It’s location, location, location for Liam O’Neill as GAA agree to bigger slice
President sees National Sports Campus “as a hub for this whole area of Dublin”
Dublin hurler David O’Callaghan and some enthusiastic friends at yesterday’s official opening of the all-weather pitches at the National Sports Campus, Abbotstown. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Just off the first roundabout after entering the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown is a large sign directing traffic towards the GAA pitches, before the road ends as suddenly as it begins. Although not for long.
Starting next month, work will begin on five full-size GAA pitches, one of which will be laid and measured to the exact specifications of Croke Park. Bit by bit, the National Sports Campus is slowly taking shape, and the latest phase – 12 mini synthetic playing pitches, complete with floodlights and a small pavilion, costing €3.6 million – was officially opened yesterday by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar.
These pitches are designed to serve the GAA, hockey, rugby, and soccer, and used not just by national, county and club teams, or indeed community groups, clubs and schools, but also the general public.
In the meantime the GAA have agreed to take even bigger slice of the National Sports Campus – along with the FAI, as part of the Development Through Partnership plan between the Government and National Governing Bodies of sport.
GAA president Liam O’Neill, present at yesterday’s opening, outlined exactly why the Association was attracted to this part of north county Dublin. “It’s location, location, location,” said O’Neill.
“That really is true, because this place is so accessible, from Meath, Kildare and Dublin obviously, or anyone close to the M50. And we’re ready to start turning the turf on the pitches, in February
“We will use it for primary schools, for clubs, for youth development programmes, for second and third level games, county squads, county challenge games, you name it. All that sort of development work. I’m not entirely sure yet what Dublin’s involvement will be yet, but it’s obviously there for them too, perfectly located.
“But I would see it as a hub for this whole area of Dublin, because the GAA doesn’t actually have much ground around this area. We’re also delighted to be part of the wider sporting movement here, and the kind of community that goes with all that. I think the GAA doesn’t always see itself as part of the wider sporting context.”
O’Neill was particularly excited by the idea that one of the pitches will be designed to mimic Croke Park in terms of size and surface, and indeed which may be a close as most players will ever get to running out onto the real thing: “And teams can use that for a run-out, or whatever, and I think that will be interesting,” he said.
Varadkar also reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to begin work on the National Indoor Arena, following the provision of €13 million in the last Budget. Work will begin ideally before the end of the year, for completion by 2016, or 2017 at the latest.
The Arena, as well as housing an indoor running track, will also cater for gymnastics and other indoor sports, and was described by Varadkar as “the missing keystone in the Irish sporting infrastructure” – although Athlone IT last year opened Ireland’s first full-sized indoor running facility.
“Over the last 12 months we have already opened a world-class equestrian arena and pentathlon training facilities, and a dry driving centre,” added Varadkar.
“The pitches being opened here, and the work starting later this year, will give us a truly National Sports Campus for athletes at every level, from community level to elite, and from a huge range of disciplines.
“I am also looking forward to further positive announcements from the NGBs themselves in the coming weeks regarding their own plans for the Campus.”
Varadkar suggested the offices of the Irish Sports Council would also ideally be moved to the Abbotstown site, especially given its pending merger with the National Sports Campus Development Authority.