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Connacht's new vision includes plans for a 10,000-capacity stadium

CEO Willie Ruane wants a concrete plan in place by the end of the summer.

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.

A general view of Connacht training 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.

We’ve done a lot of work in the last 12 months on what we believe a stadium should look like, what kind of size it should be, all that kind of stuff. We’re working, effectively, on two different options.

“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.

Willie Ruane 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.”

However, the former Connacht fullback believes there will be financial support for the province.

“It’s not that we have a huge kitty sitting back in the office to dig into,” said Ruane. “Firstly, we need to have a project that people will want to get behind.

Eric Elwood, Willie Ruane, Pat Lam and Nigel Carolan Eric Elwood, Ruane, Pat Lam and Nigel Carolan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I absolutely believe that there is a significant amount of support and goodwill towards Connacht rugby and what we’re doing.

“It’s about what we can do ourselves and with our stakeholders, whether that be the IRFU, government funding and other private individuals who would like to get behind Connacht rugby and support us.

“I think all of those will want to play a part and are happy to play a part in getting Connacht rugby to where it can be.”

Connacht’s vision for the next four years, as outlined at the Aviva Stadium today, is very much based on their ‘grassroots to green shirts” philosophy.

The province’s strategic document outlines goals in the “support pillar” areas of finance, governance, communications, operations and commercial, all of which will look to feed into the professional, academy and club games.

Among the performance goals for the senior team are Champions Cup qualification every season and a Champions Cup play-off match on at least one occasion before 2020.

The province also want to achieve an average of four players on Ireland’s match day squads by 2020 and they are targeting an average of 30% indigenous [to Connacht] player representation within their own squad.

As Lam pointed out at today’s launch, some of those goals are already being achieved, but exciting times lie ahead for ambitious Connacht.

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Murray Kinsella

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