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Dunsilly training complex is a huge lift for Antrim

McNaughton, Fitzsimons say new £4m home can drive Saffrons on

By Declan Bogue

Published 15/10/2016

New surroundings: County Antrim chairman Collie Donnelly has a look around the new Dunsilly training complex, which features three full-size pitches and changing rooms
New surroundings: County Antrim chairman Collie Donnelly has a look around the new Dunsilly training complex, which features three full-size pitches and changing rooms

Stemming from a chance conversation between Tommy Crilly of the St Comghall's club and the then Antrim county board chairman Dr John McSparran, Antrim are now set to open a training facility they hope will propel them into the big time.

The Director-General of the GAA, Paraic Duffy, will today open the multi-million pound complex in Dunsilly. It consists of three full-size playing fields and changing rooms.

For Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton, one of the newly-appointed hurling management team, it will make a huge difference.

"From an Antrim manager's point of view, it is absolutely fantastic to have that facility," said the former All Star.

"One of the nightmares of being a manager is phoning around every club looking for a ground to train on, and you can spend hours on the phone trying to get a pitch."

On November 1, the Antrim footballers are allowed to resume training for the Dr McKenna Cup and after that, the Division Three National League campaign.

Manager Frankie Fitzsimons is delighted to have a home that the Saffrons can call their own.

"We will be using it as soon as we start back at the weekends," he enthused.

"I am sure the lads from the country will appreciate having training closer to their home bases! It saves taking them into the city all the time.

"This means you will have all your development squads and probably your county senior footballers and hurlers all at the same venue as there are three pitches ready to go."

All of this has not come cheap.

The land purchase alone came to close to £2million and with construction costs and everything factored in, it just topples over the £4million mark for their three full-sized pitches and the changing rooms.

However, the project has had significant help from various bodies.

The GAA at Central level and the Ulster Council came in with a donation of £1.8million. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure pledged £800,000 and Sport NI granted £240,000 towards the construction of the first pitch on the site.

And yet Dunsilly came about as a result of difficulties in gaining planning permission at another site purchased beside Randalstown.

The club in Antrim town, St Comghall's, were also floating the idea of investing in some land, but passed the Dunsilly site on to the county board for consideration.

The first task was to develop the pitches, but as then county chairman McSparran explains, it wasn't a project without a hitch or two.

"When the land was first purchased, the land was just agricultural ground. There wouldn't have been any difficulty in doing any work or alterations to it, a farmer could have taken away a hedge or something like that," he said.

"But before we did any of that, we sought planning permission. And then they brought in all sorts of archaeological experts, the wildlife people and so on, which created an awful difficulty."

While the development of the Dunsilly site is an obvious boon to Antrim, they are merely catching up with other counties that have dedicated training facilities, such as Tyrone's Garvaghey, Monaghan's Cloghan, Fermanagh's Lissan and Derry's Owenbeg.

"The potential is there to do a whole lot more. The ambition is to be able to do that," McSparran added.

"We are catching up at last. It was very difficult to persuade a lot of the clubs to come on board.

"It was the cart and the horse situation. Once you get success, it is easy to come on board, but if you don't, it requires investment,and the opportunity would never exist if you didn't get that first bit of success."

What all this means in real terms is best captured by McNaughton.

He said: "It's a good news story, which has been scarce enough in Antrim over this past number of years!"

And,he says his hurlers cannot wait to get to work testing the sod.

He added: "We are like stallions tied up in the coral, we are really keen to get let loose. Throw the ball in, let's get at it!"

Belfast Telegraph

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