‘£6m centre of excellence at Judges Road could host the All Blacks’

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The Chairman of City of Derry Rugby Club, Tom Frawley, believes a new £6m investment in a regional centre for sport, well-being and excellence at Judges Road could attract the All Blacks to Derry if Ireland is successful in securing the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Mr Frawley was part of a deputation from the club, which briefed members of the Council’s Business and Culture Committee on Tuesday.

City of Derry wants to build a new multipurpose indoor arena, a health and well-being centre, an outdoor synthetic pitch for rugby and GAA, a new grass pitch and a coffee shop at the 32 acre site and is seeking Council support

Mr Frawley told Committee members that the current model of a single sport on a single site is no longer sustainable but that working with partners including Derry City and Strabane District Council, the Western Trust, Ulster University and the SEUPB, the club can create a modern facility that stands on its own two feet.

“It could make Derry extraordinarily attractive in the event of Ireland someday winning a World Cup.

“Think of the potential of hosting an elite level nation like New Zealand and how that could transform the city,” he said.

Pledging support for the ambitious plans SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said: “This project will show that Derry and the North West are serious in their bid to bring the Rugby World Cup to the North West.”

DUP Alderman Graham Warke said: “In my eyes rugby is very much the forgotten sport in the North West.

“Next year the Women’s World Cup is coming to Northern Ireland and Ireland. There are no matches in the North West. We should be pushing for them. It’s time to put the North West on the map.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Fleming said: “It has the potential to be an iconic project. We would be supportive that Council continues to engage with yourselves, looking towards being a partner.”

Independent Darren O’Reilly, referring to the project tying in with the development of Strathfoyle, said: “There is a community out there who would be socially marginalised. It is good to hear you are including them in the plan.”

Responding to independent unionist Alderman Maurice Devenney’s query on whether the IRFU was supporting the proposal, Mr Frawley said: “I, too, share Alderman Devenney’s concerns that when we have a very successful Irish national team and a very successful Ulster Rugby team, and it’s not unique to rugby, how do you enable local clubs to survive?”

The Council agreed that officers engage in talks with the club to provide expertise and support with regard to progressing forthcoming planning and funding applications.

Mr Frawley said the club ”fundamentally believes in our responsibility to make this a self-funding social enterprise” that can “wash its own face”

“We won’t be coming back saying we have a shortfall and can you give us some money.”