A Place for Sport? Build It and They Will Come

Last Sunday Derry GAA officially opened the latest phase of its Owenbeg training complex outside Dungiven. It is an impressive place, featuring a championship grade playing pitch, 5000 seater stand and a main building complex with medical room, strength and conditioning suite, mini restaurant, laundry room and multiple extensive changing facilities.

For anyone who hasn’t been along to visit they should go down and have a look around. It is a superb example of the Art of the Possible.

Derry GAA PRO Dermot McPeake explains: “Back in 1993 when Derry won the All Ireland for the first time, there was only one pitch with floodlights in the county at Glenullin. Most clubs had only one pitch and seeking pitches for winter training was troublesome.”

Something visionary needed to be done.

“Johnny Burke of Claudy, Colm O’Kane and John Heron and other GAA men began discussions and land was purchased at Owenbeg at Dungiven to create a home for Derry GAA. In 1994 Derry trained there for the first time that year. Since then small elements were added with Go Games in the mid 2000’s bringing clubs in. The new phase brings club championships and completes the circle of usage of the site.”

The top quality playing pitch is capable of hosting inter county gaelic football, hurling and camogie matches. This summer it has hosted Ulster Championship Camogie Finals and Derry’s All Ireland qualifiers as well as Christy Ring Hurling. Year round it is the home base of Derry GAA, Ladies Gaelic and Camogie teams. Development squads at u14 through to senior all train there. More importantly week in week, out it hosts small-sided games and blitzes for underage players from clubs and schools across the county for all age groups from U8 upwards. For those involved in sport it is a home from home.

The Owenbeg complex has become the envy of other counties who dream of having their own ‘Owenbeg’ when they’re not kicking themselves for not having thought of it first. Even Tyrone with the slick Club Tyrone fundraising machine, have had to go cap in hand to clubs, schools and councils to provide training venues for their teams. Until this summer that is, when the impressive Garvaghey complex opened its doors. Antrim have a similar centre for excellence in the pipeline in Dunsilly and Monaghan offer a similar complex at Cloghan.

In the Triangle we can learn a lot from the Owenbeg model. When the Eoghan Rua Camogie team won All Ireland titles in Croke Park in 2011 and 2012, they required a mammoth training effort from December to March to prepare the squad. Had it not been for the excellent cooperation and generosity of the rugby club in offering to hire their floodlight pitch the first year, and the University of Ulster facilities being available the second year, it is unlikely the team could have succeeded.

Their experience locally is not unique. For an area that’s steeped in sport, the provision of places for sport in Coleraine is not at all ideal. In the Triangle area we have successful teams in rugby, soccer, gaelic games, hockey and athletics not to mention world class and Olympic standard rowing. We have seven secondary level schools and numerous primary schools.  We have hundreds of children playing sport competitively every week.

Our council provided pitches are groaning at capacity to handle to the load. From my own Gaelic games perspective the Eoghan Rua club fields 23 teams across four different codes and has its own pitch plus whatever is available to hire from the University. If it weren’t for the University pitches for hire we could not function and for years their fields were our home pitch.

The local soccer leagues have over a hundred teams, which means hundreds and hundreds of players need pitches every single week. The participation levels locally are testament to the enthusiasm of volunteers and the passion for sport in the triangle area. There is a constant demand for places for sport.

Where does Owenbeg fit into this picture? Well the lesson from Owenbeg is that whilst it requires money to get a training facility up and running, when you have a place for sport in established, it also attracts money and interest in its own right.

The Derry County board haven’t finished with Owenbeg, there’s more to come. A 4G pitch and hopefully a hurling wall or two will complete things. But its legacy is as much in what others can learn.

The talk around the Triangle for the last while has been about the Coleraine Rugby Avenue development and what it will mean to the sports clubs of the area. We know what it means. The clubs of all codes are crying out for it. The lesson of Owenbeg is build it and they will come.

And for sport in Coleraine? Build it. Its time has come.

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