Belfast Telegraph

Amateur League: Abbey Villa over the moon as new ground is on the way

By Martin Mawhinney

Six years after their unforgettable Border Cup win, Abbey Villa are celebrating once more, as the first spade is planted towards their brand new training surface today.

It has been an eventful few years for the Millisle men, who scaled the heights of Premier Division promotion in 2008. They also reached the Irish Cup sixth round in the previous season, before their narrow escape from relegation to Division 1B in 2012.

To some, it may have appeared that Villa were a long way off ever repeating those feats achieved under brothers Graham and Mark Bailie, but the injection of a £258k investment into Adams Park is likely to cement a bright future for not only the club itself, but also the community it serves.

Part-funded by Sport Northern Ireland, the new 70m x40m 3G pitch and floodlit facility will most likely host training sessions for the Amateur League Division 1A side, and is also expected to be widely used by other clubs, schools, community groups and individuals from across the Ards Borough.

Abbey Villa have punched above their weight with their contribution of £33,675, while the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), through Sport Northern Ireland, have invested £245k.

The latest funding is in addition to a £35k Energy Efficiency Grant which the Big Lottery awarded Villa for their club house and social club; facilities originally set up in 1992 and in need of the updating to reduce energy costs and their carbon footprint.

Delighted Abbey Villa secretary Conrad Kirkwood can’t wait to see the result of the work that is due to be completed in January next year.

He said: “Three years ago, Abbey Villa was supported by the Irish FA on a journey to reinforce its role in the local community. This began with a Community Relations Audit and now realises the community’s dream of better access to better facilities.

“Club members have worked tirelessly to bring this project to Millisle and would like to acknowledge the support of Sport Northern Ireland, Ards Borough Council and local elected political representatives.

“The games area will not only provide a good training area for the 13 adult and youth teams at Abbey Villa but will provide a much needed training and recreational facility in an ideal location on the Ards Peninsula. It is not only suitable for soccer but also for a range of other sporting activities.

“The club hopes to set in place a Midnight Soccer programme later in the year. This diversionary tactic would provide an alternative for young people who might otherwise get involved in anti-social behaviour.”

Chief Executive of Sport Northern Ireland, Antoinette McKeown said: “Sport Northern Ireland is delighted to get behind this project, and the facility will be a great benefit to everyone in the community.

“Introducing the midnight soccer initiative into the community is an excellent and innovative example of how sport can be used to address social issues and to provide positive experiences for young people in the communities where they are most needed, fostering good relations.”

The games area not only provides an outlet for organised team sports but also provides an opportunity for greater participation in sport to promote an opportunity to the community to get more active and improve their health and well-being.

Abbey Villa will continue to play their home games on the main pitch beside their forthcoming training surface, but next week manager TJ Young takes them on a tricky trip to St Pat’s YM, who they will need to overcome if they want to reach the third round of this year’s Border Cup.

Other standout ties in this year’s second round see red-hot Derriaghy CC host Drumaness Mills, Larne Tech OB travel to Crumlin Star and Comber Rec welcome Dromara Village to Park Way for a tasty all-Premier Division clash.

See our fixtures section for the full list of this weekend’s games.

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