Ogonnelloe Scores With East Clare’s First GAA Indoor Astro Turf Arena - The Clare Champion
OGONNELLOE Hurling Club is striking a major blow for the local community by not only developing East Clare GAA’s first indoor astro-turf arena but, in the process, a much-needed physical education facility for the parish’s local national school.

One of the county’s smallest clubs, Ogonnelloe GAA has embarked on an ambitious but targeted “Building Our Future” development plan that is focussed as much on delivering for community than results on the field.

The new indoor centre will go way beyond acting as a facility for advancing the skills of the club’s hurlers. Instead, it will serve all age groups in the close-knit community, including delivering local primary school a dedicated physical education facility.

On the GAA side, the 40 metre by 20 metre facility will be central to the club’s plans to regenerate hurling in the parish among children and young adults after a difficult decade or so. It will also be a major boost for one of the great success stories of Clare camogie over recent years, the Scarriff O’Gonnelloe camogie club, which will be a key partner in the project as well.

Announcing details about the development, O’Gonnelloe club chairman and former Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling medal winner P J Delaney, who has lived in O’Gonnelloe for the past 10 years, said that the focus of the development is on fulfilling one of the GAA’s key values – serving community.

“We were at a difficult crossroads two years ago as a club. We were struggling to field an adult team, our underage participation had slipped and things were not looking good. A few of us got together in the club and we asked some hard questions, primarily about our existence and what we wanted to be as a club.

“Very quickly we arrived at a vision of being at the centre of the community, delivering for the community. One of the GAA’s key values is that community is at the heart of the association and everything done must help to enrich the communities it serves. So, we essentially took that as the brief,” Delaney said.

The club took some soundings from across the parish and the consensus was that the development of the indoor facility would not just regenerate the club itself but address some very significant needs in the community.

“We’re a small parish but have a very proud sense of identity. Once we looked at the needs of the community, in addition to what we need ourselves as a GAA club, developing the indoor centre was a no brainer. One of the key things is that the primary school and the GAA club back onto each other and the school has expanded recently, built on more classrooms.

“That has eaten into the space available on what is a fairly tight site already. The GAA pitch is beside the school but weather being what is, kids can’t go down there for physical education that much so with the indoor centre, we’re not only going to have a year-round training facility for our hurlers and camogie players but children attending our National School are going to have the best physical education facility in East Clare.

“But we see this also being used by older members of the parish, for fitness and exercise classes. We will be making it available also to local voluntary groups, a number of whom have expressed interest already.”

The scorer of 1-4 in Kilkenny’s 1993 All-Ireland final win over Galway, Delaney says that while the project is an ambitious one, cost has been a key consideration. “We’re going to do it very modestly. We have a really nice design but it’s going to be a no-frills facility; effectively a shed but a well-designed one over our astro-turf. We have our planning permission in place and we have got huge support already in O’Gonnelloe for it.

“As we’ve seen with the Ogonnelloe Exchange, which is our community hall, and the footpath that the community developed alongside the main road through the parish, we may have a small parish but there’s an incredible community spirit here. It’s a great place to get things done.”

Development project manager and Ogonnelloe native Michael Sheedy says that the fund-raising programme is now underway and has gotten off to a great start. “We have got some very strong pledges of financial support that is enabling us to hit the ground running. We will pay for it through additional volunteer fund-raising, some finance and we’ve also made an application for a sports capital grant. We are very positive as we have what we believe is a fairly unique proposition – a GAA centre that will double as a PE facility for a school and, at the same time, be a centre for all ages.

“There is a lot more interest today on regenerating rural Ireland and if we can develop facilities like this, it will help keep people in the area and deepen the sense of community.”