ActivePaper Archive 6 SPORT Dundalk’s pitch battle reaches final countdown - Irish Independent 1905-current, 24/08/2005

6 SPORT Dundalk’s pitch battle reaches final countdown



WHEN you have been waiting all season to see your team play a home game, a few more hours shouldn’t matter too much but the frustration was clearly etched on faces at Oriel Park yesterday. Dundalk’s FAI Carlsberg Cup tie against arch-rivals Drogheda United on Friday night in front of a live TV audience was hanging in the balance and dozens turned up to watch the drama unfold. On the newly-laid artificial surface a team of FIFA experts were carrying out the start of two-day tests to determine whether the game should get the go-ahead and end Dundalk’s six-month Oriel exile. Irrespective of whether or not the green light is given, Dundalk’s gamble of becoming the first Eircom League club to install an artificial pitch seems set to pay-off. The €500,000 surface which Dundalk now possess is the first of its kind in the world. It conforms to FIFA’s exacting two-star standard, the highest possible rating for a hi-tech surface, and it won’t be long before it is winning plaudits from those who really matter — the players and the spectators. Visually, it looks like a grass surface and walking on it one is amazed by the resemblance to a well-manicured and closely cropped surface. As the testers went about their work yesterday afternoon a group of schoolchildren were playing into one of the goals and it was obvious that the bounce of the ball is true thanks, say the experts, to the 70mm of infill. The one problem clearly evident was the spray of rubber dust every time the ball bounced or was kicked but Dundalk officials say this will disappear once the pitch has bedded in properly. Dundalk fans who wandered up the Carrick Road out of curiosity yesterday admitted they were impressed at the quality of the surface. They believe the days of trudging to Monaghan and Drogheda to watch their team are over. “I was a sceptic,” admitted one, “but I’ve changed my mind completely. It’s absolutely fantastic and nobody can have excuses for not being able to play on it.” Even Dundalk’s legendary groundsman Mickey Fox, now in his 80th year, is amazed at the quality of the surface and he should know as this is the fourth different pitch he has seen at Oriel Park since he joined the ground staff in 1942. “I was watching Drogheda train here on Monday and it was a joy to watch the ball zipping across the surface,” he says. Quality grass surfaces like those at the top Premier Division grounds like Tolka Park and Turner’s Cross can cost up to €65,000 each year to maintain while Dundalk reckon that they will slash their bill from €40,000 to just €1,500 per annum. That’s a sum that will cause many club chairman to prick up their ears. While Dunfermline had to rip up their plastic surface over the summer after the SPL clubs voted to outlaw it, their pitch did prove that artificial turf is actually safer than grass. Of the six injuries Dunfermline had last season, which forced players out of the game for a month or more, four came away from home while UEFA’s own figures show that show 3.2 muscular and ligament injuries per 1000 playing hours on artificial surfaces compared with 7.6 on grass. O’Kane admits that Dundalk’s pioneering trail has been tough. They’ve been through the mill after their funding fell through and they had problems getting the necessary paperwork in order to draw down a Government grant of €1m. They had to sell their training pitch, Hiney Park, but moving the new pitch towards the main stand has created enough room to build a new training ground on the other side of the ground. They are also building new terracing and a clubhouse complete with new dressing room. Dundalk hope that new surface will generate up to €2,000 per week in rental revenue and already two junior league games are booked this week. “The town is buzzing. Everybody is getting ready to come back to Oriel Park and we’ll have 5,000 here on Friday for the Drogheda game if it goes ahead,” says Dundalk chairman Tony O’Kane. As evening fell, the two FIFA experts continued to work their way around the pitch probing, prodding and analysing the new surface while all the time the numbers watching grew — in anticipation of a bright new dawn for Dundalk FC.