Grounds for optimism

Diarmaid Doherty


Diarmaid Doherty

Grounds for optimism
A spokesperson for the Finn Harps Ground Development Committee says supporters can now see for themselves that the dream of a new stadium for the club is fast becoming a reality.

A spokesperson for the Finn Harps Ground Development Committee says supporters can now see for themselves that the dream of a new stadium for the club is fast becoming a reality.

John Meenan has admitted that there were many days when he and his fellow committee members did wonder if the 6,600 all-seater stadium would ever get the green light.

But as work on the main stand gathers pace, he insists there is now a sense of excitement and pride at what is being achieved.

Up to half a million euro has already been spent on the project off Railway Road in Stranorlar and a similar figure will be spent between now and the summer months. As work continues apace, there is every chance that supporters could be watching Finn Harps in action in their new surrounds within two years.

By that stage the new state-of the art stand, accommodating almost 2,000 seats, playing pitch and floodlights will be in place.

Meenan said that the start of the 2016 season is a realistic target - but that’s depending on more funding being in place between now and then

“If the funding gets pushed back because of the economic downturn or whatever reason, then it stretches out again,” he explained. “But the fact that we are now gone this far would lead you to believe and hope that it will just go right through to the end. It’s a case of 2016 season - fingers crossed. Maybe 2017 would be more realistic.”

Meenan is part of the four-person Ground Development Committee along with Alexander Brady, Patsy Lafferty and Alex Harkin, who said a tremendous amount of work, time and effort has gone into the project behind the scenes.

“It’s a major project which unfortunately has taken a lot longer than we wanted,” Meenan said. “But thankfully it’s taking shape.”

Alex also paid tribute to the positive contribution of Sports Minister, Michael Ring TD as well as former Minister, John O’Donoghue.

It’s now five years since the first sod was turned on the site and it was two years before that when the decision was first taken to go ahead with the project.

A deal was struck with the developers which sees them take ownership of Finn Park. The project was supported by the FAI and the Department of Sport and Tourism. Donegal County Council also played a major role in getting the project up and running and they are also part of the development deal.

“The whole thing couldn’t have happened at a worse time for us with the downturn in the economy and everything that went with it,” Meenan said.

“There were other issues like complications with land deals and complications with contracts. It took forever and at one stage you began to wonder if it would ever happen. To see it now physically rising out of the ground, it gives you hope and inspiration that it will come to fruition.”

He added: “The project moves forward as the funding becomes available through the department. Now that we have ironed out all the glitches and the wheels are better oiled, you can see the progress over the past six months has been phenomenal.”

Asked if he could understand why so many people doubted if the new stadium would ever get off the ground, he responded: “You would have to say that their opinion was always taken on board. They had other ideas but at the end of the day the club has to be pro-active in moving forward.

“Football has changed, it has become more professional and people are more deserving of a quality stadium to go to. The club has to have a long term stability and stability is achieved by having proper infrastructure and then you work on the team in addition to that.”

Around half a million euro has been spent on the project so far and another €500,000 is to be spent over the coming months. An application for more funding is now in with the department

“It will bring the stand up to second fix stage,” Meenan said. “That will mean the first two floors will be complete, the terracing will be installed and it will be down to fixing it out, servicing it out and getting the bits and bobs tidied up on it.

Along with two sets of dressing rooms, the new stand will have other facilities including meeting rooms, a full administration block, TV gantry, press box and interview room.

“It will be state of the art and we are trying to get the stadium finished to UEFA category 3 standards in the hope that if they regionalise underage international games, you would have Ireland U-18s or even U-21s playing here. That’s why the FAI have been very supportive. Their main aim is to bring football to the people and that’s the idea behind the project.”