IT’S a new year and a fresh start for the GAA in the Midlands, with the new season less than three weeks away for Chris Brough's Warwickshire hurlers who open their Allianz National League campaign in Roscommon at the end of January.
Above all else, this year should signal a green light for the future of Pairc na hÉireann. The £282 million new link road from the M42 is in the final stages of Highways England's planning phase with the final recommendations to be submitted in late February to the Department for Transport in London.
Speaking to The Irish Post, Warwickshire Chair Mark McLoughlin outlined the next steps at this pivotal moment in the future of the Pairc: “We have an agreement in place with Highways England which is currently with Croke Park for sanctioning – we’re confident that they will support the agreement which secures our objectives for the future of the Pairc," he said.
Should Highways England finally get the go ahead in the spring, construction work is expected to commence later this year – although it’s unlikely to impact the Pairc in the immediate season: “At present, it’s a waiting game,” said McLoughlin.
Three years of construction
“Once the Secretary of State approves Highways England can commence their work. We don’t anticipate any great disruption to our ability to host games at the Pairc in 2020 but we need to prepare for three years of construction.
“Highways England have been supportive of beginning works in areas that won’t impact the playing of games and for our part we’ll be looking to start fixtures slightly earlier than usual in February to ensure that the Pairc is utilised to the maximum. The crucial thing is that our Sunday matches receive their due worth and we’d encourage all Gaels to come out and support the Pairc on Sundays.”
One of the key developments will be the new clubhouse, collaborative work between Highways England, Sport England and the GAA’s partner architect, SIA Architects, means that the new site will retain eight dressing rooms and meet the requirements of a modern, accessible building. A full size all-weather pitch, in the area of the existing third pitch, is likely to be the first pitch-based work to take place and will deliver the biggest all-weather surface in the region.
The legal agreement with Highways England places emphasis on their responsibility under a turnkey arrangement, meaning that the building works for the clubhouse and pitches remain with the Highways team. As McLoughlin outlines, this provides Warwickshire GAA with security to focus on the wider elements within the association: “There’s three key targets: to get the development over the line, boost our relations with sponsors and local businesses to support our financial viability, while helping our new Community Development Administrator Dermot Thornton to support our clubs across the county.