Why the impasse at the Sportsground?

What a difference a season makes. Connacht Rugby kicks off its new Pro 12 campaign on Saturday as reigning champions for the first time. No doubt there are still some players and many more supporters who are still pinching themselves to make sure last season's heroic campaign is for real. It is the same feeling Joe Connolly must have felt when he lifted the McCarthy Cup in 1980 - some 57 years after Galway last won the All Ireland - or when Galway United won the FAI Cup in 1991.

Connacht Rugby are deserved champions, and there is nothing better than to see any stadium filled to capacity with passionate fans. Saturday's Sportsground will be brimming - the recent additions of the Clan terrace having made the ground into a fortress in which the players love to perform and the fans feel a real affinity.

The challenge now is to maintain that momentum, to continue to build, and secure their position for the years to come as title-winning contenders. Few can ask for more - except perhaps the increasing number of fans who must be accommodated, enjoy their match-day experience, and of course help fill the coffers of a professional game. Herein lies the issue for all sports with a growing fan base and outdated facilities.

We have known for months that Connacht Rugby has been exploring options to extend its capacity - whether at its home, in a new proposed municipal facility in the dockland development, and now in Terryland with Galway United.

The precedence of course is the Aviva Stadium where the IRFU and the FAI have been happy bedfellows for several decades. A joint arrangement between the Galway FA, which owns Eamonn Deacy Park, and Connacht Rugby is worth exploring.

There will be diehards on both sides who balk at the suggestion, but the majority are likely to feel it deserves consideration. The Sportsground, however, is like Anfield is to Liverpool - the home ground of Connacht Rugby and most definitely the preferred option.

Unfortunately Connacht's hopes to further develop the ground appear to have hit too many brick walls. We are not sure why there is such an impasse between the main leaseholders Bord na gCon and Connacht Rugby. We understand any discussions between these two parties, if they are taking place, may be delicate and sensitive, but we certainly hope they can get together to explore mutually beneficial options.

Rugby has been played at the Sportsground since the 1920s, and while not opposed to change, it is difficult to imagine this multi-purpose stadium without Connacht Rugby.

Linley MacKenzie


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