Peter Fitzpatrick TD says equal rights a priority in new GAA stadium . (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Peter Fitzpatrick TD has said Louth LGFA players should have the same rights to the new county grounds in Dundalk as their male counterparts.
The former Wee County player and manager is a key member of the selection committee tasked with overseeing the stadium’s completion and played a major role in the land deal recently agreed - and passed - by Louth County Council, in exchange for €400,000.
Following the plot sale, which was ratified at last week’s monthly meeting, Cllr. Maeve Yore made her belief clear that the stadium should cater for all players, regardless of gender, despite the GAA and LGFA being entirely independent of one another.
Nonetheless, Fitzpatrick agrees and says that he would be “very disappointed” if an equal access measure failed to materialise.
“The Louth ladies teams will be playing in the stadium,” Fitzpatrick told The Democrat.
“I’ve a lot of ladies’ clubs ringing me up wanting to know will ladies’ football be played there. This is for Louth GAA, both men and women and we have to emphasise that.
“I’m not saying this to be a populist, I’ve two daughters playing ladies’ football and I feel ladies deserve the same opportunities as the men’s team, because the organisations (GAA and LGFA) are going to join at some stage. There should be one organisation and it should be equal for men and women.
“I think it’s very important that the ladies get involved in this project. I manage the Clans’ ladies and the difference they’ve made to the club is unbelievable, the work they do.
“I, for one, wouldn’t like the ladies’ team left behind, I don’t think they should be left behind.
“Louth ladies’ football team, whether it’s senior, junior or underage, will be playing their games in the new stadium. I’d be very disappointed if that didn’t happen.”
With regard to finance for the project, given the meagre financial turnover yielded by Louth GAA in recent years, along with the weight of the Darver debt, Fitzpatrick is hopeful of central funding from the GAA, along with government and lottery grants.
Though, he does admit that at least a million will have to be fostered from within the county - an effort which would require several major fundraising exploits.
However, he insists, the most important thing is ensuring the ideal development goes ahead.
“The most important thing is just to get the right stadium because you won’t get a second bite at the cherry.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of businessmen around the area and the goodwill is there. When you go looking to fundraise the problem is that people often find it difficult to see what you’re actually fundraising for. This is going to be a fantastic stadium, one where there is the opportunity to put a lot of advertising in; if you come into Dundalk it’s the first thing you’re going to see.
“There are a lot of people who could be very interested in putting their name above that stadium and that’s another way of collecting revenue. Down the road we may put in for hosting concerts.
“It’s about looking at what kind of revenue we can take back because our goal going forward is to ensure that there is no levy put on clubs.
“The clubs are already being levied for Darver and we don’t see any reason why the stadium can’t be self sufficient.”
The plot in question is the same one as was previously looked at for building when Pádraig O’Connor was County Board chairman, in the early years of this decade.
Then, the project fell due to a funding issue, yet, just a matter of years later, the development is being quoted at almost half the price.
However, Fitzpatrick remains confident in their estimation of between €6 and €8 million, adding that the plans drawn for the now-doomed Gaelic Grounds upgrade can be adapted to the Dundalk venture.
“We think the stadium will cost between €6-to-€7 million to build and a figure cost of €8 million. We’re hoping to get between €5 and €6 million from Croke Park, we’re hoping to get maybe a million in fundraising and another million from the government or lottery.
“The six members of our committee unanimously wanted this site and we looked and analysed it, got drawings done, we got scales and maps done, looking at angles, etc. We have left no stone unturned with regard to everything.
“We used to meet at 7pm on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and it would sometimes be 11pm before we would leave; because everyone was so engrossed in it. You could feel the hair standing on the back of your neck.
“There was a bit of politics involved with Drogheda and Dundalk, but I think people know you won’t get a better site in County Louth and this is something that Louth football needs.
“People like Frank Lynch, an All-Ireland winner in 1957 who played in the Athletic Grounds in Dundalk, he has a lot of bad feeling about the Athletic Grounds being lost. At least now we’re getting it back in the middle of Louth.”
THOSE AGAINST THE DEVELOPMENT
I’m a very positive person and I could see nothing blocking us. A lot of councillors supported us, in Drogheda too and only one councillor there objected. I contacted him and he just expressed to me that he felt as though Louth GAA didn’t do enough to keep the county grounds in Drogheda. I explained that Louth GAA couldn’t do any more and that 41 clubs had backed this proposal.
After the meeting I went up and shook his hand and said that he was a man of his word and that I didn’t have a problem.
One or two councillors got up and walked out of the room and one or two didn’t come, but at the end of the day we got 22 votes to one.
People are delighted to see Louth GAA moving forward and this is going to be very important to getting more people playing football.
This new stadium is going to suit absolutely everybody.
CHOOSING DUNDALK OVER EVERYWHERE ELSE
We know the location is perfect, for parking, etc. People were asking about Darver (Centre of Excellence), the road infrastructure in Darver would be an absolute and utter disaster.
I’m not going to say that somewhere else in Mid-Louth or Drogheda would be bad, but this site, geographically, you have four or five different ways to get in. We all knew from day one that this was going to be the place. It made so much sense.
THE STADIUM’S DEVELOPMENT STAGES
It’s a very ambitious date to go for (June 2020 finish). But I know when you’re building a house or a business or whatever that if you don’t put down a finishing plan then it never works.
The land is roughly a metre-and-a-half below road level so it has to be filled. We’re working very hard with Louth County Council, especially the planning department, on this.
We have to apply to fill the land and that’s going to take between five and six weeks and after that we can put the filling in.
Our goal is then to have the full planning permission application in with Louth County Council for the stadium and the field, and to start building in July.
We’re going to turn the sod in January so we’re officially going to launch the whole thing then.
We’re also planning that it will be a 12-month, ‘turn-key’ job.
MOVEMENT OF DUNDALK ATHLETICS TRACK
I had a fair insight into this site because I’m involved with the Athletics track too. There were (Athletics) six clubs that came together with myself and we decided that we’d go looking for a track in Dundalk.
Where we were looking at was the site that Louth GAA got. The council gave us an offer on it. We looked at it, it is 1.5m below road level and going to cost a lot of money to upgrade. We got a €100,000 capital grant and that’s there.
There was another site in Muirhevnamor; we looked at it and decided that it was a better site for the Athletics track. We’re going in partnership with the Louth County Council - them being the main runners’ of the track, helped by the six clubs.
We’re hoping to start that project in the next year.
It was the committee’s decision to move from the DkIT site and they’re all very happy with it.
DISCUSSIONS WITH LOUTH COUNTY COUNCIL
We said from day one to Louth County Council that we wanted to pay for the land. We never went in and looked for something for nothing. We explained to Joan Martin (LCC CEO) about the history of the GAA and about how we were the only county without a county grounds.
It took three or four meetings with her to talk about the prices and the infrastructure, and we met people from the planning department. Every time we met there were different people coming to us to talk about things like parking and road frontage, etc.
It was very intense, but we could actually see the end and December 17 will go down as a fantastic day for Louth GAA.
It’s our destiny, we need this pitch. If we hadn’t have got the land passed last Monday I think it would have knocked the GAA in Louth back big time.