O'Regan plots new course for Waterford GAA

Waterford GAA chair Sean Michael O’Regan is hopeful of progressing with the Walsh Park upgrade but has stressed the need for perspective, saying “the redevelopment of the stadium is important but we have more pressing issues right now”.
O'Regan plots new course for Waterford GAA

Waterford GAA chair Sean Michael O’Regan is hopeful of progressing with the Walsh Park upgrade but has stressed the need for perspective, saying “the redevelopment of the stadium is important but we have more pressing issues right now”.

O’Regan outlined how the national lockdown means the timeline for works will have to be looked at again: “On Walsh Park we have our own project team set up, and we were going well. We had correspondence going with Croke Park and the National Infrastructure Committee, which we welcomed.

“We were going to get a project engineer on our committee, we were working away with (the government’s) Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund, we had documentation coming from the Department of Sport. The €3.7 million was there, subject to us completing the evaluation process satisfactorily.

“We were talking to our stakeholders, the Munster Council, the GAA at a national level, but obviously the coronavirus has really changed the timeiline.

“It’s still a necessity for Waterford GAA to update Walsh Park. It’s still a wish, a will and a want, and we still have that wish, will and want to update the stadium and develop it.

“For obvious reasons, and through nobody’s fault, the timeline will have to be looked at again. The financial element is a big part of the discussions we are going to have to look at, but the GAA has put the national interest first.

“Opening up facilities for testing and helping out on people’s health and well-being in other ways by getting clubs involved in helping communities on a local level, all of that has taken priority.

“We’d hope at some point in the near future to have discussions again with all stakeholders about where we’re going with the stadium, but right now, as of the last two months, that has all stopped.”

O’Regan acknowledged the balancing act needed in keeping an eye on the project for the medium term and the immediate challenge of the coronavirus.

“It’s delicate because there are obviously sensitivities around this - whether it’s even appropriate to be discussing the redevelopment of the stadium when we’re still dealing with this in an immediate sense, when people are worried - worried about the health of their family and friends, worried about their jobs and the fear of contacting the disease.

“We’ve all been using the word ‘perspective’ more than normal in the last couple of months, and this is another case of it.

“The redevelopment of the stadium is an important issue but we have more pressing issues right now.

“It’s been hugely gratifying to see the response across the entire Association to the virus. I chaired the well-being committee here in Waterford for years and it did great work - as has Colin Regan and his team in Croke Park.

“All the GAA clubs in Ireland, I think, have bought into the social initiative for many years - I know my own club, Kill, are very strong on that - and that’s been coming to the fore in the last few weeks.

“It doesn’t surprise me that GAA clubs have been to the fore with this work because they’re so embedded in the community, but it’s still uplifting to see it in action.

“People have spoken about ‘the new normal’, but this community involvement has always been the ‘normal’ for GAA clubs.” The speed with which the virus has changed life in Ireland has struck O’Regan, though he detects strength and resilience in the reaction from GAA clubs: “It’s hard to believe that it’s only two months we were walking out of the Gaelic Grounds after Waterford played Limerick in the league. A Saturday night and nine thousand-odd people in the stadium - no thought of social distancing at that stage - all we were thinking of was playing Kilkenny a couple of weeks after that.

“The world’s changed since then, not just the GAA or Ireland.

“We’ve just come out of April, which we were expecting to be full of club fixtures, but there haven’t been any, full stop.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of the shutdown on the inter county scene, but we can’t forget the clubs either: our club officers and members are all trying to make sense of this while helping their communities.

“One point worth making is that the resolve and resilience being shown by clubs at present will also be shown later when we look for solutions.

“Club lotteries and county draws draw on your friends, your family, your neighbours, so I don’t see that changing even as we’re all crying out for the big days in inter county level. And a lot of clubs are now looking more at lotteries being run more online, for instance, so different answers are being found for different problems.

“It’s still just two months and hopefully, with the phased return being planned, we’ll have a return to action.”

Is there a chance for people to evaluate where the GAA is going in this lockdown? Within reason, says O’Regan.

“Everything we’ve been used to has been stopped so we have time to think about where we went to go in the future, to consider whether there are different models we can use.

“The term road map has been used and I think the GAA nationally and locally will have to look at how to do things differently. This has stopped us in our tracks so using this time to revisit everything will be valuable in the long term.

“We had started a strategic review here in Waterford, for instance, but while it might seem to be a good time to look at these issues, it’s really come to a halt because it’s hard to discuss matters with people properly and we’re all juggling dates and times.

“Meetings are very difficult - as they are in all walks of life now, despite Zoom and so forth.

“In addition, everyone’s personal circumstances are different. For instance Waterford GAA lost Joe Harney recently, who played on the All-Ireland-winning team in 1959, and a lot of people who would otherwise have paid their respects to him weren’t able to attend the funeral. That’s an example of how things have changed. But the world is going to change, businesses are going to change, even the ways meetings are run will have to change, so it’s no surprise to expect changes in the GAA.”

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