Two large construction projects will commence shortly with the redevelopment of GAA grounds at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park, writes Nickey Brennan.
These developments, two of the largest in the country, will benefit the economies of Cork and Belfast significantly and they will also be a major boost to the stagnant construction industry.
The Casement Park redevelopment will receive significant funding from the British Government. This is in line with funding which has already been granted for the redevelopment of Ravenhill (rugby) and Windsor Park (soccer).
The GAA at national level will also provide significant financial support, as will the Ulster GAA Council. The new Casement Park will be the finest sports ground in Ulster, and will be used for all major hurling and Gaelic football occasions in the province.
Visitors to Belfast from the South will get clear visibility of the new imposing infrastructure as they enter the city.
Some years ago I was directly involved in discussions relating to the possible development of a sporting infrastructure at the old Maize/Long Kesh location. It was clear, though, that many obstacles would have to be overcome before a project of such magnitude could be contemplated.
Aside from the many historical and political issues which needed to be addressed, there was also a need to develop a significant level of road and rail infrastructure to accommodate supporters who would be travelling to the venue.
In the end the obvious solution was to upgrade the existing facilities of the three main sporting bodies, which are all located in Belfast. This is already proving to have been the wisest course of action.
Cork County Board received the good news last week that the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment is to receive €30 million in Government funding. Croke Park will also make a significant contribution, but there will still be a sizeable debt for the Cork County Board.
Kilkenny people are far more familiar with Páirc Uí Chaoimh than Casement Park. No one, and that includes Cork people, would disagree with the view that their main county grounds is dilapidated and run-down.
The redevelopment is long overdue. Not surprisingly, the Cork Board looked to obtain additional property around the stadium to develop training and other facilities for Gaelic games. The initial project, which also involved a significant level of non GAA development, was deemed to be over-ambitious (and too costly) but what remains is essentially what Cork GAA required.
The project is to be welcomed and is deserving of the financial support which was announced last week. So while the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment is necessary it does, once again, throw the spotlight on the number of GAA venues around the country and in Munster in particular.
Already the Cork Board has upped the ante with fixture-makers by seeking to have specific games such as All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals played at the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Whether this was a smart move by Cork at this time is debatable.
Ulster championship football needs a newly developed Casement Park to accommodate games, particularly the Ulster football final. That, unfortunately, will see the demise of Clones, a venue synonymous with Ulster finals. Ulster required a venue of 40,000+ capacity. That will now be delivered in Casement Park.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh is in a province that already has three other major venues, all capable of hosting crowds in the region of 45,000. The venue will alternate with Killarney for Munster football finals (assuming a Cork v Kerry final), otherwise alternative venues will be used.
It is a different scenario with the Munster hurling championship. Aside from Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick and Semple Stadium, Thurles will be vying for big hurling games, which means all three will have limited opportunities.