Billy Morton would unquestionably approve. The uber-modern styling and the dashing sky blue finish. The finest timing system and the promise of superfast times. As good a track and field, they say, as anywhere in the world.
“Gentlemen,” Morton said, “grass is on the way out”.
That was the early summer of 1958, when Morton first unveiled his new cinder running track on a 3.64-hectare plot of land he’d purchased in the old Santry parkland of north Dublin.
Sixty-five years later the stadium later renamed in Morton’s honour is being freshly unveiled once again. After many different guises and colours over the years, this time the track is blue, modernised in part to reflect the colours of its new owners Dublin City University (DCU), who in September 2021 acquired a 40-year lease on the facility.
With that DCU announced a series of bold and ambitious redevelopment plans, in various phases, the first of which is the €3 million upgrading and resurfacing of the track, a realignment of the field facilities, a new indoor stretch of track plus an upgraded gym facility, specially stocked-piled for the track and field athlete.
Under suitably blue skies, the last of the track lining was completed on Thursday, exact millimetre for millimetre, and it is now ready for action – the first event of which, aptly enough, will be the Morton Games on July 14th, then the National Championships at the end of July.
Paul Byrne, Head of DCU Athletics and former national champion in the 400m hurdles, is on-site talking through the redevelopment, which mostly speaks for itself: by last year’s National Championships, the old track was well faded, tearing up in parts, and with that went the promise of any superfast times.
“This really is a huge game-changer for DCU athletics,” Byrne says. “It was the one big glaring omission, that we had no track, nowhere that we could say ‘we’re definitely training here tomorrow evening’.”
“We were always begging, borrowing, and stealing a little bit, to find our own time slot, or else willing to share one. There is a huge body of work done already, to get to this stage, and I think the blue track really makes it stand out as something new, a big change.
“It will also be a big recruitment tool for us. But it’s by no means exclusive, because we are still a small club, compared to Clonliffe, Raheny, Fingallians, who will all retain access. We’ll have our six or so prime-time slots, but we also want to see it used by as many athletes and clubs as possible, schools still getting access as required.”
Indeed DCU’s new lease does not impact on Clonliffe, who had been the host club going back to the first founding of the stadium by Morton in 1958. Fingal, the local authority, then took ownership of the stadium back in 1994, at the time when Clonliffe were unable to maintain the cost of running it; Clonliffe, however, retain a 250-year lease on their access, which includes the clubhouse within the stadium confines.
After the Fingal purchase, Sport Ireland took over the stadium’s management around 12 years ago. The responsibility is now going to DCU. It will also continue as the National Athletics Stadium, even though Athletics Ireland do not have any formal lease on any part of the stadium.