League of Ireland Premier Division football club Sligo Rovers has unveiled ambitious plans to transform its Showgrounds stadium with the creation of an academy hub for the north-west region of the country.

The masterplan for the project, which has been designed by Rhatigan Architects, presents infrastructural design proposals for the future of Rovers both at the Showgrounds and a potential academy site.

The plan has been endorsed by Sligo County Council and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), with a redeveloped Showgrounds to have a seated capacity of 6,000, surpassing all the requirements of a UEFA Category 3 stadium.

First opened in 1928, the Showgrounds has a current seated capacity of just under 4,000. Until COVID-19 struck last year Rovers were averaging crowds of 2,200. The project includes the retention of the existing Tracey Avenue Stand and Railway End Stand, with alterations to both, the construction of a new stand at the Church Hill Road End and a new stand in place of the current Jinks Avenue Stand.

New floodlights, turnstiles, hospitality spaces, shops, corporate and sponsors facilities, offices, meeting rooms, upgraded media facilities, multiple changing rooms and a gym would be part of the redevelopment. The Showgrounds pitch would be extended and the playing surface changed to a hybrid pitch in an effort to deliver more playing time.

Speaking at the unveiling of the masterplan, club chairman Tommy Higgins said: “Today we present a vision that has been created not just over the last year but through the growth and enhancement of the club in its modern existence. We see unlimited potential in Sligo Rovers Football Club. Today the football represents a beacon and focal point of the community, something we have worked tirelessly to achieve.

“We also have a youth set-up which is developing countless footballers going on to play senior League of Ireland football each year, while still being in its infancy. Prior to COVID-19, we had 11 players involved with Ireland at underage level during one calendar year and our desire is to invest further in the area.

“In the future we want to develop a facility that can raise standards even further across the board. That is by improving football players through investment in coaching, teams and the experience of the supporter to enhance our attendance figures.”

The total cost of the overall project as complied by Rhatigan Architects is €17.3m (£14.9m/$21.1m), with Higgins, a former chief executive of Ticketmaster Europe, admitting that the masterplan will require significant government investment.

“There will have to be a huge element in public funding in this and I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t apply,” said Higgins, according to the Irish Times. “Bohemians are getting public funding for (Dalymount Park) and Shamrock Rovers have got Dublin City Council to provide a brand new stadium for them so there will have to be an element of public funding, no question.”

A provisional agreement with Sligo Rugby to facilitate games in the redeveloped Showgrounds has been reached, with the club keen to open up the facilities for community. Rovers said they also seeking to bring Pro14 club Connacht to the Showgrounds for future games.

“We hope to have rugby games taking place here,” said Higgins. “Our stadium is empty from November for three or four months when it would be the height of the rugby season and would bring additional income into the club. That’s the thinking behind that.”

Images: Sligo Rovers