Three and a half years ago, during the throes of Covid’s first year when neither vaccine nor an end was in sight, The Irish Times took the temperature of a number of GAA infrastructural projects, which had become becalmed by adversity.
Redevelopment work had been put in motion in Navan, Newbridge and Waterford but the GAA, who would have been expected to grant-aid the project, had seen revenue drop to nearly nothing in the first half of 2020 with no matches able to go ahead. All building activities were halted.
Focus was on three county grounds in need of improvement: Páirc Tailteann in Navan, St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge and Waterford’s Walsh Park.
Back in 2020, these projects were in limbo, having received initial support from the Large Scale Sports Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF) but not being able to access any other funding. Eventually, with normal business resumed and grants allocated from the GAA nationally and provincial councils, they were able to go ahead even if the delays were costly.
On Wednesday the Government announced top-up payments, which are intended to help with the cost of those delays and construction inflation.
Kildare saw their original grant of €4.8 million supplemented to just over €6 million. They intend to build a 15,000-capacity home with a new stand and entrance plaza as well as meeting rooms and catering facilities.
County chair Mick Gorman said that they had managed to keep the project on track despite all of the pressures.
“We have to be fair, our contractors Elliot’s have been very supportive and helpful. Things have settled and we’d be confident that yesterday’s [Wednesday’s] allocation will get us there.
“Our funding model is €4.5 million between what we’re putting in and what we’re borrowing. Six million or over now from the Government, Leinster and Croke Park are putting in €3.5 million and the IIP programme will bring in €4 million, we hope.
“As far as the project has gone to date we haven’t encountered any serious obstacles. It will give us a fitting home, up to the standard of any comparably-sized stadium. St Conleth’s Park is the spiritual home of the GAA in Kildare but it has been an embarrassment in recent years.”
All three projects are hoping to get funds from the IIP (Immigrant Investor Programme), which is a vehicle by which overseas applicants can obtain residency in Ireland in return for investing in approved projects, including sports venues.
These haven’t been confirmed yet but the three county boards are all confident that they will receive something from the fund, now closed, towards their rebuilds.
Waterford have already completed phase one in Walsh Park, the repair of the stand roof as well as new media facilities and the provision of seating on the terrace opposite.
Next up is a plan to put a stand and dressing rooms at the Keane’s Road end of the ground. Priced in and around €10 million, the phase will depend on what they get from the IIP, but there is optimism that the €3.3 million top-up will be a major platform for the desired plan.
If funding doesn’t match their preferred plan, there may have to be a scaled-down version with terracing going in, instead of the stand, and dressing rooms relocating to the far end. Hopes remain high that plan B won’t be necessary.
In Meath, county secretary Ciarán Flynn says they intend to “get moving in Q2 next year”.
The development got the boost of a €2.3 million top-up, bring the total to just over €8.5 million. The plan is to demolish the stand and redevelop a 20,000-capacity venue with floodlighting. In the meantime, Meath will continue to play league matches at the venue, which Flynn says is still big enough for expected crowds.
“The north terrace will be open, which gives us capacity of a few thousand, which unfortunately is the biggest we’ve been attracting in recent years. County finals attract about 3,000.”
He says that the possibility of facing Dublin in the Leinster championship – they have to play Longford first – creates a dilemma of whether to hang on to the old stand for a few extra months or demolish it as soon as the league concludes.
“If we beat Longford we have a decision to make – whether to play Dublin in Páirc Tailteann or to go to Croke Park. It could be the last hurrah for Páirc Tailteann and we knock it down the day after we play Dublin or else we play them in Croke Park and get better gate receipts. If we decide to go to Croke Park, we’ll decide early in the year and knock it as soon as the league is over.”
For all three, there is the suspense of the wait to find out what they may have got from the IIP, which in each of their cases could either slow down or downgrade their plans or facilitate a smooth completion.