County Board Chairman Michael Fahey has defended the staging of this year’s Connacht finals at Dr. Hyde Park, expressing his confidence that patrons from the competing counties will have a “pleasant experience” at the Roscommon town venue on July 19th.
By Ian Cooney
Mr Fahey felt that Dr. Hyde Park was “as good as anywhere in Ireland” in terms of traffic access to and from the stadium and dismissed some of the allegations that had been made about the ground in the aftermath of the Connacht Council’s decision a few weeks ago.
“Some of the stuff that has been said and written is utterly untrue. The harsh reality is that a Connacht final in Salthill would have resulted in traffic problems at the height of the summer,” he stated.
The chairman confirmed that Sligo had opted for Dr. Hyde Park and that the capacity of the stadium would be raised from 18,900 to 23,500 for the provincial showpiece on Sunday week.
“Sligo had the choice where the game would take place. They were obviously reluctant going to Castlebar. Pearse Stadium has issues in relation to traffic, so they chose the Hyde.
“We’re taking the necessary steps to have a management plan in place that will comply with health and safety standards required,” he outlined.
The plan will include access to the main stand and the seated area before and after the match from the Golf Links Road side of the stadium only. There will be no access to these areas from the Athlone Road side of the ground. There will also be a different ticket for the concrete seating and the main stand to clarify seating arrangements for the games.
Once the main terrace, which holds 8,000, opposite the main stand is full, patrons will be directed to the terraces behind each goal.
In terms of toilet facilities, portaloos will be hired for each part of the ground, while the existing toilets will be stewarded and maintained throughout the day.
“We’ve no control over the weather. Last year against Mayo in the Connacht semi-final where rain of biblical proportions fell before the match, problems did arise but there will be a greater emphasis on crowd control. There will be reduced parking inside the stadium, so that patrons can move about more freely,” he explained.
Mr Fahey went on to state that those with season tickets were entitled to a match ticket, but not necessarily to one in the stand.
“We can only seat 3,600 in the covered stand. There are more season tickets than that throughout the province. They are entitled to a ticket for the match but I don’t know where this myth that it has to be a stand ticket has come from,” he continued.
The chairman revealed that ambitious redevelopment plans for the stadium were still on track, which would see Hyde Park have a capacity of 25,000, of which 13,000 would be seated.
“I think hosting this year’s Connacht finals makes everyone realise how important Dr. Hyde Park and Roscommon town is to the GAA. It is our intention to redevelop the stadium in the next few years.
“Other counties have problems with their grounds. We know what our problems are but we’re putting plans in place to give patrons the safety, comfort and enjoyment that supporters are entitled to,” he confirmed.
The Slattery Report, which reduced capacity in the Hyde to 18,900, seemed to indicate that the stadium wouldn’t be in a position to host Connacht finals but Mr Fahey felt that the report had devised a strategy, in conjunction with the Connacht Council, in terms of what needed to be done to improve Roscommon’s main GAA venue.
“It isn’t an enormously expensive operation from our point of view. We made a lot of changes to the stadium in 2013 when we last hosted the Connacht finals. It’s more about ensuring that the systems we have in place are functioning properly.
“I’ve seen photos on social media where the concrete seating area looks like a jungle. There’s isn’t one weed there today. And if you walked across the pitch at the moment, you’d wonder how it ever gets wet,” he quipped.
As long as Mother Nature keeps here side of the bargain, supporters will be in for a pleasant surprise on July 19th. Michael Fahey certainly hopes so.
“We’re really looking forward to it and we hope that supporters from the competing counties really enjoy the match-day experience and the two good matches that we’re anticipating,” he concluded.