CEO WILLE Ruane said Connacht want to build a 10,000-capacity stadium as he helped to launch the province’s ‘Vision and Strategy’ for the next four years.
Connacht trained at the Sportsground yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
At an impressively clear presentation of the province’s vision in the Aviva Stadium this afternoon – with Joe Schmidt, David Nucifora and other IRFU members among the guests – Ruane confirmed that Connacht would ideally like to rebuild the Sportsground, but said they are open to moving to a new stadium.
Connacht hope to have concrete plans in place by the end of the summer, with sell-outs for the recent games against Leinster, Munster and Glasgow, as well as this weekend’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final against the Scots, showing that growth is required.
The Sportsground is currently owned by The Galway Agricultural and Sports Trust, who lease the venue to Connacht through the IRFU and also to the Irish Greyhound Board [IGB].
“The stadium is something we have as one of our utmost priorities,” said Ruane today. “We’re clear that we will pretty quickly reach a ceiling in terms of where we’re at.
“One of them is that we stay. We’re currently in discussions with the IGB in regards to that and what is the shared vision for the Sportsground. There are very simple, practical matters that are affected in that regard.
“If that isn’t doable, the other one is what would an alternative stadium look like? We would have some options that we believe would represent really strong potential in that regard as well.”
While other provinces and clubs in Europe have looked to build far bigger stadiums when they’ve come to this points in their development, Ruane says a 10,000-capacity venue, with the opportunity for more growth, would suit Connacht.
Ruane at today’s launch of the Connacht vision. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
“Around 10,000 would be a decent starting point and something that’s scalable,” said Ruane. “Something that if on a given day we needed more [capacity] for a pretty big match, that we have the potential to do that.
“The last thing we want to do is build something too big, but also end up in something that we outgrow very quickly. It can be very easy to look down the road and say ‘we’ll never get to that point,’ but you’ll never get there if you don’t think you can get there.
“It’s not that we’re looking to build some Coliseum either that would lack the atmosphere we all want and think we have in the Sportsground. To replicate that atmosphere is going to be a challenge. It’s taking a lot of our time at the moment, and rightly so.”
Pushing these plans forward has been a necessity for Connacht given the demand for tickets in recent months as Pat Lam’s side compete for their first-ever Pro12 title.
Ruane says the province could have sold well in excess of 10,000 tickets, possibly even up to 15,000, for Saturday’s semi-final against Glasgow if space – capacity is at 7,800 – had allowed. Such interest is “great, but it also means there are people outside the ground.”
Redevelopment of the Sportsground or a move to a new stadium would, of course, come at some cost for Connacht, with Ruane pointing out that ”you don’t build a stadium cheaply, that’s for sure.”