Where once those fans smitten by the skylords of Irish basketball punched holes in the roof at Neptune Stadium, now the harsh winters oblige.
Other than the necessity to cancel games at the stadium, there’s little new in the fact that the traditional cathedral of Irish basketball has sprung a leak. That, not altogether surprisingly, happened more than three years ago.
The stadium opened 33 years ago and the warranty on the roof was for 20 years. It served its purpose, and then some.
Neptune stands proudly as the only basketball club in Ireland or England to own its own stadium and every January the best of the best happily return to Cork for Cup semi-final weekend. The Neptune club itself is on the cusp of a return to the Superleague and the top flight will be all the better for big nights at the Stadium.
But the badge of honour looks a little thin now, as thin as the patience of club chairman Paul Barrett. “Consider how stupid and exposed we would look trying to explain to an insurance claim that we were letting kids run up and down the floor when there’s a hole in the roof,” he says.
“It’s not just the frustration of lost games. There’s a public liability problem there as well.”
Neptune Stadium, for anyone still unaware of its cultural and historical importance to sport in Cork, was at the epicentre of Irish basketball’s explosion in the mid-80s, a Pied Piper arena for northside kids and the most demanding sporting crucible of its generation.
Hanging from the Rafters, Kieran Shannon’s informed account of how the game caught fire in Cork and Ireland in the 80s reflected the new stadium’s sociological import.
The northside was where it was at. It was the first sporting theatre that international star Timmy McCarthy could recall he’d be happy to bring a date to as well.
Neptune dotted all their I’s and sought the political counsel of local Government TD Dara Murphy when submitting their application for Sports Capital programme funding last year.
They’ve had quite an amount of practice, it was their third pitch for some of the pot — €189,000 being the cost of fixing the stadium roof.
Barrett felt their case was watertight (apologies). Because the spend was over the €150,000 threshold, Neptune were advised to apply for money from the regional funding programme instead. Which they did.
It wasn’t just the disappointment of the “I regret to inform you that the project was not among those selected for funding on this occasion” that peeved Neptune.
There was a whole lot of other stuff to be getting peeved about. In the evaluation report from the Department, it was scored on the basis of several criteria.
For ‘Level of socio-economic disadvantage in the area’ Neptune Stadium, on North Monastery Road, with four disadvantaged area schools within 500m, scored a zero, with the additional comment: “The project is not in a disadvantaged area.”
“We are surrounded by DEIS schools (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) and the area is recognised by the City Council as an area for targeted resources to help develop the area,” explained Paul Barrett.
“Within 500m of the stadium, there’s St Vincent’s secondary school, North Pres primary, North Mon Academic, and North Mon AG, all DEIS schools. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t disgusting.”
The Neptune chairman had plenty more reasons to justify the necessity of the works on the stadium roof if the application form allowed it. It didn’t, so Neptune plied Deputy Murphy with cause instead, starting with the first category: Likelihood of increasing participation/performance.
The northside TD was reminded: “If we don’t get the roof fixed, far from increasing participation, we would be ceasing it. I verbalised that to Deputy Murphy, which was very important: If we don’t receive the funding, we will have to stop playing games at Neptune Stadium. What do we tell the 200-odd members and all the other community people who use the building?”
Don’t tell them about the Sports Capital grant appeals system anyway, a vehicle Neptune was unaware existed until media reports began circulating recently about Wesley College in Dublin, which had its grant application rejection overturned and which, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross delighted in confirming on Twitter, was now in receipt of the maximum allowable €150,000 to relay their all-weather hockey pitch.
The €6,000-a-year fee-paying school in Ross’ constituency boasts four rugby pitches, six hockey pitches which become 16 tennis courts in the summer, a gym and two basketball courts — which is one more than the place with the leaky roof on North Monastery Road.
Barrett doesn’t need an irony map: “We failed because Neptune is supposedly not in a disadvantaged area. Well if Neptune Stadium is not in a disadvantaged area, you can be sure as fuck that Wesley College isn’t either,” he mused.
Last month, Barrett wrote again to Dara Murphy, querying the divvy out of the regional fund, and the extent to which a €7.5m state grant to IT Tralee GAA had gobbled up most if not all of the available money.
He also sought confirmation whether the original budget of around €4.5m for regional funding had been increased to €7.5m specifically for the purpose of meeting the cost of that Kerry project.
The response from Deputy Murphy was that he had sent the query on to the relevant Minister, Brendan Griffin, from Kerry.
“I am not even sure how the scoring for applications works anymore. We have engineers’ reports stating the roof at Neptune is in such a state of disrepair that it’s dangerous. It’s a roof, it should have jumped off the page at whoever examines these things. It’s not like we are trying to enhance dressing rooms or improve the aesthetic of the building. We are trying to secure its future,” explained Barrett, who addresses this issue with a palpable sense of burning frustration.
“Affluent clubs and affluent schools got considerable funding and the likes of ourselves were deemed unworthy. Some of this stinks to high heavens. In the meantime, we keep our fingers in the dyke, and keep Neptune Stadium watertight until someone sees sense, or someone sees that something just isn’t right here. When I took on the chairmanship of Neptune three years ago one of the priorities was to secure the viability of the club for the next 20-30 years, give us a platform to build for the future from.”
Only it’s hard to plan for the rainy day when there’s a hole in the roof.
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