WITH over 500 members and 22 teams playing competitive football in the Cork Leagues, adequate training facilities are vital and for Blarney United.
They continue to progress as a club, both on and off the pitch, and their new top-class astro-pitch was badly needed said club chairman Cormac Hayes.
“The club simply could not function in its current form without this surface,” said Hayes.
“The original pitch was opened in 2007, but we had exhausted its use by 2019.”
The club and soccer community definitely got value for money out of that investment so, in reality, the current astro project was less of a choice and more of a necessity.
“Had the FAI plans to switch to calendar football come to pass, we may have been had some decisions to make, but through a winter-based season, and with 22 teams competing across the various leagues, MSL, CYL, CSL, CWSSL and an active academy of about 300 children, the availability of a playing surface is vital.
“There is also the added challenge of expectation, when you’ve had top-class facilities for a long time it becomes the expectation, desire and standard for the club to maintain if not develop further and the club were determined to maintain those standards.
“The overall timing of the project is probably not ideal, there’s a lot of uncertainty around and it’s hard to gauge how people are affected by the current health challenges.
“In the end, our vocal and determined coaches had a major influence on making the decision to move ahead and they were right; we are getting some fantastic support from the current members, friends, family, former players, and I want to call out the club’s main sponsor, Paddy and Lisa O’Leary of SuperValu Tower, all of whom are helping to make this a financially sustainable project.
“We have selected locally-based firm Hourihan Sports Field Devolvement to complete the project. It’s a hybrid dual fibre carpet with blended filaments sitting on a 10 mm runner shock pad. The infill for the playing surface is a mix of sand and rubber. The shock pad layer under the carpet acts much like underlay for a carpet at home and has a lifespan of 25 years.
“This additional investment will improve the playing experience underfoot for players but also help to increase the life span of the carpet itself. The club must maintain certification and we aim to get at least 12 years out of this new surface. All artificial surfaces have a life span depending on usage, quality, location, sport, and so on.”
The club has 22 teams participating in the leagues, from U12 to senior, boys, and girls.
“We have a large and active academy section U6 to U11 who participate in the non-competitive small-sided games organised by Eddie Doyle in the CSL. All up we have about 500 players and 70 club members involved in coaching, managing, admin, and committees so it’s a sizeable operation, probably one of the larger rural clubs going.
“In truth, we could probably do with another playing surface; the demand is very strong and with Tower and Blarney being part of the strategic development strategy for the city, we can expect that demand to continue.
“By day, the club’s facilities are utilised by the Cork ETB and the FAI in the delivery of their player development and child welfare courses. They have access to our pitches and the clubhouse offices and rooms for the administrative and academic aspects of running their courses. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, and we hope to maintain that relationship long into the future.”
While the club’s facilities continue to develop, so too has the quality of players and, for Hayes, that is down to the hard-working coaches and volunteers, as well as the players.
“The real value of all sporting codes; the physical and mental benefits, have really been brought home this year. We are fortunate to have committed members and coaches and everyone’s aim is to keep life as normal as possible. Our teams have been performing strongly for a few years now.
“Our seniors are continuing to fight for promotion to the Munster Senior League Premier Division under Brian Murray and his management team, while our juniors have turned a corner under new management of Sean Ó Suilleabhain and Derek Daly.
“This year sees a return to the U19 Cork Youth League and we have a very strong squad competing here, a mixture of the U17 National Cup winning team of 2019 with some excellent players that have come through from our Division 1 U18 side last year.
“Throughout our youth and schoolboys teams, we have talented teams and coaches doing the club proud.
“Our U17s have reached the Gussie Walsh Cup final while our U16 premier team are topping the table. We have good sides and good competition for places at all levels and we are optimistic about the future competitiveness of the club.”
Hayes began his involvement with the club at the age of 10, and although had a brief spell with Leeds, he returned to the club and has been a driving force ever since.
Although his reign as chairman will end this season, he is looking forward to continue his work as a volunteer with the club, aspiring to follow Midleton and Everton in obtaining the FAI Club Mark status to help build a consistent framework so that future club executives have a template to use.