Lighting up in Flanagan Park

November 7, 2018

THERE’S a great story in Denis Walsh’s book Hurling:

The Revolution Years about the legendary training regime the Clare hurlers undertook before winning the All-Ireland title in 1995. After spending the winter in Crusheen (‘the soul of discomfort, like a medieval dungeon in the open air’), they headed for a hill in Shannon. One night the squad tackled the the 130-metre slope no fewer than 40 times. ‘If you saw a fella dragging a horse up and down that hill 40 times you’d probably call the ISPCA,’ panel member Michael O’Halloran recalls with a laugh. But halfway up the hill were bushes big enough to grant asylum to desperate sufferers. Captain Anthony Daly remembers his team-mate Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin ducking in for a quick break and jumping back in halfway through a run. ‘Then,’ says Daly, ‘he’d turn around to the others at the top and tell them they’d want to get their act together.’

It’s a long way both literally and metaphorically from the hill in Shannon to the flat plains of Flanagan Park in Ballinrobe. O’Loughlin isn’t the only player in GAA history to seek refuge in a hiding place during a tortuous training session. But after the installation of top quality floodlights at the south Mayo venue, it may be difficult for those seeking a breather to find a darkened corner! Club chairman Peter Walkin explains that the recently-installed facility has already attracted interest from far and wide.

‘It just makes training so much easier,’ he told The Mayo News. ‘We had lights up there before, but they weren’t great. And there have been a lot of requests from other clubs wondering can they come in to train and play matches. Where we can help out other clubs, we obviously will, but with the weather the way it is at the moment, it’s difficult you obviously have to keep an eye on the pitch as well. But there’s great interest. A lot of clubs who are thinking about doing it have come because they want to see ours in action.

Actually, a group from Cork came to see us a couple of weeks ago.’

In a sense, Ballinrobe are merely handing on the torch of their learned expertise, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The sub-committee set up to investigate the plan went to visit Corofin and Aghamore, both of whom have ‘great lights’ according to Walkin. The lights made their official ‘debut’ on November 13 at a Mayo Minor Ladies C Football Championship semi-final between Ballinrobe and Castlebar Mitchels. The game ended in a diplomatic draw.

Plans for the installation of the lights were set in motion before Walkin became chairman, when a sub-committee was set up chaired by the hard-working John Gilraine. He was joined by Michael Coyne, Martin Flannery and Brian Golden. It was, according to Walkin, ‘all local involvement’. Des Maye drew up the planning application, John Coyne did the groundworks, and Timmy Kelly was the main electrical contractor.

They also succeeded in getting a National Lottery allocation totalling €80,000, where Liam Horan played a key advisory role.

‘From once the planning application was lodged until [the project] was completed, it was the best part of 12 months,’ said Walkin. ‘It does take a while.

There’s a lot of work in it. It had started well before I came on board. Des Maye submitted the planning application to Mayo County Council for us.

After that then, there was the application to the National Lottery, and that’s fairly intensive too. It obviously isn’t a matter of just writing to the Lotto and saying: ‘We’re putting up floodlights; ye might send us a few pounds!’ It’s a fairly rigourous process, but we got great help from other clubs and societies in Mayo who had applied to the National Lottery for funds. They had been down that road and knew what had to be done.’

Three quotes were required for each stage of the process, in accordance with National Lottery guidelines. As a result, Walkin explains, ‘you were shown to be competitive’. A large amount of steelwork was also required for the foundation. Money for the facility ‘came down in stages’ from Lotto HQ. Once most of the funding was in place, the actual erection of the lights began as Johnny Coyne and Timmy Kelly went to work. The senior team’s first illuminated competitive outing came last Friday, in the final league match of the season against Breaffy. Away from the ground development, the club’s most memorable day of the year came courtesy of the minor side, who captured the county B title on October 15. It was particularly pleasing for Walkin, who along with his fellow officers had targeted the underage section of the club as an area that had to be targeted.

‘Our under-16s got to the South Mayo final, which was great, but for our minors to win the B championship was absolutely fantastic,’ he commented. ‘An awful lot of work went into it, and it’s a great boost for the club. Even though it was only at B level, it was great. We needed it.’

The county title was Ballinrobe’s first at the minor grade since 1978. In the final they got the better of Aghamore, who had beaten them by 10 points in a league match earlier in the year. ‘Our lads were determined not to get beaten twice by the same opposition,’ said Walkin, who paid tribute to the management team of Kevin Gilraine, Tommy O’Malley, Tom Finnerty and Brendan Vahey. Captain Donal Vaughan gave a man of the match display from centre half back in the final. Ray McGreal and Shane Owens dominated midfield, while Sean Burke, Conor Keane and Kevin Keane were outstanding in the forward line. They eventually won a ‘great match’ by 2-12 to 2-10.

‘It was brilliant to win it,’ Walkin concluded. ‘It was definitely one of the highlights for the club this year, and it’s important now that we build on it.’