Dundalk FC owners PEAK6 had drawn up plans to upgrade Oriel Park prior to the lockdown of the country due to Covid-19.
While the plans did not meet board approval, chairman Bill Hulsizer revealed that work has been ongoing behind the scenes looking at options to improve the heavily criticised Carrick Road venue.
“That’s high up on the list,” Bill said, when asked where the stadium stood in his plans for the club’s future.
“Our commitment is long term. We’re trying to do some things for Co Louth and Dundalk town and hopefully after this virus is settled, we’ll get on with it.
“We had to put them on hold for a couple of reasons, none of which are really financial, but the man in charge of it had a personal issue and I made the decision to put that on hold while he had something to take care of. We’re now moving slowly because quite frankly we don’t know what the future holds or what is going to happen with Covid-19.
“At the moment everybody has to have a wait and see attitude.
“Do I think Oriel Park can be improved? Oh, absolutely. We’ve had designs done. They weren’t exactly what we needed and they weren’t presented the way we wanted but it was a good start. We have a committee that is actively looking into it.
“More than that, I can’t say much because everything is on hold right now but my desire is to have boys and girls from 12 down to six playing on those three pitches in the Lilywhite Development Centre. That’s not what we call it now but maybe we’ll rename it.
“It gives them something to do and it’s inside so they could play all winter long. We just have to do the detail but we’ve talked to the council and we will get it done,” he said.
As well as improving the ground, Bill also hinted at another facility which would cater for an improved youth structure at the club.
“We’d like to improve the capacity and we’d like to improve our commitment to youth,” he said.
“We have three indoor pitches inside in the YDC and we should have every young man and woman in there every weekend playing football. We’re looking to develop all of those things.
“We’re on the border with Northern Ireland and we’ve tried to promote a bunch of cross border things. We have a schoolboys’ league in Dundalk and I don’t think there’s enough connection with Dundalk FC. I think we’ve got better at it and we’ll get better still.
“There are lots of issues. We have four official teams in our underage group but I’d hope that by this time next year we’d have eight because the jump between U-13 and U-15 is a big jump. There are 14-year-olds that are men and 15-year-olds that are still boys and that’s a crucial time so if we can spend the money and make that gap more narrow then it can only be a good thing.”
Hulsizer said he was “flabbergasted” at the fact there were no municipal pitches in the Dundalk area.
“I live in a small town outside of Fort Lauderdale. I don’t know what the population is but we have at least 12 municipal pitches in my little town and Americans don’t play soccer apparently. Now that’s the past and it’s changing. I’m told more Americans are playing soccer now in Texas than football.
“If we want to develop football here then we should have places for the kids to play. If we wanted to have a schoolboy tournament with teams from Warrenpoint and Newry and other nearby areas, where would they play? We need more fields.
“We’re working on it and hopefully the county and the people will say ‘let’s do this’. I’d like to see Dundalk to be the centre of football in all of Ireland at every level. I’m a dreamer but I always say that if you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big.”
Asked would this be at Oriel Park, Hulsizer suggested it could be an additional venue.
“We don’t have enough time to have that kind of an event at Oriel Park. Oriel Park is used almost non-stop so there would need to be other places where the kids could play.
“Let’s say we took every club team within 25 mile between Drogheda, Newry, Warrenpoint etc. Let’s say that’s 30 clubs and we’re going to have a tournament involving them all. To play that over a three day weekend, how many pitches would you need? I’ve never organised one but I’ve been to many and my feeling is we don’t have enough pitches to do that.
“I worry sometimes too that, if we built them, would the kids use them?”
The 77-year-old said he was well aware there would be critics of his plans but said he was looking purely for an outsiders’ perspective at what he believed could be achieved.
“You need to give me a little slack because I don’t look at Dundalk like someone who grew up in Ireland. I have no pre-conceived notions of what it should be. I have only the background of being around the whole world and growing up in America with an Irish mom so I guess I’m the sum of all those inputs and I see things that maybe someone who walks down the streets of Dundalk every day doesn’t see but I love the town, I love the people, I love the team and I love football and the rest is to be determined.”