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Casement Park project could move forward soon but GAA tightens belt

 

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Casement Park

Waiting game: Tom Daly is still awaiting Casement Park project planning approval

Waiting game: Tom Daly is still awaiting Casement Park project planning approval

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Casement Park

The GAA authorities may have given the go-ahead to clubs and county boards to proceed with construction and pitch development work in certain circumstances but the waiting game must continue in relation to the major refurbishment of Casement Park.

The project has still to get off the ground but Tom Daly, chairman of the Casement Park Project Board, remains optimistic that planning permission will be granted sooner rather than later.

The coronavirus crisis may have to all intents and purposes brought the GAA to a standstill but behind the scenes frenetic work is being undertaken to draw up a new fixtures plan and accelerate where possible major undertakings that can have long-term benefits for the Association.

The Casement Park scheme certainly comes under this banner and Daly is hopeful that progress might be imminent.

"The first base for us has always been to get planning permission for the project. We cannot move in any direction until this comes through. We thought we might have had this by Easter but that did not happen with the current situation having played a big part in this," points out Daly.

"I am still hopeful that we will hear something shortly and should this prove to be the case then we might be in a position to push on but we have to wait and see."

With clubs and county boards up and down the country currently experiencing financial hardship because of the coronavirus crisis, GAA chiefs have already sounded a warning that development projects which have not already been initiated should be put on hold unless the resources are there to finance them.

But at the same time the Croke Park authorities have intimated that where developments and enhancements of facilities can be undertaken without recourse to borrowings, then this is viewed as an ideal time to proceed with such ventures.

However, this has come with a general warning that clubs should factor into any decision on construction or development work the proviso that as the year unfurls fund-raising looks certain to become more difficult.

The heavy demands which have already been made on companies, small businesses and individuals over the course of recent months in relation to fund-raising to help combat the coronavirus threat are likely to limit finances which might be available in terms of potential sponsorship or financial aid later in the year.

While the reconstruction of Casement Park is the most important project on the table in Ulster just now, a new county state of the art training facility is being developed by the Armagh GAA board at the St Malachy's hurling club complex in Portadown while the Ballinderry Shamrocks club has been forced to postpone the opening of its new Community Hub until later in the year.

"We recognise that there are other projects being undertaken in the province as well as the Casement Park refurbishment so obviously there is a need for prudence," says Daly.

GAA chiefs have, in an official warning to clubs in particular, stated they should be "absolutely sure" they have enough funding or forecasted income to see them through to the end of 2021 before incurring any capital spending.

While loans already approved from the GAA Development Fund will remain committed and in place, drawdown on these will not be possible until things return to normal and all GAA activities recommence. This could also temporarily impact on cash-flow resources within clubs in particular.

From Daly's perspective, the current financial pressures are highlighted right on his own front doorstep.

"In my own club in Ballyshannon, we have a project in vogue which demands that we should have a particular credit line and although we will get grant aid, we will have to show that we can raise the level of finance that will be necessary to ensure the undertaking can be successfully carried out," he says.

"There are other clubs across the country in a similar situation and it's easy to understand current concerns when you ponder potential fund-raising schemes going forward.

"Controls must be in place because if a club found itself incapable of making its repayments, this could be a big problem," adds Daly.

Belfast Telegraph