Dundalk may lose access to Oriel Park for home games

Dispute with the leaseholder of the ground leaves champions facing a stark choice

The FAI’s licensing process explicitly requires clubs to be able to guarantee the availability of their home ground for all games. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The FAI’s licensing process explicitly requires clubs to be able to guarantee the availability of their home ground for all games. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Champions Dundalk face the possibility of having to play some or all of their home games during the coming season away from Oriel Park.

Their failure to resolve a long-standing financial dispute with former owner Gerry Matthews threatens their ability to obtain the Premier Division license they need to enter the league if they list the ground as their home.

The FAI’s licensing process explicitly requires clubs to be able to guarantee the availability of their home ground for all games to be played during a particular league season.

But Matthews, who left the club in 2012, retained the lease on Oriel when he left and, he says, frustrated by his inability reach an agreement with the club’s new owners, he has written to the FAI to point out that Dundalk currently possess no such contract.

In charge

The centre has been a constant source of controversy due to its location – inside the boundaries of Oriel rather than the adjacent Hiney Park which Matthews actually owned at the time. It has debts of €300,000 most of it in planning levies to Louth County Council.

Second Captains

The cost of its construction was supposed to be largely covered by grants but these all dried up due to the economic crisis. In the end, just €250,000 was provided in public funding with Matthews and a number of unnamed friends and business associates putting up the balance.

He now says t he has offered the club two options; to pay him €250,000 in return for which he will sign over the lease and the YDC – or €100,000, in which case he would sign over the lease and dismantle the YDC in order to salvage whatever materials he can from the building.

The whole situation, which also involves former FAI president Des Casey, as he and his family actually own Oriel Park which originally granted the lease to the club on favourable terms, went to mediation before Christmas but a solution agreeable to all parties could not be reached.

The consequences for the club, if it cannot come to some arrangement with Matthews, look stark. The club licensing manual clearly states that a club “must have a stadium available to it to play in the league.” Paragraph 1.01 of the section on infrastructure states: “The license applicant must either a) provide evidence that it owns the stadium or b) provide a written contract with the owner or owners of the stadium which it will use for the season. This contract must guarantee the use of the stadium for all League of Ireland home matches for the coming season.”

If Dundalk cannot satisfy these conditions it does not appear to be eligible for a license that is based on it playing at Oriel. It would have to come up with an alternative plan, most likely one involving the use of United Park, some 20 miles away in Drogheda.

Matthews’s letter to Abbotstown appears to leave the association, which also declined to respond to questions about the situation, with little or no room for manoeuvre.

Decisions on Premier League licenses are due to be released within the next couple of weeks and Dundalk are scheduled to play their first home game of the campaign, against Finn Harps, on March 11th.

The club has been reported to be weighing up the possibility of a move to another site with the campus of the local Institute of Technology repeatedly mentioned.

In the meantime, Matthews says: “I spent over a million apart from what went into the YDC and I understand that most of it is gone, I’m not getting it back. But there are people owed money here and I feel the club should give me some of what it owes me.”

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