Blackrock RFC agrees to sell land to Cuala to ease debt
Deal will see GAA club move its headquarters from Dalkey to Stradbrook Road
Blackrock RFC’s Stradbrook ground hosted the Samoan rugby team’s training sessions earlier this month. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Blackrock College RFC, one of the most famous rugby clubs in Ireland, are to sell a share of their ground and enter a partnership with Cuala GAA club.
Negotiations were completed on Friday night between the two clubs and the agreement will see Cuala shift headquarters from Dalkey up Dublin’s south east coast to Stradbrook Road.
“Blackrock College RFC and Cuala GAA are delighted to announce that they have entered a ground sharing agreement at the rugby club’s facilities at Stradbrook, Blackrock, Co Dublin,” both parties said in a statement issued tonight.
Blackrock currently shoulder a €1.1 million debt, while Cuala need to improve their social and playing facilities to meet the demand of their 2,000 members and 95 teams.
Blackrock have 245 members, spread across five adult teams, the under-20s squad, clubhouse and tag rugby members. They also have a substantial mini-rugby programme and 225 life members.
Both clubs’ membership will vote on the agreed proposal in January with the full transfer and pitch upgrades, if the deal is accepted, happening within six to 12 months.
Planning permission for floodlights has already been submitted. Cuala intend to continue leasing their facilities in Dalkey, along with pitches in Thomastown and Shankill from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.
“Our club has grown in the last 10 years from 300 members to 2,000 so we need every blade of grass we can find,” said Cuala secretary Declan Murray. “We are currently spending a significant amount of money every year on all-weather training facilities during the winter so it makes sense to develop our own.
“This allows us to do that in conjunction with another sporting organisation.”
The partnership will be of immediate benefit to both parties. While not unique in Ireland, a deal of this magnitude has never occurred between a rugby and GAA club.
“ I think the bid is quite good. The pitches will be all-weather eventually and all three will be shared [between hurling, football, camogie and rugby].
“We’ll also be talking to the local schools and hopefully get them on board as well,” added Murray.
Blackrock’s repayment of the interest on their debt has been a drain on resources in recent seasons. The club’s first team currently lie in seventh position in Division 1B of the All-Ireland League.
The struggles were partly caused by the payment of players, which the IRFU are prohibiting from next season as they endeavour to restore the amateur ethos to club rugby in Ireland.
Blackrock had an opportunity to accept €800,000 from a property developer during the boom years for the right to build on a portion of the 13 acres but the members rejected the proposal.
Blackrock had also reached an advanced stage of negotiations to share their land with Avoca Hockey Club but a partnership with Cuala is, financially, more enticing.
“The vision for Blackrock College RFC would be a multi-sports facility in Stradbrook with rugby at its core,” said John Smyth, club president and former chief executive of First Active bank.
“A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will enable the development of Stradbrook as a multi-sport facility, was signed by both clubs this evening, subject to approval by their members,” the statement added.
Writing recently in the Blackrock programme, Smyth said: “Our club is entering a new era that recognises that a rugby-only business model is not sustainable at club level in the new world of professional rugby in Ireland.”
There are ground-sharing agreements in place between rugby and GAA clubs in Ulster but the Stradbrook clubhouse would become the central hub for both organisations.
Cuala are not in a position to enter this arrangement without funds generated via GAA grant aid, national lottery, local authority grants and internal fundraising.
“It’s a big project and we wouldn’t have the financial wherewithal within the club to do it alone,” said club secretary Murray.
“We are currently a division one hurling and division two football club; we need to be challenging for a Dublin championship so we need to look at ways of moving forward,” he added.
Another interesting development resulting from the arrangement would be that Cuala would creep up to the catchment area of Kilmacud Crokes – the long-established south Dublin super club.
There is no GAA club currently in Blackrock but Crokes’ border the area with pitches in Glenalbyn (Stillorgan), Silver Park (Leopardstown) and Deerpark (Mount Merrion).
“It’s right on the edge of our catchment area,” Murray added.
“Our nearest pitch would be Thomastown up in Sallynoggin . . . it brings us more into the Dublin catchment area and it will also allow the club to grow.”