TIME waits for no one and Lámh Dhearg have decided there’s no time like the present to redevelop their playing facilities at their Hannahstown home.
Sustained growth in terms of playing numbers, especially in Ladies Football and Camogie, has rendered their current facilities inadequate.
Lámh Dhearg were founded back in 1903 as a small rural football club serving the village of Hannahstown on the outskirts of West Belfast, while the current complex was opened in 1984.
These days, the Red Hands need another full-size grass pitch to cater for over 30 teams at the club and they aren’t prepared to wait on grant money to make it happen.
Volunteerism is at the heart of every great GAA club and Lámh Dhearg have been fortunate that dozens of ‘Pitch Patrons’ have come on board to get the project off the ground.
While club officials are hopeful that outside funding can be secured, they plan to push on with the redevelopment work of the second pitch.
Former chairman and a member of the club’s facilities and infrastructure committee Jim Herron stressed that, in order to continue to progress at all codes, Lámh Dhearg must progress with their ‘Field of Dreams’.
“After a generation, the facilities begin to look tired and needs a bit of a revamp. We’ve done bits and pieces in recent years, but we are a growing club,” said Herron.
“We’ve over 30 teams at present and there has been a massive growth in participation in Ladies Football and Camogie.
“We rekindled Camogie at the club. We’ve been trying to increase female participation at the club in recent years and we’ve made a number of provisions for that, but it has taken on a life of its own.
“We are fielding teams right up to senior and we’ve now a second ladies’ team – the growth has been phenomenal.
“However, that has highlighted the fact that one pitch and a small 3G pitch won’t do anymore. We are at the stage where some senior teams have to go and train at St Mary’s or over to Queen’s and we are paying for those facilities.
“We really need a second full-size pitch at Lámh Dhearg.”
Must is a great master and the Hannahstown have already made a start on their project.
Herron concedes they probably should have put a second pitch in place before now as the club purchased the land adjacent to their main pitch back in 1992, but never got round to developing the site.
Now, almost 30 years later, Lámh Dhearg have started the groundwork on their second pitch, having installed a 3G training pitch a few years ago.
“Back in 1992, we bought land adjacent to the pitch with a view to building a second pitch within a couple of years. A few years became 10 years, then 20. Now, over 30 years on, we are only getting things in place,” said Herron.
“We got funding a number of years ago to build the children’s play park and for the Highway to Health and so on, but we haven’t got a cent for the pitch. We’ve been to Croke Park and we got a loan of £100,000 as part of our funding. The total cost of the project is going to be in excess of £400,000.
“We’ve gone through various other channels and we’ve had people up to visit the site and look at the plans, but we haven’t received any funding for it. We just seem to have struck at a time when there is very little in the way of capital funding through the various sporting bodies. We just decided that we are going to have to do this ourselves anyway.
“We’ve big plans for the future of the club, but it all comes back to funding.
“It was great to see the green shoots of grass coming up on the pitch recently. We will move on to phrase three next year and we are trying to raise this money to make sure it happens.
“The cost of things like goalposts, fencing, ball-stops has gone up remarkably.”
To add to Lámh Dhearg’s woes, the Covid-19 pandemic put a spanner in the works for two major club fundraisers last year.
“We had 500 people lined up a gala dinner last June in the Titanic Centre and we had to pull it because of Covid,” added Herron.
“We also had a golf classic planned for the summer. It is probably going to be a big ask to get an indoor event for 500 people rescheduled anytime soon.”
While their golf will now take place on Friday, August 27 at Balmoral Golf Club (presentations to follow in the club that evening), their gala dinner is on hold for the foreseeable.
With no sign of external grants, Lámh Dhearg had to adopt a rather more simplistic approach to funding their second pitch.
For a donation of £1,000 members, both past and present, can become ‘Pitch Patrons’ – something Herron signed up for when the knock came at his door.
“We are going to do it and how we are going about it is asking people to become ‘pitch patrons’ for £1000,” stated Herron.
“They came knocking on my door and I signed up and now I’m out knocking the doors.
“Straight off the bat, we raised £67,000. It is via a standing order and people can make £20 per month.
“It is difficult to ask people to commit in this day and age, but we’ve now got 230 signed up and we’ve £160,000 in so we are approaching the half-way mark.
“It is tough to raise that kind of money – if we could only get some sort of public money, it would give people a big push to know it isn’t going to depend totally on us.”
The former teacher said the club has been blown away by the extraordinary generosity of the local community.
Indeed, over the last number of years, there has been a big push to improve GAA facilities across Belfast.
The first part of Corrigan Park’s redevelopment was completed in time to host Antrim’s League games in the spring while Davitt’s, Rossa, Naomh Éanna have also undergone work to improve their facilities.
Herron paid tribute to those who have helped out, not just by putting their hand in their pocket, but my giving their time over many years of service at the club in various volunteer capacities.
“We recently calculated that we’ve 100 volunteers who give up their time for the good of the club,” said Herron.
“We’ve some fantastic coaches who have got themselves skilled up by taking courses.
“That’s the big plus we have as a club – we’ve so many past players who are now coaches or parents who give up their time to volunteer. It is all our own people.
“You see it happening in so many clubs, some people do their time on a committee then step away because they’ve had enough. We are very lucky in our club that people who get involved they stayed involved and that’s going back to former chairmen, secretaries, treasurers. It is amazing to note how many people have stayed on board.”
He added: “Not having Casement Park is a massive blow to Gaels in Belfast. You look across the city, whether it is at Davitt’s, or St Enda’s or at St John’s, clubs are still pushing ahead to improve their facilities.
“We are determined as a club to do our bit to push Antrim on. It is great to see the county footballers and hurlers doing well.
“Things are starting to move forward slowly and surely in Antrim. People in our club should be sitting back enjoying a cigar, but they are out knocking doors because they want to leave this ‘Field of Dreams’ behind.”
The Lámh Dhearg club won’t rest on their laurels once they’ve a second full-size pitch in place. Their future plans envisage a spectator stand with disabled access to all facilities, an extension of their Highway to Health and Eco Trails, a multi-skills wall, secure car park as well as a new community hub.
The Hannahstown club might dream big, but they are determined to make their dreams a reality in the near future, both on and off the pitch.