On Monday evening at Erin’s Isle GAA Club in Finglas, there are three training sessions underway and two of the teams are women.

A ladies’ Gaelic football team is practising kicks.

A team of senior hurlers sprint up and down in helmets, and a Gaelic 4 Mothers and Others training session is also underway.

There is huge demand lately from women and girls, says Erin’s Isle chairperson Paul Campbell. “Ladies’ football and camogie is going gangbusters,” he says. “If there is a new team each year, you have to find space for them and we struggle.”

Erin’s Isle has five grass pitches, a small all-weather pitch, a clubhouse and a bar.

But with 2,000 members on 76 teams, facilitating training in winter gets very complicated, says Campbell. “The big elephant in the room is the winter months.”

Nowadays, the GAA kicks off in February when the grass pitches aren’t playable. So the club has to prioritise the top-performing teams for 45-minute training sessions on the all-weather pitch.

Booking all-weather pitches elsewhere takes major coordination too – and there are major costs. The club charges just €25 a year for a child’s membership, he says.

“You have to be cognisant of where we are from,” says Campbell. “There is a big mix of people in different social and economic circumstances.”

Around the corner, Rivermount Boys FC faces a similar dilemma. “It’s hard to keep things moving when the weather turns bad,” says chairperson Rory Maher.

Around four years ago, Dublin City Council committed to providing an all-weather pitch for the clubs to share, say both Maher and Cambpell. The council added the plan to its capital programme for 2020 to 2022, assigning funding of €1.2 million.

Since then though, “it’s been excuses after excuses going on for three or four years”, says Maher.

In the new capital programme, for 2022 to 2024, the pitch appears but it is now grouped together with four other projects, and the total funding assigned for all of them is €1.5 million.

The club’s concern is that the plan has been demoted, or perhaps relegated.

“No one told us why,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan, who is also a member of Erin’s Isle, and tabled a motion on the issue in June. “It’s very frustrating.”

What was promised?

In 2017, Erin’s Isle started campaigning to try to get a full-size all-weather GAA pitch, says Campbell. “A big sporting club is screaming out for a facility and we have made a very justifiable case that we need it.”

At first, the council seemed to say yes, he said. “The promise was that you would fit a full-size GAA pitch and then you would have two soccer pitches going across.”

Back in 2017, the estimated cost was around €820,000, whereas now six years on, he reckons it will cost around €1.5 million, he says.

Erin’s Isle and Rivermount FC got together and started a limited company, Finglas Sporting Alliance, to share the all-weather pitch.

The plan was to make it available to other clubs and to the local schools, says Campbell. “This was going to be a community project.”

There are five local schools with no pitches or green space, he says.

“There is not a lot for kids to do around here and that is the problem,” says Maher. “We are trying to keep kids off the streets.”

Erin’s Isle provides a vital amenity for young people, says Campbell. “Go round there on a Saturday, the place is absolutely rocking.”

What happened to the plan?

At first, Erin’s Isle wanted to put the all-weather pitch at their current location. Rivermount’s clubhouse is around the corner too.

The new Luas line will intersect some of the existing pitches though, so the council officials recommended Tolka Valley Park, instead, says Campbell.

That was fine too, says Maher, but then there were issues with bat surveys and geese surveys and of course, there was Covid-19. He hasn’t heard anything from the council about it in over a year, he says.

Campbell says the latest thing he heard is that the pitch won’t fit on the site because it’s not wide enough.

At a recent council meeting for the North West Area, Connaghan tabled a motion calling on the council manager to “put a plan in place for the proposed Tolka Valley Park all weather facility as soon as possible to ensure when funding is provided that the project is ready to start immediately”.

He says he has been told lots of things over the years about the project, but he was never previously told that a full-size GAA pitch wouldn’t fit in that location.

He has now requested a written report on the progress towards delivering the pitch, he says. He expects it at the next area committee meeting.

Campbell says he can’t understand how the project was fully funded in the old capital programme but no longer appears to be. “How has it fallen out now?”

An official council response to Connaghan’s motion says that there are a number of all-weather pitches proposed in the area. “As Kildonan Park all-weather pitch is at an advanced stage of planning this has priority,” says the council response.

Once that is completed the council can redirect resources towards progressing the planning permission proposal for the Tolka Valley Park all-weather, it says.

“Parks services have recently procured a framework for the installation of all-weather pitches, which will inevitably fast track the construction stage of this proposal once approved,” says the council response.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond before publication to queries sent on 29 June, including what happened to the funds assigned to the Tolka Valley Park all-weather in the 2020 to 2022 capital programme, and why this project cannot proceed at the same time as the all-weather pitch in Kildonan.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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