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Thriving club appeals for long-awaited all-weather playing facility


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Thriving club appeals for long-awaited all-weather playing facility Thriving club appeals for long-awaited all-weather playing facility

Willie Grant remembers being 18 years old trying to coax new players to West United FC.

Among them were the likes of John Egan and Liam Burke. The carrot? Promise of a new, full-sized astro pitch at the soccer club’s home in South Park at The Claddagh within three years.

“I’m best man for Burkey’s wedding next month – he’s 41 and I’m 45 and we’ve never seen the astro. That’s how long you’re going back,” said Grant, secretary of the club that’s waited decades for improved playing facilities at The Swamp.

In most aspects, on and off the field, West United is thriving. It caters for more than 200 children, boys aged from five to 16 and girls aged from five to 14.

It has more than 100 adult players, including a women’s team, two junior men’s teams, and over 35s and over 42s teams. It is one of the best supported junior soccer clubs in Galway.

Its catchment takes in five city primary schools – Scoil Fhursa, Jes, Pres, Claddagh, and St Pat’s – within a stone’s throw of South Park.

The club attracts youngsters from Claddagh and Back West and is home to children from more than twenty different countries.

It’s a club that’s going places. But its growth was being stymied without an astroturf pitch.

“We are crying out for better facilities in The Claddagh, and not just for soccer,” said Grant.

In the past year, due to inadequate facilities at The Swamp, the club has used facilities in Our Lady’s Boys Club, Dominican Hall, St Mary’s College, Mervue United, Corrib Rangers, Salthill and Glenoaks.

Rental fees paid to other clubs was close to €7,000 – huge for a voluntary organisation and the annual cost is growing as numbers increase.

“We’re all over the place in terms of facilities. It’s a major disadvantage – sometimes you’re having to call off training sessions,” said Grant.

What West United wants, and needs, is an astro pitch beside Claddagh Hall. It doesn’t want ownership; just a licence to use it.

A community facility, built by the local authority, which owns the land, would allow American football, Aussie Rules, rugby league and other clubs, to continue to use the amenity, alongside West United.

The problem was identified over 20 years ago. Since then, Galway City Council has promised but not delivered on masterplans for The Swamp.

Recently, the Council confirmed it had advertised for a new masterplan. Progress, but Grant could be forgiven for feeling déjà vu.

“There have been master plans and studies going back to 2004. It’s still on the long finger.

“Everyone was saying ‘this is great, there’ll be a new masterplan’ but this will be the fourth masterplan I’ve seen,” said Grant.

He credits women members as a new, progressive force driving the club forward.

Among them is Josie Forde, chairperson of the underage academy, who organised a bus for 45 members to head to Lansdowne Road for the Ireland women’s team’s Euro qualifier against England on Tuesday.

Forde, a Local Election candidate for Fianna Fáil in City Central, has two children – Mia and Stephen – playing with West United.

As a mother, and would-be politician, she said lack of facilities at South Park was “so frustrating”.

“You see other clubs around the town and they’re getting facilities, and we’ve an academy with over 200 kids, and we can’t cater for more. We just need more back here but we’re not being listened to,” she said.

With Katie McCabe now as big a star as any of her male Ireland international counterparts, Forde said the girls’ game was growing in popularity, but facilities were not keeping pace.

“We’re getting young girls off social media and that TikTok crack and getting them out playing sport, bringing it back to basics.

“You just want to see the club progress. It has great potential. There are great coaches. Great attendance by parents who give their time but it’s very disheartening when you don’t have facilities we need. We are trying our best but it’s ten steps forward ten back,” said Forde.

There have been many “false dawns”, said Grant who is reluctant to be too critical of City Hall or councillors.

“It’s not as if they have voted ‘no’ to an astro for us. We have councillors who have been very supportive. But it hasn’t progressed,” he said.

That was partly because a major report in the mid-2000s identified topsoil contamination at the former landfill.

But Grant said that excuse was long gone – in 2014, a health and safety report gave it the all-clear.

In 2004, the Council identified five priority projects, including South Park. The other four – Millenium skateboard park, East United dressing rooms, Cappagh dressing rooms, and Terryland Forest Park – were all delivered.

The proposed new masterplan for Claddagh was welcome, he said. And the club has a new South Park Development Committee actively keeping the matter on the agenda.

The calibre of people on the committee – chaired by Mike O’Toole, ex-chairman of West United, and including Gerry Daly of Galway United, playwright Christian O’Reilly and Bernie O’Connell, former principal of Jes – gives him real hope.

And still, history has shown him not to get too excited about promises for South Park.

“We are grateful for what we have but we are frustrated with the delays. The bottom line is it has been in the pipeline for over 20 years, and we are still waiting. I’m not giving out about other clubs. The more sports facilities the better, we need them.

“We’d just like to know, is it ever going to be done? My playing time has come and gone but I just want something for the kids – my nieces and nephews.

“I’d prefer to be told ‘no, you’ll never get it’. Then you’d work at something else. We just want certainty and clarity – can it be done?,” added Grant.

Pictured: Young players during the West United Academy Easter Camp at South Park. photos: Joe O’Shaughnessy


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