John Fallon: Crunch time looms in deepening battle for Tolka Park

So far, according to the Save Tolka Park movement, over 300 public inputs have been lodged around the Dublin City Council’s new draft development plan
John Fallon: Crunch time looms in deepening battle for Tolka Park

Tolka Park has an estimated value of €8m. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

As the Valentine Day’s deadline approaches for submissions around Tolka Park’s future, the lack of love for Shelbourne’s proposed move to nearby Dalymount Park is growing.

So far, according to the Save Tolka Park movement, over 300 public inputs have been lodged around the Dublin City Council’s new draft development plan, due to be rubberstamped by elected representatives at the end of 2022.

The inputs centre on objecting to a rezoning that would see the Drumcondra ground sold by DCC to an approved housing body for public housing on one side, with the other half allocated for amenities.

This is part of a broader plan announced in 2016 for Shels to co-share with Bohemians in a revamped €35m Dalymount Park. That venture is only at design stage, with 2025 the most optimistic timeframe for completion.

It has been flagged from the outset that the Dalymount project’s viability was contingent on two factors; the sale of Tolka — estimated at €8m — to defray construction costs, and the occupancy of two clubs for operational feasibility.

As it stands, the Save Tolka Park campaign are four-square opposed to the relocation, and have demanded that DCC “decouple” the sale as part of the funding model for the Phibsboro rebuild.

They want both stadia retained, a scenario which DCC claim is simply unaffordable in State ownership.

“One well-equipped and well-functioning 6,000-seater, multipurpose stadium would probably be of more benefit to the community than two poor stadiums,” DCC’s assistant chief executive Richard Shakespeare told an Oireachtas committee last June.

“There is no point in having two stadiums servicing the area in question, because the fan base is not there.”

That’s just one of the issues the diehards would disagree with, especially with the return of Shels to the Premier Division and the box-office appointment of Damien Duff as manager for the upcoming season. Their women’s team, under Noel King, are national champions.

Tolka, in its rickety state, will be packed for the opening fixture against FAI Cup holders St Patrick’s Athletic on February 18, the latest memorable night across a century of history the activists are loath to see vanishing by the arrival of a wrecking ball.

Since their campaign was launched in June, they have mobilised local residents, including former ones like Eamon Dunphy, a selection of politicians, and activists, with the unified aim of staying put.

They don’t want to be uprooted from their spiritual home of Drumcondra into the heartland of their rivals, even if the distance away is a mere two kilometres.

Branding any sale to private developers as an act of “cultural vandalism”, they have proposed an alternative plan, retaining the football ground at the core of a “reimagined stadium” augmented by community facilities such as a gym, creche, cafe, enterprise centre, and public toilets.

One early sliver of victory for the cause was achieved in November when DCC members rejected the rezoning motion — but that could only delay, rather than derail, the process.

Once the submissions are assessed and the revised plan is out on public display, the clock starts ticking. December will complete the 99-week window laid down statutorily for approval, placing Tolka’s destiny in the hands of councillors’ voting preferences.

Of course, there is a knock-on effect for Dalymount. This week’s Construction Industry Federation (CIF) survey confirmed the trend of price inflation, an important element when tenders are sought for the job of repurposing the Dublin 7 relic.

Doubts will naturally creep into the minds of those 63 elected councillors the louder the public outcry becomes, and there’s nothing more emotive than the sort of inequality smacking off the latest issue highlighted by the STP committee.

Through minutes obtained under Freedom of Information, they learnt of a concern raised at a steering group meeting about Dalymount’s capacity to accommodate the women’s national league teams of both clubs.

Between the four male and female first-teams, an annual demand for over 50 matches will be created from cohabiting. It will take a remedy broached by an agronomist to address the congestion, thereby preventing an all-weather pitch being even considered, but this type of challenge both strengthens the STP crusade and widens their public reach. “We must not end up on the wrong side of history by creating more barriers for women in sport,” they said.

“Tolka Park as a sports stadium is a ready-made solution for this issue of inequality.”

Shelbourne, too, have cited equal access as a red-line item. It was a rare public utterance by the club on their contentious plans for residency and the silence has been interpreted by both factions in the argument as encouraging.

Shelbourne’s current chairman Andrew Doyle only bought the club two years after the pact was reached between his club, Bohemians, the FAI, and DCC. Legacy financial problems within both clubs were one of the catalysts for the alliance.

While Doyle, and his fellow investors, have underlined their commitment to the Shels cause by financially supporting the academy, as well as men’s and women’s sections, fans will be eager for their vision of the Reds retaining their independence to be shared by the hierarchy.

Shels have plenty of prominent supporters, amongst them a cadre of Dublin GAA players like Stephen Cluxton, but the dulcet tones of David Balfe appear to be resonating most when romanticising the notion of sustaining Tolka.

For Those I Love is Balfe’s musician moniker. It’s future battles off the pitch, rather than what Duff can engineer on it, that are sure to test the relationships within Shels.

Players must use their heads before venting on Twitter

Portadown’s U-turn on recruiting Joe Gorman last week once again provided a salutary tale for players eager to move their fingers as quickly as their feet.

 Lee Devitt, Cobh Ramblers keeps the pressure on defender Joe Gorman, Longford Town. Gorman lost a move to the NI Premiership after an old tweet he made resurfaced. Picture: Larry Cummins
Lee Devitt, Cobh Ramblers keeps the pressure on defender Joe Gorman, Longford Town. Gorman lost a move to the NI Premiership after an old tweet he made resurfaced. Picture: Larry Cummins

Fans of the Northern Ireland club were swift to unleash their outrage at learning of his signing, easily extracting from the archive a tweet posted by the Dubliner all of seven years ago. Commenting on a TV show from Belfast, the defender didn’t hold back: “Ross Kemp in Belfast talking about the Troubles. Wouldn’t you just love to open up on all them Orangemen”.

That two-footed lunge eventually cost him a contract and his explanation of “teenage bravado” is a reminder to the next generation about the perils of social media immediacy.

It came in the same week that Dion Charles, the Northern Irish striker signed by Bolton Wanderers to replace Eoin Doyle, was also forced into a public apology for his regrettable historical message. Reiterating he was not “racist or homophobic”, at least he got to kick a ball at his new employers.

As we saw in the case of Basketball chief Bernard O’Byrne, youthfulness isn’t a pre-requisite for such errors but incorporating a five-year review of social media activities by specialist firms is fast becoming the norm for professional clubs pursuing targets.

Perhaps it’s no surprise for the leading Premier League lights to delegate the control of that function to outsiders.

League of Ireland becoming a hotbed for UK clubs to blood rising stars

The League of Ireland’s growing status as a showcase for English clubs to test their young talent is reflected in the recent transfer market.

Former St Pat's goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Former St Pat's goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Supporters observing unfamiliar newcomers are often confused about whether they’ve been released or just passing through but the pattern of late is UK clubs sending them over on loan.

St Patrick’s Athletic have led the way — fresh from the success of Liverpool loanee Vitezslav Jaros becoming their first-choice goalkeeper last season — by enlisting Jack Scott from Wolves.

Cork native Adam O’Reilly is set to join him from Preston North End in a similar he made to Waterford last season.

Wolves’ strategic player marketing manager Matt Jackson said of Scott’s move: “We really like the way the leagues are developing over in Ireland, and they provide a very competitive experience for the players going into senior football. He’s joining a team who did very well last season and one that can give him the opportunity to gain European experience through in the summer.”

Injury scuppered Joe Hodge’s involvement for Derry last season but Swansea pair Dan Williams and Lewis Webb, on loan to Dundalk, will relish the opportunity, as will Barry Coffey, back at Cork City on a second loan from Celtic.

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