wasn’t kind towards the end of October but we still managed to get a lot done. It is expected that phase one will be fully operational by the spring of 2012. As regards when the overall project will be complete, it depends on funding,” Fitzgerald added.
In his opinion, the project will, certainly have Clare at the top of the ladder. “I don’t know of any county that has their own facility at present. Warterford have an arrangement with Waterford IT while my own county, Cork, gets to use the facilities provided by a number of the clubs. In addition to being a huge asset to the county, the availability of this facility will take pressure off the clubs who have been making their facilities available for the preparation of county teams,” he said.
The project engineer said the facility is for the young people of Clare. “It will be used for the hosting of summer camps each year in addition to being for the various county teams for training and challenge games,” he commented.
There is no doubt this project will be a huge asset to Clare GAA, one of whose biggest tasks each year is to provide training facilities for the various inter-county teams and development squads. Cusack Park, Clareabbey and Ballyline pitches can only cope with so much activity. Without the assistance of a number of clubs who make their facilities available, GAA authorities would not be able to cope with the many requests. The availability of so many facilities at Caherlohan is sure to make it a lot easier to organise the preparation and training of the various teams.
Lottery funding key to completing academy
BOARD chairman Michael O’Neill has delivered a broadside at Government over the uncertainty of national lottery funding, which he sees as key to the board completing their €3 million sports academy.
“In the times that we are in, it’s a fairly substantial investment. Without getting into a controversy, I would hope that lottery funding will come through sooner rather than later. We are working to get that restored. Communities can’t survive and that was the essence of lotto funding – to help them keep their vibrancy,” he said.
“It’s the same with us in the GAA and all the clubs in that we provide facilities which are to the benefit of the wider community. I don’t think the recognition is there for what clubs have put into their communities or what the county board, which has been demonised to a certain extent, has delivered either,” he suggested.
The board chairman emphasised projects such as the one at Caherlohan will provide recreational and sporting facilities as well as job opportunities.
“In that respect, we are doing what the Government should be doing but I don’t want to sound too negative. We have to take a common-sense approach with them and are working with them. It’s at a stage that we just don’t know what’s going to happen. It is the uncertainty of it all that’s the concern.
“If Government comes along and say that in three or six months time we will have new funding that would be fine. Clubs are crying out for that, communities are crying out for that. Let’s remember, the GAA is one of last surviving social outlets in a community where post offices and garda stations have closed. The GAA helps communities keep their identity,” he added.
In early October, machinery eventually moved in on the Caherlohan site to start work.
Kilbaha-based contractor Michael Boland of Boland Civil Engineering Contractors and his team of workers made the most of the benign weather conditions to make tracks and prepared four of the proposed grass pitches, one which has already been seeded.
The board chairman was delighted the contract was awarded to a Clare company and that jobs were kept local. He added there was genuine positivity for the whole development.
“The project went out for tender and I am delighted that we had a company in Clare capable of competing at this level. At one stage, I think as many as 20 people were employed at Caherlohan and I suppose it kept people around who otherwise might have been forced to emigrate.
“It helped created employment locally and will continue to do through to its completion. Clubs see need for it within the county.
“People say why do a project costing that much money? If you were to adopt that approach, you’d never go ahead with anything. Everything would be put on the long finger,” he added.
From start to finish, Mr O’Neill believes the project will be carried through from start to finish in a three-year timeframe.
“We would hope to be in there this time next year for limited use,” he concluded.