O’Loughlin’s move today to meet the big challenges of tomorrow

SATURDAY will be another big day along the road of progress for the dynamic O’Loughlin Gaels club when they stage a mini festival of sport to mark another significant milestone in their proud history.writes John Knox.

SATURDAY will be another big day along the road of progress for the dynamic O’Loughlin Gaels club when they stage a mini festival of sport to mark another significant milestone in their proud history.writes John Knox.

It will be another all inclusive day, marrying past with present and the various games within the GAA portfolio, when O’Loughlin’s officially open the latest phase in what will ultimately be a near 500,000 euro development at their extensive St John’s Park grounds.

Dignitaries from the Leinster Council and Kilkenny County Board will be on hand for the official signing off on a near 250,000 euro phase of work that has just been completed, on time, and within budget.

“Always when you get into these things you have to be careful that you don’t take on a cost that will further saddle the club for the future,” explained Eddie Buckley, chairman of the club Development Committee. “I don’t believe we have anything to fear. We haven’t done that. We have a club development plan that slots in nicely with a games development plan.”

On Saturday (2pm) two full size Croke Park size pitches (148m x 88m); a juvenile pitch (110m x 80m); a designated grass training area (80m x 30m) for teams doing physical work before matches and an extensive network of ball stops so the club can be good neighbours with all around them, will be officially opened for use.

As well, O’Loughlin’s have also completed the construction and painting of a ball wall at the rear of the existing clubhouse.

“At this stage,” was the qualifier added by Mr Buckley and PRO, Nigel Leydon, when they outlined the current state of play and explained that there was more to come in the future.

The financing of the work was a cooperative effort between the club, the Leinster Council and the Department of Sport through the Sports Capital Grants Scheme.

Big fund raisers

The O’Loughlin’s members raised over 80,000 euro though various fund raisers like the club Lotto, hugely successful and popular greyhound race nights and the biggest money spinner of all, the novel King of the Castle (the winner was Michael Costelloe of James Stephens) that realised over 180,000 euro overall.

Of course, half of that King of the Castle money was donated to Kilkenny charities, and the rest was shared by the three city GAA clubs, O’Loughlin’s, James Stephens and Dicksboro. Each club netted about 30,000 euro from that venture in 2010, which really grabbed the imagination of the public.

Each of the clubs promoted their man for the role of ‘King’, with the one whose candidate raised the most money being declared the winner. Octogenarian Pat Shortiss carried the O’Loughlin’s hopes and ran a terrific campaign.

“That worked out really, really well,” said Nigel Leydon of a venture he promoted vigorously. “The people who supported that contributed significantly to our finances for the development plan.”

The extensive O’Loughlin/Gaels club grounds, which are within a stone’s throw of Kilkenny GAA headquarters Nowlan Park, run to about 12.5 acres.

“We owe nothing on them,” said a proud Eddie Buckley. “There are no outstanding bills apart from this latest development.”

The drainage system on all pitches was upgraded in recent years, and during the current wet and testing weather, the playing surfaces remained top class. The newest pitches were developed by recognised experts in this area, Penturf Limited from Killeshin in Carlow, who have apparently been contracted to carry out the massive upcoming County Board development at Dunmore.

O’Loughlin’s is a very mixed type of parish, in so far as the club services a strong rural area while having a big city base.

“We are very a mixed and a broad church in terms of a club,” Eddie Buckley explained. “We are probably the only community facility within St John’s parish, so the club is very important in that respect.”

Extensive gymnasium

The club membership extends to nearly 700. There are class facilities for hurling, football, camogie, handball and racquetball within the confines of their base at St John’s Park.

There is also an extensive gymnasium, complete with stand or viewing area. The gym is the home of Kilkenny basketball for the last 20 years and currently hosts the games of Team Left Bank in the National League, plus the annual Convention of the County Board.

On Saturday, the curtain will come down on Phase I of a three stage development. Nearly 250,000 euro has been spent on this project.

The follow up plans include the upgrading of the gym facilities “because nothing much has happened there in years”, Mr Buckley explained. The cost factor here is reckoned to be around 150,000 euro.

“We would like to go for planning permission and build a designated ball wall as well (25m wide; 40m depth and 6.5 m high),” the Development Committee chairman added.

O’Loughlin’s are also in the process of acquiring half an acre from an adjacent developer which would square off their parcel of land.

“Ultimately our ambition would be to have a Juvenile Academy close to the clubhouse,” he added.

The idea would be to develop an all weather surfaced area, roughly measuring 80m x 50m. That would be the third phase of the development plan that would push the total out lay to close to half a million euro. The envisaged time span is three to five years.

The coaches for the ’Academy, it is hoped, will come form within the club; all would have gone through County Board and Leinster Council coaching courses.

“This is not just an O’Loughlin’s thing,” Nigel Leydon insisted. “It is a community effort. We don’t cater for GAA members only. We are trying to involve everyone.”

Currently the club is ‘reaching out’ to youngsters throughout the parish who, it is hoped, will see the O’Loughlin Gaels clubs as their natural home.

Back to basic

With Mr Leydon to the fore, O’Loughlin’s are organising Streets Leagues for youngsters they hope will be the future of the club.

“We are going back to basics and organising Streets League,” were the word of introduction from Mr Leydon. “On the first night we had 75 people in the green area beside Glendine Heights in Glen Bawn on the Castlecomer road.”

The youngsters, aged 7 to 11, were divided into five teams. All those involved are living in the parish, even if they haven’t been playing with O’Loughlin’s.

“We call it the ‘Hurling for All St John’s Street Leagues’ run by O’Loughlin’s,” he added. The Streets League final will be part of Saturday’s celebration.

The idea is to promote the O’Loughlin Gaels brand, if you like; make it the No. 1 choice of all youngsters living in the club catchment area.

“We are not trying to take from anyone else, from any other club,” Mr Leydon continued. “We have to show we are the club that promotes Gaelic games in St John’s parish.”

In the City, youngsters from any of the three parishes have the choice to join any of the three clubs promoting Gaelic games. The desire of O’Loughlin’s would be to make their club, if you like, the one of choice for all youngsters living in their area.

“We are trying to align the youngsters with club and parish,” was how it was put. “We want to show that this, O’Loughlin’s, is where you come if you live in the parish.”

O’Loughlin’s have been a very progressive outfit since it was founded in 1969 with Jim Rice the first chairman. The current land mass was acquired in three lots, standing now at over 12 acres.

“We are probably unique in that we now have enough ground for what we want with the two Croke Park pitches and the juvenile area,” Eddie Buckley said. “Effectively we can manage our business within our boundaries provided those facilities are up to spec.”

It was back in 2008 when the club carried out an extensive review of all operations, prompted by the Strategic Review scheme promoted by the GAA at local and national level, that O’Loughlin’s identified the gaps in their facilities.

“We made the decision that St John’s Park was our home, and that would never change,” Eddie Buckley explained. “We then moved on and said the first plank of the Strategic Review would be to get the playing surfaces of pitches in the club right. We have done that.”

‘Community connect’

The second piece of the jigsaw, which is on-going, is to get the ‘community connect’ piece right; then coaching in terms of the skills of the mentors. The third area is the upgrading of ancillary facilities. The fourth area is a Youth Academy or something like that.

“We have done things in a very structured way,” Mr Buckley continued. “We haven’t over extended ourselves financially, but we have been ambitious at the same time. Things have been done within budged, on limited borrowings.”

Like any other club, O’Loughlin Gaels could not survive without volunteers. They were blessed in that regard, both officials insisted.

They were conscious that they must always be inclusive, and quickly get new people who show an interest involved in the club. Some of the newer parents are currently taking the lead in organising the O’Loughlin’s La na gClub on Saturday.

Essentially the day is all about giving every player, from under-6 right up to senior, an opportunity to play games, including camogie and handball.

The planned programme for the day is extensive and includes the Streets League final and a senior match (7.30pm) between O’Loughlin’s and Tullaroan, the oldest club in Kilkenny. There will also be camogie and handball activities.

O’Loughlin Gaels are one of the few outfits with bar facilities at their grounds. However, in these changing times, the flow of cash through the bar wouldn’t contribute much to the running of the club, we were told.

The bar/functions room area is maintained as an additional facility, for the club and wider community, and is used for meeting by a number of groups. But the days of the bar contributing in any significant way to the finances of clubs have long gone, we were told.

An Executive Committee of 13 members, all of whom head up a sub-committee, plan and coordinate the running of the O’Loughlin Gaels club. After Saturday’s ceremony, attention will turn to upgrading the gym area, which in the past was used for concerts and often housed up to 1,000 people.

Smaller works

The floor area and the entire inside of the building will receive a major facelift, including the balcony, adjacent toilets and dressing-room areas. The floor of the gym hasn’t received a major make over since it was opened in 1982.

The handball alleys (2) – one with a glass wall, the other half glass wall – which staged the World championships in 2003, are also due a facelift.

“We have to be fair to our tenants, the likes of Kilkenny Basketball,” Eddie Buckley said.

Smaller works to be completed around the pitches includes the upgrading of dug-out areas, with the preferred choice to have them looking like those in the ground of Conahy Shamrocks GAA club.

“This is not about being the biggest club, or the greatest,” Eddie Buckley said. “It is about being the best, and doing the best we can for our community.”

Members of the club Development Committee are – Eddie Buckley (chairman), Nigel Leydon (club PRO), Seanie Tyrrell, Coleman Loughnane, Johnny Holohan, Michael Nolan, Luke Roche, Margaret Hanlon, Martin Brennan.