The seemingly never-ending debate regarding the Oriel Park pitch has extended to the boardroom with Dundalk chairman Ciaran Bond admitting that the club face a dilemma at the end of this season as to what route they take next.
The current artificial surface has been in place since 2009 and Bond said that the club were exploring options about whether to return to grass or lay a new synthetic pitch in time for the 2016 campaign.
“This is the seventh year of this pitch and the lifespan is six to seven years,” he explained.
“There was a lot of work done on it last year and it passed the required tests for European and League of Ireland football quite easily. This year, there will have to be a lot of work done on it to get it to pass and subsequently, a lot of work done to keep it to that standard.
“We are starting a process where we have to seriously look at replacing it with a similar pitch or revert back to grass. There are pros and cons for each situation. The question we have to ask is, ‘what kind of pitch does this football club need?’”
One of the initial positives of the artificial surface, which was first laid in 2005, was the income the club received from renting it out. However, Bond said that this had tailed off in recent years.
“We have committed ourselves to giving the Dundalk Schoolboys League the pitch one night a week and the FAI Emerging Talent also use it once a week so we are not really generating income from it. It’s more advantageous in the sense that it’s playable seven days a week and it can take the levels of usage that we need it for.”
The pitch will undergo tests at the end of February to determine whether it is fit for European competition.
Elsewhere, the club are confident that Oriel Park will be deemed suitable for the Champions League first round qualifier after spending a considerable amount of money upgrading the facilities last year ahead of the Europa League games.
“The criteria for the Champions League first round is the same as the Europa League first round last year. We had a few issues last season and spent a good bit of money so that will benefit us going forward.
“The first and foremost concern is the pitch. It is due to be tested at the end of February. If we get that resolved, then we wouldn’t have major things to do because we did a lot of the groundwork last year.”
Bond also said that further enhancements to the Carrick Road venue were forthcoming although he admitted that it was difficult to pump money into the ground if it came at the expense of what was happening on the pitch.
“Over the next 12 to 18 months we need to give serious consideration to improving not only the pitch, but the ground as a whole,” he said.
“We still have the issue of the lease at Oriel Park not being resolved which prevents us at this moment in time from getting a Sports Capital Grant. That’s an issue that is in the pipeline to be resolved please God. If that is, then we will try and go from there.
“I don’t know too many clubs who have developed the ground and challenged for honours both at the same time. It’s a very hard balancing act but if we were fortunate to qualify for the second round of the Champions League then you are looking at doubling your prize fund. That money could be allocated to ground improvements.”
Bond also gave an update on season tickets, confirming that the club had already sold more than at this stage last year.
“We have surpassed last year’s tally at this stage which is great because traditionally it’s February and early March that you see the season tickets going out. We are up at the 535 mark and surprisingly a lot of them are new which is great.
That’s about 200 more than what we sold at this time last year.”