Back in 1978 John Lockes GAA club made a very courageous decision to move out of their home in the Fair Green, Callan, which is a commonage willed to the people of Callan by the Annelly Estate Executors back in the time.
It is still a commonage, in the proprietorship of nobody, where development is not possible. Encouraged by the iconic Fr Jack Kennedy and his then curate, Fr Liam Dunne, the club officers paid over €4,000 per acre for an 11-acre field with a daunting slope.
Agricultural land at the time was not making €1,100 per acre. With utter determination the men of the day went about developing a playing complex that was upsides with the best available in most other grounds.
The playing area was levelled, drained, fenced, a stand-of sorts-was erected, dressing rooms built and a revolutionary tunnel from the dressing rooms to pitch side was also built.
With an unbelievable effort from the club memebership and friends the project was officially opened one year ahead of schedule by Cork President of the GAA, Con Murphy in 1983. The entire project was paid for in full, at a figure of less than €200,000.
Decision to upgrade
Fast forward a boys to men generation of John Lockes foot soldiers.
A decision to upgrade was made. The early soldiers, or most, have gone to their Eternal Rewards. A new battalion of recruits are in situ. Younger, more vibrant, adventurous, courageous and probably more modernistic, they are the new breed of John Lockes adventurers.
They too decided to reinvent and relocate in a sense. Gaelic games are changing. Developments are changing, but the ethos remains sacrosanct.
The club believes it must change. Most clubs are going through the process. Younger people with young ideas, and invariably far more academically qualified, are taking up the cudgel of improvement.
They are not frightened by the demands. Neither are they terrified by the financial demands. Get the job done, and we will address the payment culture in time seems to be their mantra.
The young warriors of John Lockes took on the challenge, and the club now has a super development that will take it well into the next 50 years. A new two-storey clubhouse contains four huge ball alley sized dressing rooms.
They each have their own servicing units like toilets and showering facilities to accommodate over 30 players simultaneously. There are public toilets for patrons on the exterior of the building, which includes a toilet for the disabled.
There is a shop, state of the art referee’s room, an emergency ground-floor meeting room and a control room.
The upper floor is dominated by a huge general-purpose room, which will be utilised for many purposes, including social meetings, a part gymnasium, multi usage for local club issues like bridge, dance classes, special events and so on.
There is a fully-stocked fitted kitchen and service area on the peripheral of the general room. The room has a brilliant panaromic vista of the redeveloped pitch, and certainly could double as a commentary, media centre. The large room is serviced with a telephone, broadband facility.
The real jewel in the development is the enclosed astro-turf arena, which has four mass concrete 20 foot walls. It is illuminated by eight high-powered halogen lamps. The astroturf is a two-inch high fiber, rubber based membrane.
All walls double in usage as ball walls. Measuring a very substantial 38 metres by 24 metres, the astro-turf arena is readily available for use by any sporting organisation, day or night, young or not so at reasonable negotiable rates.
The entire complex offers a wide-ranging combination of facilities that would have endless possibilities. There are superb changing facilities combined with a running/walking track around the perimeter of the newly developed pitch, added to the use of the astro-turf arena.
Easy to see why the John Lockes have a very usable multi-purpose package that would suit so many levels of the locality. Speaking of the pitch development, the club were forced to push their existing pitch some 15 metres further back to facilitate the new development.
That entailed building up the lower end from a 15 foot drop zone. The expense piled up and up. The club never faltered from the original ambition.
New ball nets were erected, with one of them reaching a hard to credit 35 metres high. New players dug outs were purchased, and a brand new railing was erected around the perimeter of the playing area.
The huge build was contracted to Kilkenny operatives, with the architect being from down around the south of the county - Brian Dunlop. Ormonde Construction was the main construction engineers.
Shay Power (Windgap) did all of the work involved with the pitch development, the viewing banks and the entrances. The entire cost of the development came in at a whopping €1.1-million.
To the soldiers of ‘78-’83 that would be viewed as a bridge too far. But to the present incumbents of the same positions, it is viewed as a challenge, a serious challenge, but one that is not impossible.
These are courageous men. They are determined and focussed. It is a big ask.
Their fund-raising started before a block was laid. The effort has not waned in any form.
The courage and focus is still rock solid. It needs to be. The support from the Callan people has been nothing but heroically generous.
This is potentially a brilliant facility for the town, the youth of the town, the schools of the town. Plenty of good for the town must accrue.