Holding the keys to a state-of-the-art home will future-proof League of Ireland football in Cork against the kind of fluctuations it has suffered in the past.
That was the key message at Cork County Hall yesterday, at the launch of the proposed Munster football Centre of Excellence — which will also operate as a training base for Cork City FC.
The project is a partnership agreement between the FAI, FORAS — the trust that operates City — and Cork County Council.
With planning green-light secured and a quantity surveyor already costing the project, FAI chief executive John Delaney hopes work can begin in 2017.
The 20-acre complex in Glanmire, eightkm from Cork City, will provide playing and training facilities for underage teams across Munster, serving as a southern equivalent to the FAI centre at Abbotstown.
But City will be anchor occupiers and FORAS chairman Pat Lyons believes that security will prove transformational for Cork football.
“It’s our belief in FORAS that while many teams have represented Cork over the years in the League of Ireland, none of them had a true base or home. This fact, we think, may have been one of the reasons for the demise of so many great clubs in the past,” he said.
“And many of the previous clubs were modelled on the private ownership template, whereas since 2010, FORAS, the owner and guardian of Cork City football club, is a supporters’ trust based on a cooperative model.”
Lending his backing to “a visionary project”, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hoped the project would bring about an end to boom-and-bust cycles in Cork football.
“You’d have three or four good years and then things would go down, because of the model of how it was organised. But the FORAS model is one of the most effective governing models I’ve seen.
“That’s what leads to the securing of projects like this. That’s what leads to the council unanimously deciding to grant planning permission in an area that was perhaps designated for something else.”
The completion of the project — set to take up to 30 months on a phased basis — should also prove timely for City.
Fears arose that the club would have to leave its current Bishopstown training base when planning permission was granted last month to build a five-storey office block on the site, to form part of the Cork Science and Innovation Park. But the club recently extended its lease for two more years.
“Hopefully, the realisation of the project in a couple of years is timely for us at Cork City,” said Lyons.
“McCarthy Developments have been granted planning permission to develop office and accommodation on the land. But McCarthy’s have been gracious landlords to City. And they have agreed to extend our rental agreement until 2018.
“They’ve been very good to us. Like another sponsor. They haven’t pushed us for anything. We pay a reasonable rent and both of us are happy.
“In an ideal world it would (be a seamless transition). I don’t see why not. If the Government put the money in right now, we’d be in there in a couple of years.
“We have the planning done. Now we need to advance that to working drawings and the next phase is to appoint a contractor. We need to come to a conclusion on how we do it, in the most cost-effective way.”
Delaney is confident the funding needed — which he estimated at €8m-9m — would be raised. “Between naming rights partners, Uefa, Department of Sport, ourselves, and local business, over a phased basis we should be well able to come through.
“We’ll talk to each party. There’s been discussions. We’ll formalise them in the new year.
“We’ve a quantity surveyor. We’ve an indication of costs. Now we’re going to talk to all the different partners. There’s a fair amount of goodwill for the project. We’ve had it from all the political parties. The FAI will put in a contribution ourselves directly.
Lyons suggested the centre could be run at a surplus: “I hope to put John Delaney’s mind at rest when I say the centre of excellence will be run in a professional and businesslike manner. And it may even make a surplus.
“As long as it washes its face,” he added.
Delaney stressed the FAI would be ready to absorb running costs. “We have a similar academy in Abbotstown. That doesn’t run at a profit. That runs at a cost. The most important thing is to build it, for all the participants, from elite football down to grassroots, and that the facility is there for the kids in the surrounding area. The cost of running it, that’s a different story.
“Building it and getting the kids and the League of Ireland clubs like Cork City using it is the priority. Running costs are very much second.”
Mayor of Cork County Seamus McGrath vowed the social return on investment will be the key dividend. “A facility like this will be iconic, and that’s very important.
“It is very important that investments like this take place. Sport is very important to our lives in Cork and if we want to compete at the highest levels nationally and internationally we have to make investments like this.
“Significant funding is going to be put in place.”
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