TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

Lights out on St Francis

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By Seán Fay


The floodlights at St Francis's home ground, John Hyland Park in Baldonnel, will remain switched off until at least the end of the season. Aer Rianta complained the lights were interfering with traffic control at the nearby Casement Aerodrome.

St Francis will now have to find between £10,000 and £15,000 to install deflectors onto the lights before they can be used again. The exiled Liberties club had played all this season's home fixtures in the evening, mainly on Friday nights. Their FAI Harp Lager Cup first round replay against Waterford United on January 10th became the first game to fall under the new regulation.

The decision by Aer Rianta to request the lights to be turned off came after pilots flying into one of the runways at the Casement Aerodrome felt the glare from the lights could effect their vision. Operations Officer at the Aerodrome LtCol John Kirke explained, "the football pitch is situated directly on the approach to one of the runways and it's important that the crew aren't blinded. It's a safety concern. We have to make sure the lights don't leak up".

The request to install deflectors was originally made by Aer Rianta about a year ago. Chairman of St Francis, Seán Foley, was keen to stress that the decision to leave the lights off until the deflectors were in place came as the result of amicable discussion between the two parties and the Air Corps at Baldonnel.

"Aer Rianta could have forced us to turn off the lights at any time", he said, adding "at no stage were Aer Rianta aggressive".

Safety concerns have been paramount in discussions between Aer Rianta, the Air Corps and the Eircom First Division Club. "We had to listen to the Air Corps - they're the experts on the issue. It's in the interest of public safety so we had no choice on the matter," Foley said.

Once the concerns were outlined to the club, Foley said, "we had to act responsibly, especially if a commercial aircraft had to make an emergency landing in Baldonnel".

The return to afternoon football has had little effect on St Francis, financially or otherwise. However John Doherty was forced to miss the cup replay with Waterford, played on a Wednesday afternoon, because he had to sit an exam at UCD.

Foley believes summer football, rather than night games, is the answer to increasing crowds at John Hyland Park, and in the League in general.

"The loss of crowds and income [since the lights have gone off] has been minimal. It really doesn't matter what time of day you play, poor crowds are more weather related. People don't want to stand in the cold when it is wet and windy. Us being so far out of the way is another problem," he said.

He also said that playing football in the summer "makes a lot more sense" than continuing with the current calendar.

It is hoped the deflectors will be put in place over the summer, but Foley accepts it is a time-consuming procedure. "We want to make sure we do it right, we have been talking to our architects and we need to get planning permission and have further talks with the Air Corps," he said.

Money is also an issue. The lights were originally installed with money received from the FAI, and the club hopes the national association will help them finance the installation of the deflectors, which could cost up to £15,000.

Meanwhile, despite the club gaining its first victory in 19 games when they beat Cobh Ramblers 3-0 at the end of January, St Francis are still battling with Drogheda United to avoid finishing bottom of the Eircom First Division and having to apply for re-election to the league next year.