The future of Louth GAA. The proposed site for a county grounds development between Heinz factory and DkIT Sport in Dundalk. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
The first step in relocating the home of Louth GAA to Dundalk has been taken. As had been well flagged in this paper, the announcement was made that a site had been purchased close to the county town’s Inner-Relief Road, at a meeting of the County Board, and it’s there where a new county grounds is to be built.
No date was given for the project’s completion, or when work is to begin. Nor was it said how much it would cost or how finance would be raised. Nonetheless, the announcement is said to have been well received by the gathering.
And when they spoke afterwards, Co. Board treasurer, Aidan Berrill, and All-Ireland footballer, Frank Lynch – both members of the committee tasked with finding a location for the new grounds – made no attempt to hide their enthusiasm for the project.
This brings to an end the speculation which has been rife since the plug was pulled on the Gaelic Grounds a few months ago.
For upwards on forty years, the Drogheda venue exercised the minds of successive Co. Board chairmen. Their stated aim was to solve the issue surrounding the venue’s ownership, allowing for it to be developed and brought up to proper inter-county standard.
Croke Park personnel were engaged in the most recent round of talks, and when they established free tenancy couldn’t be established, they withdrew interest, leaving the Louth Co. Board with no alternative but to look elsewhere.
It hasn’t taken long to identify a venue. Its suitability has been questioned due to its proximity to the sea, and in settling on it, the searchers are unlikely to have consulted with the latest Environmental Protection Agency report. Seemingly, climate change will cause sea levels to rise by a couple of feet in the next half-century.
But, come to think of it, there are many of us who won’t be around to see if that causes enough coastal erosion to encroach on only the second major project Louth GAA will have put in place since the foundation of the association.
When the stadium is built, the focus will be back on the county town which once housed the county’s finest venue. The number of people who remember the Athletic Grounds is diminishing, but those who played there, or just attended, will tell of a fine pitch of maximum dimensions, with surrounds and a stand capable of housing thousands in comfort. It staged its last County Board fixture in the autumn of 1959 and closed the following year. Many contend that with it went the soul of Louth GAA. We can only imagine the shape it would take today with constant upgrading.
For all the difficulties it posed, finding a site for the new stadium has been the easy bit - now the hard work begins. Nothing can be done without finance, and it seems that right now very little of that is available to the County Board. Whatever money being raised through sponsorship, gates, registration fees, and so on, is going into the day to day running of affairs, and it’s only through a levy being placed on clubs that the debt on the Darver Centre of Excellence is being kept under control. There’s been very little fundraising in recent years.
Croke Park can be expected to weigh in, but it’s not going to come up with the total cost. The final outlay is not known – figures of €6 million to twice that have been mentioned – and it can only be guessed at what the local contribution will have to be.