What started with an application form could turn out to be the blueprint for the future of soccer in Kilkenny.
They won’t make be the ones to make such a statement, but city club Evergreen could be the ones who change how the sport develops in the county.
And the reason for such a shift in practise might all be down to a Sports Capital Grant.
The club were approved for a financial windfall in this year’s round of grants from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, earning €100,000.
The net result from the grant is that the Kells Road outfit will be able to realise their dream and construct a full-sized FIFA Grade One artificial playing pitch.
The plans to build the pitch weren’t conjured up overnight. These seeds were sown long ago, as club chairman Peter Henebry explained.
“We started working on the whole project about five or six years ago,” he recalled. “The left side of the ground (as you look at it from the entrance) was upgraded, when the club ploughed about €60 to €70,000 into developing the third and fourth pitches.
“As the club has expanded we have more and more schoolboys teams,” he added.
“We found that Larchfield (the long-standing base of the club’s younger teams) was getting packed up so we were able to bring more teams out to the Kells Road.
“It used to be that the under-15s were the youngest schoolboy side to play at Evergreen Park; expanding the grounds allowed us to bring sides as young as the under-12s and under-13s out here.”
Money could have been spent on building a vast dressing-room complex. Instead, the club chose to focus on the nuts and bolts of their sport.
“We wanted to get more people play out here, to expose more of them to the club,” said Mr Henebry. “This artificial pitch will allow boys and girls of all ages to play football at all hours of the day and night.
“We’re not trying to increase membership or anything - we have close to 600 members at present and close to 70 mentors coaching them,” he added. “This is more about strengthening the identity of the club.
“While everyone looks on the Kells Road as being the club’s spiritual home, a lot of the children aren’t exposed to the grounds until the age of 12 or 13. This pitch will give us more of an identity, bring more club activities here.”
Building a full-sized pitch will help facilitate that, especially when you consider the numbers playing - and paying - for games.
“On any given Saturday, between 11am and 1pm, we could have up to 160 children from the ages of five and eight playing football on all-weather pitches,” the chairman said. “We’re spending over €30,000 per year renting pitches in the city, from the Loreto to Scanlon Park and Wallslough.
“Our own all-weather pitch will draw that money back in, which will augment the running of the facility, but we’d also be looking at offering it out to other sporting bodies.”
While the grant for the pitch is the first of its kind the club has received, they didn’t get it at the first time of asking.
“It was almost three years ago that we sat down and decided to go for it,” Mr Henebry recalled. “We put in our planning permission and got it, but didn’t get the grant.
“We decided to bide our time and wait for the next application of grants, which came up earlier this year. By that time we had a substantial application drafted from the last version. The main drivers and designers of the application were (club members) Niall O’Callaghan and Shane Daly, who worked on the finer details of the project.
“It was quite a substantial application,” he added. “The hours that were put in were incredible, but that only covered the initial grant. A lot of background work was done to make sure everything was in order.
“A big part of the planning process was asking other community groups to buy into the concept,” he continued. “It wouldn’t have been possible with the support of other community groups in Kilkenny, who have said they’ll use the pitch if it was built.”
Providing that facility for the sporting community will be a boost to the club but there could be a greater spin-off success for Evergreen, something they looked for when making their home on the Kells Road.
“Having everyone train at Evergreen Park means the players’ identity with the club will set in a little earlier,” the chairman said. “It will also allow us to keep a close eye on the coaching and activities taking place within the four walls of Evergreen.
“We have a lot of great volunteers and parents who come to coach (‘you could have 20 young lads running after 25 footballs in very different directions!’ he said with a smile) but what we want to do is bring coaching to a level where we have specific coaches at the youngest levels.”
The long-term goal may see the club adopt a coaching strategy which all of its teams follow, but the first target will be to start work on the first full size FIFA-approved artificial pitch in Kilkenny.
“The €100,000 won’t build you a FIFA-grade pitch, but we have other plans in place,” Mr Henebry finished. “There will be fund-raisers as we go along the stages of the build. We’re looking at March or April next year as a start date, hopefully to have to completed for September 2015.”
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