Medal-laden Coleraine is gearing up to deliver a pioneering Northern Ireland sporting legacy, inspired by the town and country's Olympic success.
Local council chiefs and sporting bodies believe the time is right to move with an ambitious £30m super-stadium project.
Plans have already been drawn up for a 5,000-seater stadium and centre of sporting excellence, bringing together all the north coast area's sports clubs on a single green field site at Rugby Avenue on the edge of the town.
Coleraine Football Club — which has emerged from dire financial troubles that nearly led to the club folding — would be the anchor tenant. The facilities would also be used, on a playing or training basis, by the town’s Eoghan Ruadh GAA club, neighbouring rugby club, swimming, hockey, athletics, boxing and the now world famous Bann Rowing Club, which produced Olympic silver medal brothers Peter and Richard Chambers and bronze medallist Alan Campbell.
Funding, as always, is the major hurdle to be overcome, with broad agreement on relocating under the new stadium umbrella having been reached in sounding-out talks between the various sporting bodies and Coleraine Council.
It is exactly the shared future type of project in keeping with the Olympic ideal. The hope in Coleraine is that its inclusiveness will also appeal to Sports Minster Carál Ní Chuilín who yesterday promised to look at improving the lot of Bann Rowing Club, standing by to receive an influx of new members on the back of the Chambers and Campbell success stories, but with no room to expand in its cramped clubhouse.
The minister has already pledged financial support to improve boxing facilities and the Coleraine club would immediately benefit from the proposed construction. Its members train under the main stand at Coleraine FC's Ballycastle Road Showgrounds.
Former mayor and serving Coleraine councillor Maurice Bradley has been a driving force in bringing the plans to the drawing board. “The complete sets of proposals still have to go before council for ratification, but as a member of the project committee I would hope they will find favour.
“What we want at Rugby Avenue is a multi-sports area with a new stadium and leisure centre. This would be unique as it would give the stadium daily use and ensure sustainability. The Rugby Avenue area is some 35.5 acres where we would hope to have 3G and Astroturf facilities.
“For a project of this magnitude, a cocktail of funding is needed, which is why I welcome the minister's commitment.
“Following on the success of our golfers and Olympians, including Winter Olympics skater Jenna McCorkhill, this is a great opportunity to build something that not just Coleraine, but Northern Ireland, can be proud of.
“We have the talented young sportspeople. Let's strive to give them the facilities they need to become world-beaters.”
Coleraine FC chairman Colin McKendry also expressed a strong declaration of interest on the club's behalf. “Obviously, a process of consultation would have to take place within the club. We are also locked into a lease with the Showgrounds owners, North Derry Agricultural Society.
“But we are in favour of the new stadium. The propsoals are attractive, progressive and exciting and, if it gets off the ground, we would have to be involved.
“To that end, we will be meeting with Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson next week with a view to securing some of the stadium funding awarded to football.
“I believe this goes beyond sport in terms of its importance to Coleraine. In the present recession we are not going to attract major commercial investment. The unique selling point is in tourism and sport, and the stadium plan can bring both together as well as creating employment.”
It would also mean a return to the spiritual home of the Milk Cup Finals, one of the jewels in the north coast's sporting crown.
Health and safety concerns at Coleraine Showgrounds have seen the crowd-pulling showpiece relocated to Ballymena in the last two years.
Milk Cup chairman Victor Leonard said: “Ballymena has been a wonderful host but it was always our intention to return when suitable facilities became available. As a Coleraine man, I would love to see it go ahead.”
The achievements of Coleraine sportsmen and women — in particular its rowers — are hugely impressive considering the second-rate facilities in which they train. Boxers hone their talents under the town’s football stadium and the rowers can’t extend their cramped club due to building logistics at its site — under a Chinese restaurant. The Showgrounds, home to Coleraine FC, is in need of a facelift. The likely anchor-tenant of the proposed new stadium would be the Irish League club. Those behind the venture hope the Milk Cup finals, currently held in Ballymena, would also return to Coleraine.