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A soon to be ratified member of an independent committee developing a strategic review for Clare GAA has called for Croke Park intervention into the “broken” governance structures of the organisation.

CEO of Titan Experience, Eoin Conroy who is joining the new independent committee for Clare GAA off the back of an Éire Óg proposal spoke on Off The Ball (Newstalk) on Sunday morning whereby he put forward the need for Croke Park intervention into the ongoings of the Association. “They often say a week is a long time in politics but this must be the fourth or fifth week out of six that Clare GAA has been for all the wrong reasons centre-page news in the sports supplements. This morning is no different,” he said of the continued national coverage.

“It does bring to the fore the issues that are really at play because sometimes a lot of what is said around Clare GAA is getting lost in the personalities, when at the heart of it these are some of the things that are really affecting the great GAA people we have in Clare, three All-Irelands in the last 25 years, we should be building for progress and Caherlohan was to be that platform,” the Clare SHC winner with St Josephs Doora/Barefield in 2001 commented.

When discussing the role of the committee which will be ratified at Monday’s meeting of the County Board, the Dublin based CEO pledged to work very hard with the County Board on strategic matters and put forward his belief that intervention from Croke Park to start asking questions and hold officers to account is required. “Our job is to bring as much expertise and professionalism as possible and what is required certainly over the next three to six months to look at the governance structures, the processes and procedures, you can talk about those things, they sound like words and you can talk about it all day long but when you look at the facts in the Sunday Times, it is broken, our committee is set up to work with the County Board”.

Action must be made swiftly when it comes to Caherlohan, Conroy felt to protect “the future of Clare GAA”. He remarked that the facility had reached “a point of no return” as far as Clare GAA is concerned.

He added, “Change is needed from the top down, there is no doubt about it. Accountability is needed to look at those in situ at the moment and open those conversations, it is not about saying we want or anybody wants people to lose jobs, the GAA is a volunteer organisation, there is great volunteers in Clare like there is everywhere else but there is a massive crossroads, it starts with the County Board and those accountable, if at starts at Caherlohan and looking to address that, address it now not in two, three or four weeks with meetings and committees, committees will take care of that working with the County Board in time, I think Caherlohan for Clare GAA is a point of no return, we either address it and hit it head on and look to put a proper facility, a plan is needed to take it up to where it needs to be. They are some of the challenges. We’ve won three All-Irelands in the last 25 years but we can’t shy away from some of these challenges”.

Clare GAA was back in the national newspapers on Sunday with the ‘Centre of Excellence’ at Caherlohan the focus of a two page spread in The Sunday Times.

Written by Michael Foley and Denis Walsh, it noted that planning permission gave the green light for a clubhouse with six dressing rooms, a dining room and kitchen, public toilets, a referee’s room, a medical room, office space and a gym. The outdoor facilities would consist of seven pitches with floodlighting for four pitches, one all-weather pitch, a covered terrace, low-level perimeter fencing for one pitch, a hill sprint area, boundary fencing and associated site works..

“The current complex consists of five pitches, not seven, with floodlighting installed for two pitches, not four. The gym is considered big enough to accommodate 20 people at a squeeze,” the article outlined. The absence of public toilets, a medical room and a defibrillator are also highlighted.

Different viewpoints on Caherlohan have been well documented by The Clare Echo over recent seasons. In November 2019, the paper reported on comments from then Chairman Joe Cooney who affirmed that the €4.8m spent to date represented “value for money”. He attributed the costs to land acquisition (€2.3m), phase one development (€700k approx), phase two development (€1.5m approx), phase three development (€210k) and other which included dressing rooms, team room and dining area (€90k). Croke Park approved a development grant of €1.8m in 2010 while Munster Council awarded a grant of €500,000 for the facility five years later. No further spending has ensued since Cooney’s breakdown, The Clare Echo understands.

It is estimated that between €130k to €500k is required to make Caherlohan an all-year round facility. A hill sprint area is already designed at the facility but would require an additional €30-€40k to complete. This and further work on an astro-turf was impeded by the necessity to upgrade the seated stand at Cusack Park according to Board officials.

In an address to the 2013 County Convention, secretary Pat Fitzgerald put the question to club delegates on whether they should complete the Caherlohan project which at that stage had cost €3m or reinvest further in Cusack Park. “Clubs will have to decide where we invest our money, in Cusack Park where we won’t get high profile games or in Caherlohan which will be to the benefit of every single county team, development squads and even clubs”.

Reaction from county managers to Caherlohan has been mixed since its opening in 2015. The Clare U21 football management of 2016 criticised their lack of opportunities to use the pitches. “We’re not looking for top of the range facilities. You just really want a base where you know that this is where we are and we don’t have to be ringing around everyday of the week looking for pitches and for clubs to give up their facilities”.

As they prepared for last year’s inter-county championship, Brian Lohan’s Clare senior hurlers did not train at Caherlohan with one representative calling the pitch “a meadow”. It was viewed by those involved in the set-up as unsuitable for hurling which prompted the decision of management to hold their sessions in Shannon, Tubber, Meelick, Clarecastle and Cusack Park.

Prior to this, the senior hurlers issued a statement in October 2019 sharing their concerns with Caherlohan. “We informed the County Board Chairman of the necessity for the County Board to fully support the hurling team in terms of investment in facilities such as Caherlohan, as well as provide our players with the necessary supports to maximise our ability to compete at the highest level”.

Senior football manager, Colm Collins previously told The Clare Echo that they were “delighted with the facility. There is a senior football pitch and a senior hurling pitch. The football pitch is is in great nick and thanks to Michael Maher for his work there. It’s great to have a place to go to”.

Ex Clare minor hurling manager, Fergal Lynch previously told The Clare Champion, “We have a fantastic Centre of Excellence in Caherlohan and in fairness to the county board, they put that in place a few years ago”. The All-Ireland winner did voice his concerns on its availability, “It is just a pity that it is not available fully to all underage teams. We have teams at U14, U15, U16 and minor that have to go to Lees Rd or in our case we were in UL from the middle of October until April”.

Although he previously confessed that shortcomings in Caherlohan were an “embarrassment”, Pat Fitzgerald told The Clare Echo in December that it was “a tremendous facility”. He stood by the €2.3m paid for the land. “We got €4m for an area of 1.8 acres in Cusack Park which was over €2m an acre. On the 15th of April in 2005 we bought Caherlohan, we bought 68 acres for €2.3m. In February of 2006, St Josephs sold Roslevan, I think it had 4.5 acres and they got €2m for it which is in excess of €230k per acre, we paid €37k an acre but the fact is, some of it wasn’t great. We walked areas by Dromoland, areas approaching Clarecastle, all officers walked it and an amount of different places, Caherlohan was the best by far for the price”.

As confirmed by The Clare Echo, ex CEO of Davy stockbrokers Tony Garry will not be part of the independent committee. Conroy will be joined by the founder and CEO of Repucon Consulting, Mark O’Connell, Managing Director of Homes in AIB, Roisin Glynn, Clare GAA Vice Chairman Kieran Keating, founder and CEO of Gyrogy Colin Kelly, Managing Director of DFP Group Eoin Doohan, CEO of Roadbridge Conor Gilligan and Enda Connolly Managing Director of CMP.

Enda O’Flaherty’s addition to the committee has been reported while a spokesperson has refuted claims that Doohan will be withdrawing from the group. The full list of individuals is to be ratified at Monday’s meeting of the County Board.

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