This was a front page headline no club would wish to see in their local paper. The opening paragraph in the issue of the Leinster Express of 31 December 2008 read: “Portlaoise GAA Club face a very uncertain 2009, after it was confirmed on Christmas Eve that An Bord Pleanala have refused planning permission for the development of their grounds at Fr. Browne Avenue. Explaining its decision the planning board felt the development would “’impact on the vitality of the exising retail core’ in Portlaoise’s town centre, while there were also reservations about the amount of parking spaces earmarked for the project.
“An appeal to the project had originally been brought by the Kylebrook Residents Association over concerns about a proposed exit on the Abbeyleix Road, as it would lead to traffic congestion, and raised public safety problems.“
“The reasons given by An Bord Pleanala make no direct reference to the concerns raised by the Residents Association, as the location and lack of parking are the major contributing factors to the decision, although reference is made to the potential for cars to be parked on-street rather than within the grounds, with the potential for a traffic hazard as a result. The decision will have huge repercussions for the Portlaoise GAA Club who have already begun work on their new grounds at Rathleague …”
Later in the article it was reported that the club had been given the full support of Laois County Council and the Laois Chamber of Commerce “as it was hoped that the development would give a much needed shot in the arm to the local economy. A figure of €350 million was believed to be the amount due to be invested in the project, with 400 jobs created immediately in the construction sector, with 800 permanent jobs created on site in the shops, restaurants and other businesses which were part of the overall scheme for the land… ”
In the meantime the club continued to be successful on the playing fields despite having a €6.5 million liability because of borrowing made to fund the new development at Rathleague. This was an ogre that lurked over the club for the next five years. It was a problem that was met head on by the Development sub-committee headed by club treasurer, John Hanniffy. It was a long and perilous journey but one undertaken with great determination and no little expertise that was finally resolved in cooperation with the project’s developers, Firestone, the bank, Croke Park, and the club in 2014. The club has emerged with its new development of 38 acres at Rathleague well advanced and the club’s finances again manageable.
The result has been a battle won against an enormous storm, one that has been subdued and overcome by a club whose winning instincts are well established and matching its illustrious history of great sportsmanship and never-say-die spirit. During the storm members rallied to the call and threw their weight behind the effort to haul the club back from the precipice and establish itself once again as one of the great GAA clubs of the land.