Article on Sporting Fingal from the Sunday Business Post today. Fecking disgusted to see Gannon involved. Ultra Fianna Fil supporter who has made millions all over Fingal by building houses on vast banks of land in exchange for a few square feet of Astro to pay off the local sports club.
First John Reid at Celtic, now Gerry Gannon at Sporting Fingal. Is there nothing sacred anymore?
Fingal’s ambitious football plan gets business backing
Fingal County Council is teaming up with local industry to develop a major football plan for the area. Ian Kehoe reports.
It is the fastest growing local authority area in the country, representing almost 6 per cent of the national population.
It is also the youngest region in Ireland, with almost a third of its 250,000 inhabitants aged between 25 and 39, and a further 10 per cent under the age of five. The statistics do not end there - there are more than 100 nationalities represented, while 25 per cent of the population only moved into the region in the past five years.
This huge change in demographics has brought major challenges for Fingal County Council, the local authority which covers most of north and west Dublin.
What had previously been a largely rural area has suddenly been transformed into one of the most populated and urban counties in Ireland.
‘‘The dynamic of Fingal has changed radically,” said John O’Brien, senior executive officer with Fingal County Council. ‘‘We felt it was important that the council respond to the changes.”
The first element of this response is Fingal’s Football Development Plan which includes ploughing more than €11 million into building a football academy complex, a new sports stadium for Dublin’s northside and a new elite football team, Sporting Fingal.
‘‘We believe that football can be a tool for delivering community development,” said O’Brien.
In March, Sporting Fingal will formally make its debut in the Eircom League of Ireland and will play its first game against Longford Town in the first division of the league.
The club was initially granted a licence to compete in the League of Ireland A Championship, a new league aimed at developing football clubs. The initial plan was to compete in this nursery league for a season or two before gaining promotion to the first division.
However, last month, Kilkenny City announced that it was resigning from the first division due to financial difficulties, and the FAI promptly offered its place to Fingal. So, without ever having kicked a ball, Sporting Fingal found itself promoted to Ireland’s second highest football division.
‘‘We took no pleasure in the demise of Kilkenny, but we were ready to take up the challenge. We have our business plan in place and we have the majority of our squad on board. We are probably a year ahead of where we anticipated being,” O’Brien said.
He was keen to stress that Fingal County Council was not investing any money in the club, its main role being to facilitate its establishment. The club will be owned by local industry, although the council will be represented on the board.
Gerry Gannon, the multimillionaire property developer, will be the club’s majority owner. Gannon, who co-owns the K-Club golf resort in Co Kildare, came forward after the council advertised for potential investors and has agreed to bankroll the club for an initial five year period.
‘‘He is a good local Fingal man, who has done a lot for sport in the community,” said O’Brien ‘‘We were honest with him from the off. We don’t expect this club to make money, but that is not the point. The real agenda is to help develop a sustainable community.”
Keelings, the fruit distributor and one of the largest employers in Fingal, has also come on board as a sponsor, as has Anglo Irish Bank. Both deals are set to be announced in the coming days.
So, while most Irish soccer clubs have struggled financially to survive, Fingal has the money in place to fund the club for a minimum of five years.
‘‘Fingal County Council will not be bailing out the club. There will be no public funds going into it. Our job was getting it established and to make sure that it is a community club,” he said.
‘‘We have been honest throughout the process. I think the sponsors recognise what we are trying to do and are happy to back us. They know there is little chance of them getting a major return on their cheques.”
The club’s manager and director of football will be Liam Buckley, a former Irish international who has been heavily involved in the project.
While researching the project, O’Brien and a delegation from Fingal County Council visited the Norwegian club, Rosenborg. With a similar population base, the club has managed to dominate Norwegian football and compete regularly in the Champions League.
‘‘We know our limitations. We are not trying to win the Champions League. But Rosenborg is a real community club and a real part of the local area. That is something we want to replicate,” he said.
The second element of the development plan, a new academy, is also in the pipeline. Plans for the centre are at the public consultation stage. If approved, construction work will begin in the coming months.
The €11million facility will be located between Swords and Donabate, and will have sports fields, treatment rooms, lecture halls and cafes. The council is committing its owns funds to the project, while it also expects to receive state and lottery grants.
It will include two full size outdoor soccer pitches, plus one indoor pitch with a viewing area - this will be the first full size indoor soccer pitch in the country, according to O’Brien, who added that the pitches could also be used for other sports.
‘‘There are 55 soccer clubs in the Fingal area, and it will available to them for training. We will have lecture halls and treatment rooms. It is not just about elite athletes, it is about having a facility for everyone.”
Sporting Fingal will not have any underage teams but will provide specialist coaching to talented players. The club is also in talks with Dublin City University (DCU) about establishing a scholarship scheme between the university and the academy.
The third area of the Fingal project is the development of a new stadium, probably in Swords. Initially, the club will play its home games in Morton Stadium in Santry, but the long term plan is to construct a new small sports stadium.
‘‘There is a new local area plan being drafted for Swords at present, and we intend to apply for a sports stadium as part of that plan. It is a rapidly growing town and we believe it is probably the best location for the stadium. The Metro is due to come to Swords as well,” he said.
The exact size of the stadium has yet to be decided, but O’Brien said the council would be realistic. There was no point building a 10,000 seater stadium if the club was only getting attendances of 1,000, he said.
‘‘We really want the community to get behind the project,” he said.
‘‘It will only work if the local community come and support the club and watch the games. We want this club to become part of the fabric of Fingal, and we need the local residents to buy into this. It is a great way of creating a local identity.”
The council also wants to increase the number of girls and women playing football. In the future, O’Brien said, they hoped to establish a senior women’s team.
‘‘The whole ethos is community and the development of a community spirit.
‘‘We will look at anything possible to make that happen,” he said.