Limerick FC look set for return to Markets Field


L EAGUE OF IRELAND MARKETS FIELD DEVELOPMENT:THE PROCESS of assessing what work is required in order to get Limerick FC back into the Markets Field in time for the start of the 2012 season will begin immediately after the JP McManus Foundation confirmed yesterday that it had purchased the venue with a view to making it available to the club.

Welcoming the news last night, club chairman Pat O’Sullivan said that something along the lines of the proposal for an 8,000-seat venue put together by Gilroy McMahon, the firm that designed Croke Park, for the redevelopment of the 5.3-acre site two years ago, could be the ultimate goal in terms of the League of Ireland side of the operation.

He stressed, however, that the club’s own charitable and community projects would be at the heart of the rejuvenation scheme with spending likely to be focused initially on the likes of a high-quality astro-turf pitch, floodlighting and changing facilities so as to maximise the potential usage of the facility by the city’s wider population while also catering to the first team’s needs.

“We’ll assess what needs to be done and a priority will certainly be to ensure that the ground meets the requirements of the FAI’s licensing scheme but our plans go well beyond that,” said O’Sullivan. “We see the ground as a tool for community development. We hope that the Markets Field can become a focal point for young people who can go on to become leaders in our community, we want it to be an asset for all the people of the city. That’s what a club and its home should be and if it is, I firmly believe, then the rest will follow.”

O’Sullivan, who cited a return to the club’s long time home as a major priority when he became chairman a couple of years ago, thanked McManus for providing the more than €1.5 million required to fund the acquisition from Bord na gCon which left the facility in July of last year.

“People know that I had tried to buy the ground in the past and found it to be out of my reach,” said O’Sullivan. “I think they (the JP McManus Foundation) decided since then that we are people who are trying to do something significant for the community.

“JP is a man who has always been supportive and I think this sort of thing is personal for him. I’m so pleased and grateful that he has made this tremendously generous donation.”

Though the funds will come from the foundation, the ground will be owned by the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership (LEDP), a charitable organisation which also has links to McManus that was founded more than a decade ago in order to fund education, training and other initiatives in the wake of closure of the Krups factory at Roxboro.

It will grant a licence to Limerick FC to use the ground and seems likely to provide additional funding in the future to help the club with the facility’s modernisation and redevelopment.

“We have been tremendously impressed with Limerick FC and the work that the club has done with young players, students, prisoners and their families, people with disabilities, all sorts of sections of our community,” said Gerry Boland, a board member at both the foundation and the LEDP.

“The money required to improve the stadium is not huge and we need to talk about it but the first priority was to secure ownership of the ground for the community.

“Soccer clubs have a particular ability to get into financial difficulty – where there’s a ground there’s always a temptation to put a mortgage on it. So we’ll make it (the Markets Field) available but we’ll keep an eye on it too.”

The scale of the funding is significant by the standards of the foundation which has previously funded projects, including community centres, both in Ireland and abroad. Boland says that €200,000 would be the sort of money involved in a more typical project but the scale of its overall spending has grown considerably in recent years as a major scholarship scheme which currently helps around 350 students from all over Ireland gain a third level education has come on stream.

In recent years the foundation has spent more than €10 million a year on projects but this is unrelated to the funds – put at some €41 million last year – raised by McManus’s pro-am golf tournament and related activities.

The move promises a realisation of a dream for many Limerick fans of returning to a ground closely associated with the greatest days of the club’s past and, they will hope now, a much brighter future.

A major venue for sport in Limerick

THE first recorded use of the Markets Field for sporting purposes was back in 1886 when both the Irish Cycling Association and GAA settled on the place as the venue for events over three consecutive weekends.

Over the next 50 years it became a major venue for sport, including athletics, and other activities in the city with, in particular, the GAA using it for county finals and intercounty matches while Garryowen Rugby Club called it home with various visiting international sides including the All Blacks playing against Munster there. By the late 1920s, the GAA were developing the Gaelic Grounds and following their departure, the stadium hosted its first greyhound races in 1932.

Five years after that, Limerick FC began to use it and the club won its first trophy, the Munster Senior Cup, at the ground during its first season in senior football. Garryowen relocated to Dooradoyle in 1957 and Limerick headed for Rathbane in 1984.

Bord na gCon, which owned the facility by then, left it for a new, purpose-built track at Greenpark last year and despite persistent attempts by Limerick FC to return, its future as a sporting venue was in major doubt until yesterday’s announcement.