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Gareth McAuley: Top class facility has to be at centre of IFA plans

Windsor Park has been redeveloped
Windsor Park has been redeveloped
Gareth McAuley

By Gareth McAuley

If the revamped Windsor Park was the Irish FA's legacy from the last decade, then a new Centre of Excellence needs to be the main attraction from the Twenties.

It's embarrassing that in this day and age, the Northern Ireland international squad do not have adequate training facilities at their disposal.

In recent years, we've had to go down to Dublin - Carton House and Portmarnock - or over to Austria for training camps. The pitches here are not at a level we require - some lack drainage, are too heavy or are uneven.

That may sound precious but preparation, as proven with Michael O'Neill's meticulous planning, is key at this level, in terms of producing performances and results.

Over the years, the Irish FA has improved sports science, coaching, nutrition and travel for the international team but we are still let down by no exclusive training facility.

I remember going to Cyprus for a game and being really impressed by the training facilities for us. Then we bring teams here and have nothing.

Obviously if you play in the Premier League and Championship you are used to a certain standard, but even teams down the lower leagues have excellent training facilities. Two and a half years ago, Michael O'Neill led Aaron Hughes and myself on a tour of the Blanchflower Stadium and gave his vision for a Centre of Excellence there.

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Now I appreciate that might be Belfast City Council land but surely they can come to an agreement with the Irish FA for the good of our main sport in Northern Ireland. It wouldn't just help out the Northern Ireland teams but also the likes of Club NI and under-age sides.

Also, if we are to be involved in the 2030 World Cup bid, the least we would hope for is for teams to base themselves in Northern Ireland. But, at this moment, we have nowhere for them to train.

I know a Centre of Excellence is part of the Irish FA's Five Year Strategy so let's put those words on a page into action and see progress in 2020.

It doesn't have to be the Blanchflower, put please let it be somewhere and soon.

We are behind the ball on this one, therefore it's imperative everyone redoubles their efforts to make this happen over the next 12 months.

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