Quiet night at McHale Park

Off the fence
Quiet night at McHale Park

Off the fence
Mike Finnerty

NEXT Saturday night was supposed to herald the dawn of a bright new era for McHale Park, Castlebar, the home of the GAA in Mayo.
If everything had gone to plan, the switch would have been flicked on the new state-of-the-art floodlights and the meeting of Mayo and Galway in the first round of the National Football League would have unfolded.
A crowd in excess of 10,000 people was being predicted, the match was due to be broadcast live around the world on TV courtesy of Setanta Sports, and the eyes of the Irish GAA community would have been trained on our small corner of the globe.
The Mayo GAA power-brokers could not have planned it better for the unveiling of their €15m development at McHale Park. High-profile opponents with a high-profile manager. A bona fide derby match. Live television coverage. A huge crowd for a National League fixture.
All in all, the perfect opportunity to catch the eye of potential sponsors that might be interested in investing in the naming rights at McHale Park, or having their name emblazoned on an advertising hoarding around the pitch.
It would also have been the perfect setting, particularly against the backdrop of a game against ‘auld enemy’, to try and persuade some dyed-in-the-wool Mayo supporters to purchase their own seat in the new stand.
These stand tickets form an important part of the Mayo GAA Board’s business plan in the long-term so any chance to showcase the new facilities at McHale Park is vital for the balance sheet.
And for the Mayo footballers, next Saturday night presented a chance to be part of the first team from the county to play in a floodlit game at the county ground, and parade their talents on the national stage in the process. The scene was set. Everything was in place. Well, almost.
As it turns out, McHale Park will be cloaked in darkness next Saturday night. And the lights must remain turned off after Castlebar Town Council’s decision to grant retention planning permission for the McHale Park development was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by Peter Sweetman and Associates, on behalf of the McHale Road Residents Association.
This appeal last month was the latest twist in a story that has been dominated by claims, counter-claims, planning issues and personalities.
The Mayo GAA Board, their engineers and architects, Castlebar Town Council, and An Bord Pleanála are just some of the parties involved while, stuck in the middle, are the McHale Road residents who have their own, very personal, concerns.
The blame-game has been in full swing for months now. It has been established that mistakes were made. Planning breaches have been identified. But there is still no end in sight with An Bord Pleanála ‘hoping’ to deal with the matter before the end of April.
Meanwhile, Mayo and Galway will play next Sunday afternoon. Who said it was only a game?