Martin Skelly: Don’t fund the M50 stadium

GAA presidential candidate and former Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly has claimed neither Croke Park nor the provincial body should commit a cent to any proposed new stadium alongside the M50 motorway.
Martin Skelly: Don’t fund the M50 stadium

The possibility of a ground housing anything between 25-40,000 people being built along the country’s busiest stretch of road has been mooted on and off for over half-a-decade and the project now looks to be very much back on the cards.

Current Leinster chairman John Horan was widely quoted last week making the case for the project. Current GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail has also spoken of the possibility while his predecessor Liam O’Neill was all for the concept 12 months ago.

Skelly has been here before.

Leinster chairman between 2011 and 2014, he inherited a strategic plan that incorporated an identical idea, but it was one that fell through largely due to a slump in gate receipts during the economic crash.

With income from games nosediving from €8m to €4.5m, there was no way a new venue could have been given the green light by the Leinster administration at the time.

Skelly opposed the idea anyway and was glad to see it skewered on his watch.

His thoughts haven’t changed since.

“Dublin could probably initiate a stadium of its own such is the funding available to them in the county and good luck to them,” he told The Irish Examiner.

“What does (another Dublin) stadium do for Newbridge and Navan and Drogheda? It irritates me. I had nailed that one on the head.”

Under GAA rules, counties must generate one-third of the money required for any such venture themselves. The remainder is sourced externally with both Croke Park and the relevant provincial council habitually making a major dent in that.

Skelly’s preference at the time was for money to be directed towards grounds badly in need of attention around the capital and that they be refurbished to a “realistic size”, unlike too many other venues nationwide.

Plans had been in place to upgrade the grounds in Navan and Newbridge in the recent past, but both also fell victim to the economic downturn.

Skelly believes these stadia, and not an M50 project, should be the priority now and his opinions are founded on more than just finance.

Historian Paul Rouse wrote in these pages last week about the ethos of the community and the vitality that has always come with big inter-county games held in a county town. Skelly knows what that means better than most.

As Longford chairman he was centrally involved in the move to bring the Dublin footballers to Pearse Park in 2006 — for what is still their last provincial championship game played outside of HQ — and the memories of that sun kissed day remain vivid.

“I have a picture of the ground in the house, 16,000 people in a full Pearse Park. People in Longford still talk about it to this day. The buzz for weeks beforehand and weeks after it was incredible. It lifted the whole town and the whole county.”

Based in the rural parish of Newtowncashel in Longford, Skelly has seen the difficulties smaller communities have experienced in keeping local trade alive and vibrant and that has informed his distaste for a rootless stadium on the M50 where neutral counties would play.

“We are trying to keep stuff alive (around the country), which is one of the reasons why I would advocate a home and away relationship between counties. I was at the Longford and Kildare game in the summer. It was played there because Pearse Park was closed and it was dead as a dodo.”

The flipside of that was Longford’s meeting with Clare in Ennis a week earlier when Cusack Park crackled with electricity. Skelly accepts the occasion was enlivened by the fact it was the curtain-raiser for the Clare-Offaly hurling game, but the point stands.

It is hardly surprising then he is also against the Leinster Council’s recent decision to affix Dublin’s opening provincial football championship tie next summer in Nowlan Park rather than for Portlaoise in the event Laois beat Wicklow.

“Going to Kilkenny is crazy stuff. Longford was actually one of the few counties that opposed it. It is important the GAA looks out for the people that supports it and it would be a huge boost to the town, the pubs and hotels. It just brings a great bit of life to the place.”

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