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A general view of the senior football training pitch at The Clare GAA Centre Of Excellence in Caherlohan. Photograph by John Kelly

Synthetic Pitch The Top Priority For Caherlohan Working Group

The chairperson of the group tasked with working toward a plan to address the issues at Clare GAA’s Centre of Excellent has outlined the three main priorities to begin that process.

The much maligned €4.8 million venue at Caherlohan has been the subject of intense scrutiny and discussion over the last few months, with clubs being invited to visit the facility for themselves last weekend before making any submissions to the new strategic group for the future of Clare GAA.

The Clare Champion understands that 13 clubs sent representatives on the day to view the facility, just less than a quarter of all clubs in the county.

Issues have been raised in relation to the condition of the pitches at the venue, with the Clare senior hurlers opting to train at the county grounds in Cusack Park or at club pitches in Meelick, Wolfe Tones and Tubber last year. The Clare senior footballers continue to train on their pitch at the venue.

Concerns have also been expressed that the gym at the facility is not spacious enough to accommodate a full intercounty panel, while the lack of a synthetic pitch to ease the strain on the grass pitches during periods of poor weather has also been highlighted as something to address.

Former Munster Council CEO and Eire Óg clubman Simon Moroney is heading up the committee to look into finalising works at the venue, and he outlined that to date, that work has been impacted by the current Covid-19 restrictions.

“We have been hampered with the restrictions because we cannot get people on site that we want, including the first consultant. We had an online meeting him and went through the two reports he had done in 2018. There were elements of that report which suggested to us that it would be very wise to engage again. The anticipation that time was that the work would have been done that summer and he made references to deterioration if the work was not done by that winter. We also wanted to get others in who would have expert views because I would put my hand up right away and say that I am not in any way an expert in drainage, irrigation or grass management at that level. Sports pitches are very different and that is why you have the likes of people who are involved in golf clubs that are experts in their areas to maintain them because the usage is more punishing than what you would get on regular farmland. We wanted to get some views on what was the best thing to do in terms of finding out if the diagnosis was correct, was the solution correct and get it all mapped out. It is not that we were doubting the Hayden turf care report at all but we will only get one shot at this and it will cost a good bit of money, that is the reality” he noted.

The inclusion of a synthetic pitch at the venue was included as part of the original plans, and Moroney stated that getting that development underway is one of their key objectives.

“The synthetic pitch would appear to be essential and from engaging with the likes of the team managers, they would be of that mind too but obviously the cost is the issue. We are visiting a facility this week to go through the detail and get some information on the specifications because that has improved out of measure for synthetic pitches over the last 15 years. We want to get an idea of cost because they were the most recent ones done in the region, and that is our top priority. After that, we are looking at a phased remediation of the existing pitches. The Congress at the end of February brought in the split season, and this year we have the reversal in terms of having the county first and then the club season, whereas it was the opposite last year. That seems to have gone down quite well with nearly all sectors of the Association and it would not surprise me if that is the way that things will happen going forward. That has implications in relation to the burden that will be placed on facilities like Caherlohan in terms of the time of year that it will be in most demand. It does have to be given consideration” he said.

Over the last number of years, Clare intercounty squads at all grades have been forced to hire out floodlight all weather facilities at venues such as UL and LIT, which is an added cost for the county board to carry. Moroney does not feel that cutting those costs out would recuperate any major monies in the short term toward the development of a similar facility in Caherlohan, but feels that it would make a difference in terms of the capital needed to finance the maintenance bill.

“To me it is a false logic because maintenance has always been a problem and I actually could not tell you of a county who have cracked it yet. The Association has always been good at providing facilities rather than upkeeping them. That is understandable because all of the grant monies and the available funds tend to go toward new projects rather than the maintenance side of it. It is hard to shift it because generally people go for big projects and often we see after that the maintenance can be neglected. The challenge is that if you go through the financial statements from Conventions, where do you divert the money from? In our reckoning, you are talking about a maintenance bill of over €100,000 per annum. You need personnel, preferably qualified ones who have the expertise in grass management, drainage, and who can solve problems as they arise from time to time. They would need to do the significant maintenance that every pitch developer will tell you needs to be done every eight to ten years, and it costs a good bit more than the ordinary stuff. From our discussions with the experts so far, they are critical things that you need to do” he explained.

There has also been plenty discussion around the future of the other Clare GAA-owned venues in the county, with the administrative centre in Clareabbey along with the training facility in Ballyline, near Crusheen, also on the books. A motion to sell Clareabbey in order to help finance the completion of the Caherlohan project was defeated at a recent convention, but Moroney feels that a strategic decision on those assets is something that needs to be examined.

“To my mind, we need a good county grounds, which we have, and a Centre of Excellence. It makes more sense to have all your equipment and personnel in one place rather than maintaining pitches in different locations. I know they developed organically and were needed at the time prior to Caherlohan. I was there myself for when Ballyline was purchased and it was essential. We don’t have the resources to keep everything in top shape and that forces you into making decisions. The sooner we make them, and know where we want to be over the next 5-10 years, the better. We need to now focus on the Centre of Excellence and developing the synthetic pitch. We will also need to go through the analysis of what happened and what the rationale for it was. There was planning permission originally for three additional pitches, and up to ten applications altogether, so we need to go through the detail on those. If you cannot cope with the demand for your development squads and senior panels, then you are better off to develop another pitch at the same venue where the equipment is. Our first priority is to look at developing the synthetic pitch, which will reduce the stress on the current grass pitches. After that, we will be looking at the phased remediation on one or two pitches and then examining the gym situation” he outlined.

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