Warwickshire GAA to reach out to former youth stars to support redevelopment of Páirc na hÉireann
By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire GAA hope to enlist the support of some of the county’s famous ex-GAA players in a bid to help make plans for the redevelopment of Páirc na hÉireann a reality.
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s (SMBC) planning committee are due to hear Highways England’s planning application for the ground on 11 August.
Soccer stars Jack Grealish, James Collins, Dan Crowley and Callum O’Hare, and boxer Matthew Macklin, all grew up playing GAA in Warwickshire.
The Warwickshire county board hope their backing will highlight the contribution of the GAA on their own sporting careers, as well as the positive impact the redevelopment would have, not just on the GAA, but on the local Solihull community at large.
“We’d be hopeful of getting them all involved,” Warwickshire chairperson Michael Collins told the Irish World.
“Warwickshire GAA is there for everyone, no matter what sport they go on to excel in.”
In March, the council’s planning committee voted to defer the application due to a number of concerns.
It was scheduled to go back before the committee on 14 July, but was withdrawn due to a technicality.
Failure by SMBC to give its approval on 11 August would leave Warwickshire GAA in “no man’s land” fears Collins, with Highways England expected to start work on the site following the meeting, regardless of its outcome.
“We’ll have no certainty as to what’s going to happen going forwards,” he said.
“Highways England will be coming in [to Páirc na hÉireann] after the application is heard, so it’s absolutely crucial to Warwickshire GAA that planning gets over the line.”
The plans for the redevelopment of Páirc na hÉireann – the home of the GAA in Warwickshire and Britain – would provide Warwickshire GAA with “one of the finest facilities outside of Ireland.”
Funded by Highways England, the application comprises three pitches, including one full-size all-weather surface, a new modern sports pavilion with eight dressing rooms, including two of inter-county size, and car parking.
“It will put us at another level – a clubhouse and pitches to modern standards, including a top-class inter-county pitch,” said Collins.
“The all-weather pitch will be there, not just for us, but for the local community to use as well.”
Through the community use agreement, a stipulation of the application, the role of Páirc na hÉireann within the local community in Solihull would increase further.
One nearby secondary school and two soccer clubs have already expressed a desire to use the new facility.
Collins says he’s “happy” that all the issues raised by councillors in March have been addressed by Highways England.
The redevelopment of the ground is part of the M42 Improvement Scheme, which will see a £282m relief road run directly through Páirc na hÉireann, which is located on greenbelt land just off Catherine de Barnes Lane in Solihull.
Warwickshire GAA have been locked in discussions with Highways England and council authorities since early 2017.
Grealish played underage football for John Mitchel’s. In 2009 he represented Warwickshire at Croke Park in the half-time exhibition during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final between Dublin and Kerry, even scoring a point.
His father, Kevin, has credited GAA with helping to toughen Jack up for a career as a professional soccer player.
Macklin played football for Sean McDermotts and hurling for John Mitchel’s, and represented Warwickshire at Féile. In 1997 he also played under 16 for Tipperary.
Aoife Mannion, who recently joined Man Utd from Man City, played for Sean McDermotts, and is the brother of Warwickshire footballer Michael Mannion.
O’Hare played GAA up to under 14s and appeared in a Féile final for Warwickshire in Portlaoise. His club was John Mitchel’s.
Collins, who recently swapped Luton Town for Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City, played for Roger Casements in Coventry. He won an under 16 championship title with Casements in 2006.
Crowley, now at Hull City, captained Roger Casements to an under 12 Championship in 2009. His grandfather, Tom Crowley, was a member of the Warwickshire 1973 All-Ireland junior winning team.