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ULSTER’S CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE

By Niall McCoy

LAST week it was announced that Down GAA had acquired planning permission from Newry, Mourne and Down District for a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence in Ballykinlar.

The announcement, coming hours after Casement Park was also granted formal planning permission for a second time, further enhances the training facility situation for county teams across Ulster.

Here we look at the situation in all nine counties and chart their progress and where they stand now. And while we have used centre of excellence in the headline, it must be noted that some counties – such as Armagh and Donegal – are keen to avoid that term.

ANTRIM

IN 2016, Antrim GAA officially opened their new training facility on the Ballymena Road.

Developed in conjunction with St. Comgall’s GAC, the 25.25 acre site includes administration rooms, an indoor sports hall, a gym and three floodlit pitches.

Co-funded by the GAA’s Central Council, Ulster GAA, the Antrim County Board and St. Comgall’s, it was officially opened by the then Director General of the Association Paraic Duffy and a host of dignitaries. The project, including land purchase, came in at just over £4million. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport NI also made substantial contributions towards the cost.

Originally Antrim had hoped to developed land purchased near Randalstown but they couldn’t get the required planning permission.

There are plans in the pipeline to develop Dunsilly further as Antrim GAA are hoping to open a gym to be used by senior and underage players as well as hosting an Irish peaking school from the local Antrim area. Gaelscoil Aontroma will be an Irish medium educational facility for nursery and primary students.

ARMAGH

ARMAGH is in the unique position – for Ulster anyway – of having two separate training facilities in development in different parts of the county.

IN 2017, Armagh GAA revealed plans for a new training facility to be developed at the home of the St Malachy’s Hurling Club on the Moy Road near Dungannon.

The planning application includes four playing fields with floodlighting and catch nets, a sports changing pavilion with a multi-purpose hall, a strength and conditioning suite, a spectator stand and terrace, a ball-wall as well as an air dome and associated car and coach parking.

Planning permission is under consideration currently, and the county board are awaiting confirmation on that before they can proceed.

In the south of the county, the Orchard county are making history as they become the first ladies team to have their own training facility.

The grounds at Killean are moving along nicely and with the pitch complete, county teams are already training there.

The pitch alone has cost £120,000 to renovate – it had previously been used by the now defunct club St Michael’s – and there are also plans to add a community hall, changing rooms, toilet provision, locker space, lobby, storage and office accommodation at McKeever Park.

CAVAN

CAVAN are in the fundraising stage for their planned Polo Grounds Centre of Excellence.

With that in mind, launching in New York wasn’t the worst idea given their strong ex-pat community in the ‘Big Apple’ and, of course, for the fact that the facility will be named after the venue of their famous 1947 All-Ireland final win over Kerry (Note: Paul Fitzpatrick’s book ‘Fairytale in New York’ on that match is a must for all GAA fans).

The centre will be developed on a 23-acre site at the back at Kingspan Breffni and will include two floodlit grass pitches with the option for a third eventually, a stand for one of the pitches, and a state of the art gymnasium and training centre.

A new sports centre is also being developed by Cavan County Council nearby and there are hopes that Cavan can link up with them when the centre of excellence is completed.

DERRY

DERRY’S Owenbeg facility has long been recognised as one of the best training facilities in Ulster, its reputation no doubt enhanced by the amount of big games staged at the venue.

A 2,000 seater-stand was built as part of the project with the idea of it becoming the Oakleaf county’s second venue behind Celtic Park. It can hold 6,800, has the same dimensions as Croke Park and is the preferred venue for many Derry fans.

Based just outside Dungiven, it was officially opened in 2013 and contains several pitches, including a 4G floodlit facility, a fitness suite, changing facilities, medical rooms, a fully equipped canteen, a media room and a conference suite.

The pitches on the 54-acre site can accommodate 24 underage matches simultaneously and it has become a real hub of activity.

Earlier this year plans were confirmed to redevelop two training pitches as well as an internet upgrade to aid with streaming activity.

DONEGAL

DONEGAL have one of the most recently completed – well, almost – centres as the Convoy project has come to life.

Originally known as the Donegal GAA Centre of Excellence, it is now called the Donegal GAA Centre.

If it wasn’t for the Covid pandemic, all would likely be done and dusted, but a few issues like some of the parking is still to be signed off on.

The clubhouse and gym have been in operation from last year, and county board meetings have also taken place as it will not only become the playing hub of Donegal GAA, but also the administrative centre too.

The €6.5million facility includes five full-size pitches, three of those with floodlights, changing rooms, a canteen, meeting rooms and a gym. There is also a 200-seat stand overlooking one of the pitches.

The main building is white but with yellow and green painted on in patches – so you’ll have no problem identifying it as a Donegal hub.

DOWN

IT was in January 2019 when Down GAA called for expressions of interest in their new training facility in Ballykinlar, with the Mourne county development likely to cost in the region of £6million excluding VAT.

Less than a year later planning permission was submitted and there was great news for the county last week as it was approved.

The approval from the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s planning committee will allow for the development of four full-size pitches, three of which will be floodlit, spectator seating, a multi-use games area (MUGA), changing rooms, a fitness studio and ancillary offices.

Interestingly, the site is leased from the Ministry of Defence as it will be situated at the Abercorn Barracks site in Ballykinlar.

Fermanagh

THE Lissan complex, three miles outside Enniskillen, was officially opened by then GAA President elect Nicky Brennan in 2005 and comprises of two playing pitches and dressing room facilities.

To mark the opening, runners arrived from every club with soil to be spread on the new grounds, while soil was also used from Semple Stadium – the historical home of the GAA.

Fermanagh have big plans to improve the facility further. Last year, the two pitches were re-laid with a new sand-based surface and there were improvements made to the drainage.

A three-stage plan has been mapped out with the pitches marking the completion of the first of those.

Phase two and three include a 3,000 square foot strength and conditioning suite, areas for players to socialise and eat, dug-outs on the pitches, a new drive way, two new changing rooms, offices and a reception.

Originally it was likely to be a five-year project, but probable funding restrictions due to Covid means that it will take longer.

MONAGHAN

IT’S hard to miss the Monaghan training facility at Cloghan as it is situated just off the N2 Castleblayney bypass.

Cloghan includes four dressing rooms, a medical room, a gym, a meeting room and an office. There are five pitches at the vast venue.

The grounds were officially opened in 2008 and are also the administrative home of Monaghan GAA.

It was back in 2003 when it was identified as the site to build, and teams had been able to use it from 2006 as the building project continued.

The Oriel county board earned funds by selling the naming rights and from 2018 until 2021 it is known as the Entekra Monaghan GAA Centre of Excellence.

TYRONE

THE Garvaghey Centre is certainly one of Ireland’s most identifiable as it is shaped in a Celtic T.

A £7million project on the 43-acre site was developed between 2007 and 2013 and the outcome was very impressive, even if there were some issues about the size of the gym originally.

There are five full-size, sand carpet GAA pitches, all floodlit, and a 1,000 seater-stand overlooking one of the pitches. There is also a floodlit 3G pitch.

There is also a 60m x 40m 3G MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) and a hurlingball wall along one side, 10 changing rooms and a physiotherapy suite.

Tyrone were keen to have a nature friendly site and there is a 1km walk with outdoor gym, a play area and an outdoor performance area modelled on Tullyhogue Fort.

 

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