Enda McGinley: There's no stopping GAA clubs' drive to build for the future

GAA clubs have tirelessly invested in their facilities over the past 25 years and there’s nothing to suggest that trend won’t continue Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

A FEW weeks ago my club Errigal Ciaran held a gala to mark 25 years since our breakthrough Tyrone championship and Ulster title successes.

The night was a great success and big part of it was a huge archive of video footage from the time.

Nothing can make you feel your age more than watching stuff that looks like it's from a bygone era but in your head only feels like yesterday.

Something that struck me about the various clips was the change that has occurred in terms of grounds and facilities.

Dunmoyle, my own club pitch, was a pitch as good as any other back then.

One side of the pitch would have been described as ‘a bit on the soft side'.

‘Boggy' would possibly be more apt if we were to view it today.

Back then there would be at least a few areas on most pitches which, apart from the summer months, would be either akin to a patch of quicksand or just a good old fashioned puddle of varying sizes depending on the weather.

Home advantage conferred greater benefit back then with knowledge of these no-go areas compared to today's sand topped perfections where every pitch plays the same.

The Mud Madness-type races that are popular now would've been a non-runner back then as it essentially described entire pre-season training sessions.

My mother has a great picture at home of three of us coming in from early season training.

There we stand on newspaper she has spread on the floor, knowing what would be coming in the door, ready to peel off and get into the shower and dump the mud-covered garments in the sink for their first rinse.

Of course, the irony is that back then we were regaled by stories of the generation before telling us of changing behind ditches and how we never had it so good.

Ongoing facility improvement appears as traditional as a good post-match moan in the GAA.

While I never changed behind any ditches, dressing rooms in my time were still somewhat ‘functional' to go with the au-natural pitches.

A far cry from the spacious, bright dressing rooms that many clubs boast, a few simple wooden benches or chairs did the job.

Garish paint jobs usually covered the damp walls and at least one or two patches of mould would merge with the sweat and Deep Heat to create an aroma stronger than a bit of Brut deodorant.

The somewhat euphemistically labelled ‘showers', amounted to several pipes coughing up a splutter of water between them.

Most dressing rooms would maybe have one good shower which several boys would share in a ‘get wet, step out, suds on, step in, suds off, get out' manner.

The dramatic change over the past 25 years in the level of club facilities throughout the province has been massive.

The all-too-frequent knocks at the door from ticket sellers are not exactly popular and have driven a small boom in electric driveway gates. Yet such efforts of people that go out round the roads for their club's big fundraising drives or of people that put in the big money for internal fundraisers have been the driving force behind these changes – and of course the odd bit of EU grant money that the Tories must have missed out on.

The obvious question is: in 25 years time, what will our facilities look like?

Some clubs are already going down the 4G route and increasingly many clubs are strongly considering it.

The benefits are obvious: an all-year round playing surface with less required regular upkeep, able to tolerate training without cutting up or wearing out, potential money generation through rental.

The negatives are purely personal ones for me: I hate playing on them and, while increased injury rates haven't been proven, having had a few joint injuries in my time I always found the surface very sore on the body. The bottom line is they just simply do not play like a natural field.

Good gym facilities are another potential development with clear benefits in terms of accessibility for training and can certainly improve compliance with strength and conditioning programmes.

The negatives are linked to the fact that the exercise industry is always reinventing itself with latest programmes requiring innovative equipment.

Between this and the natural wear and tear of this type of equipment, frequent reinvestment is necessary to keep up to the standard players wish to use.

Floodlights are a big ticket item as well.

Lights good enough for hosting proper matches on a full size pitch can run in the region of six figures and add a nice ongoing cost in terms of powering them and maintenance.

As a player, though, they are certainly a very popular asset.

The upside is, of course, the ability to host evening games in early and late in the year but also generally having a higher quality of training due to the improved visibility.

The downside is that groundsmen are usually getting cranky at this time of year anyway and being able to host games on your pitch is simply another chance of increasing that already high-wear rate.

Another downside is the ability of managers to see men who might like to cut the odd corner on long pre-season runs.

Of course, the old Irish favourite of simply more real estate remains popular.

Adding an additional pitch would likely be a first step for any clubs with good numbers but just one field. For those that already have a training pitch adding a third is a big move.

The cost of pitch upkeep is significant.

Two well-maintained pitches would be better than three poorly maintained ones, while three well-maintained pitches might just break any treasurer's heart.

In an age of generally-reducing family sizes, it would appear a significant outlay with ongoing costs for those relatively-infrequent times in a year when both pitches are being used to their full capacity over the course of a week.

Other areas like new clubhouses, seated stands, new scoreboards, tarring of car parks etc, will all be mentioned in various clubs.

The drive and ambition of our clubs is something to be proud of.

The key is avoiding the costly development that creates an ongoing financial strain.

The merits of any project will undoubtedly be debated earnestly but I doubt for one second that doors will not continue being knocked.

While the ticket sellers might get the odd ‘oh the wife's away and she has the money with her' line, most Gaels will continue to dip into the pocket as part of the funding merry go round.

When we look at what we have managed to achieve over the past 25 years and how much the current generation of senior footballers and children are benefiting, I think that ethos of pushing on has achieved that highest of virtues – leaving things in a better place than when you found them.

Motivated by that ideal, I don't see it stopping any time soon.

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