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Armagh's stadium dream becomes reality

By John Campbell

The Armagh dream of boasting one of the best stadiums in the country moves closer to reality now that work on the final phase of the ambitious redevelopment of the Athletic Grounds is being stepped up from today.

The construction of a 5,700 covered grandstand will see the Armagh city venue undergo the ultimate transformation and will herald the dawn of a new era for the GAA in the county.

Over the weekend it was formally confirmed that the Armagh County Board has secured funding of £800,000 from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure through the medium of Sport NI while 400,000euro has been received from Croke Park with a further 100,000euro coming from the Ulster Council. In addition, Armagh District Council is pumping £60,000 into the project meaning that in all some £1.3m will be derived from grant-aid.

This will leave the county board to borrow an estimated £700,000 to complete the funding of the development but Armagh Development Officer Seamus King, shortly to take up his new post as Strategic Development Officer, believes that officials will respond to the challenge.

“We have already spent some £2.6 million on the Athletic Grounds in conjunction with the overall refurbishment and we are certainly not fazed by what we still have to do.

“We made a decision at the outset not to impose a massive financial burden on our clubs in terms of helping to fund the overhaul of the Athletic Grounds.

“For the past 12 years or so the clubs have been contributing a nominal £1,000 per year and this has certainly been a major help,” explains King.

The success of the county board’s efforts to acquire funding has been the major spur in having the work expedited and King remains confident that the Athletic Grounds project will be completed within 10 months.

“From today the drive is really on to hit our target,” insists the Camlough man.

“Obviously we have more borrowings to undertake but given the enthusiasm and desire to see the job completed I do not think that this will be an impediment.

“Armagh followers have made it very plain that they want to see the Athletic Grounds right up there alongside the best of the provincial venues in the country and they will shortly have their wish granted.”

Indeed, since the Athletic Grounds playing surface was improved and spectator and ancillary facilities upgraded in the earlier phases of the refurbishment, the county board has been inundated with requests for use of the ground from various units of the Association, particularly schools and universities.

“Obviously we are trying to be as fair as we can to all parties but we have to put the needs of our county teams in the various codes first.

“We have been as obliging as we can so far but we now find that we have some remedial work to do to the playing surface.

“We may perhaps have to become a little circumspect in making the pitch available in the future, I would imagine,” adds King.

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