By Damian Dolan
Tir Chonaill Gaels GAA club have put forward ambitious plans to turn its current facility at Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford into a £4.7million Centre of Excellence for London GAA.
The club’s draft development proposal, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish World, was presented to the London county board’s management committee last week.
The plans include three full-size pitches on the 30-acre site, all of the same “calibre” as McGovern Park, Ruislip, one of which would be floodlit.
There would be space for an additional training area and the back pitch (currently pitch 2) would be renovated.
A new larger clubhouse, located on the site of the exiting building, would include eight new changing rooms, as well as a gym and sauna/steam room in the basement.
A further two changing rooms would be located separately, for use by ladies football and camogie, or underage.
The clubhouse would also comprise function areas (the largest capable of holding up to 200 people), bar and catering facilities.
Tir Chonaill Gaels (TCG) chairman Tom Mohan says London GAA is “crying out” for a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence, to serve the county teams and continue the development of underage GAA in the county.
He says the initial feedback to the proposal from management was “very positive”.
“This is something bigger than Tir Chonaill Gaels – it’s about developing underage talent and having a facility for our county teams at all levels,” Mohan told the Irish World.
“Tir Chonaill Gaels is not into personal gains for Tir Chonaill Gaels.
“If we’re going to progress, and hopefully have under 17 teams going into the Connacht Championship in years to come, we need a facility where we can bring them all together and have training camps.”
The facility would also act as a community centre, offering a creche and meeting rooms for local groups and organisations. Local schools would also be able to use the centre for sports days and P.E. sessions.
London county board secretary Mark Gottsche told the Irish World: “The development of a Centre of Excellence will be central to the ongoing capital development of facilities in London.
“The provision of multiple quality pitches as well as dressing rooms and other facilities in one location will help establish a top class venue for games in London that will benefit all clubs and codes in the city as well as providing a much needed base for our County teams to prepare for the National League and Championship.
“London Management Committee supports the concept put forward by Tir Chonaill Gaels and look forward to working with the club to develop the project further in the coming months”
Home to TCG since 1999, the club recently agreed a new 25-year lease for Tir Chonaill Park with Ealing Council, with the option for a further 25 years.
If the club’s proposal gets the green light, it’s understood the council would be prepared to offer a new 99-year lease.
Mohan says the Centre of Excellence would be a TCG, London GAA and Croke Park
TCG would also look to secure funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Sport England, as well committing to raise in excess of £500,000 towards the cost, as a club.
London GAA is understood to have received £5.5m from the sale of its former home ground in New Eltham in 2016.
See a birds-eye view of the ABC’s last weekend as an incredible 2,496 boys & girls played Gaelic Games in London!! 👏👏
— MQV (@MQ_Video) July 23, 2019
After the repayment of loans to Croke Park and from the original build of the clubhouse dating back to 1996/97, London GAA still has a surplus of between €3.2m and €3.5m, which is currently in a high interest account in Dublin.
The new Centre of Excellence would be owned by the London GAA, TCG and Croke Park, with a five-person committee appointed to oversee its running, made up of a representatives from each.
London GAA has been actively looking for a site with a long lease for a Centre of Excellence for several months, and it’s now the board’s next major project following the renovation of Ruislip and the refurbishment of the first floor of the clubhouse.
“For London to go out and acquire a site the size of Tir Chonaill Gaels would cost them in the region of £5m….they’d still have to spend £4m to develop the pitches and changing rooms,” said Mohan.
“This is a much cheaper and economical way. We’re really throwing our site into the hat for nothing.”
The TCG proposal is currently at the pre-planning stage with Ealing Council, with the club awaiting feedback, before a further meeting with the council.
“We really need to have the London County Board and Croke Park on board to give us clout going back to Ealing Council, so we can say this is not a small club taking on this enterprise,” said Mohan.
“This is something that’s been backed by the headquarters of the GAA.”
More than 300 matches take place at Tir Chonaill Park every year, with numerous clubs also training there, including London’s county teams. The four-day ABC underage tournament, held every July, attracts nearly 2,500 children.
If TCG’s preferred proposal (for three full-size pitches) is rejected by the council, Mohan is confident the club will “definitely” get permission for two full-size pitches (one floodlit) and a training pitch.
If they are able to get the funding in place and the planning approved, Mohan anticipates work could commence after the 2020 ABC tournament, and take approximately 18 months to complete.
“Our biggest problem is going to be Ealing Council – every other hurdle is surmountable, with, of course, a lot of hard work,” said Mohan.