Hurlers from the Ballina Stephenites and Moytura GAA clubs pictured in the Connacht GAA Air Dome.
Hurlers from the Ballina Stephenites and Moytura GAA clubs pictured in the Connacht GAA Air Dome. 

Connacht GAA Air Dome bringing hurling to new heights

By Martin Fogarty

In my role as National Hurling Development Manager, I have paid numerous visits to Connacht over the past number of years. One 'standing order' usually at this time of year (October/November) was an outdoor coaching workshop in each of Roscommon, Mayo and Sligo/Leitrim.

The running joke between myself and coaching colleagues Damien Coleman (Connacht), Proinsias Killion (Roscommon), Adrian Hession (Mayo) and Darragh Cox (Sligo/Leitrim) was how many sets of rain gear and how many layers of insulation I would need for the trip!

We figured we would be lucky if it "only snowed”. Such was the weather sometimes that the Sligo hurling people were going to name a storm after me! On one particular visit to Mayo when Adrian Hession took me on tour, I got soaked three times in the same day and for the main event later that evening I had to choose the “least wet” of my three sets of gear.

Happily, those days are in the past (if only!) as recently I experienced what could only be described as a coaching highlight of my career. I was deeply honoured to have the opportunity to coach in the magnificent facility that is the Air Dome in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence. To describe this as a world class facility would not come near to doing it justice and what a wonderful occasion it was.

A full pitch, covered and even heated for us (to make up for all the previous exposures to the elements) was the setting. A seating capacity for 600, I believe, meant that our largest attendance at such an event yet, looked like the crowd at a minor All Ireland in Croke Park, a large crowd but when spaced out in such a large stadium looked like the stadium was empty. We had I believe almost 200 coaches from the four counties in attendance but when spread out at a safe distance, for covid purposes along the side-lines and seated area one could just dream of three or four thousand people gathered around for a key game and the atmosphere it would create.

Provincial secretary, John Prenty, and Connacht Games Manager, Cathal Cregg, gave us a wonderful reception and the coaching went on for ninety minutes where the focus of the evening was looking at the essential elements of hurling coaching, with emphasis on the great need to master the basics or essentials of Rising & Catching, Hooking & Blocking, Striking & Handpassing and First Touch.

The Coláiste Pobail Acla hurlers from Achill Island pictured in the Connacht GAA Air Dome. 
The Coláiste Pobail Acla hurlers from Achill Island pictured in the Connacht GAA Air Dome. 

Martin Kennedy, who is newly appointed to the game’s development staff in Croke Park, was also in attendance and took the opportunity to liaise with clubs and coaches. Martin’s role will involve coach and player development, and everyone looks forward to him bringing his great experience to our clubs and coaches. Martin has huge experience, having been involved with both Dublin Hurlers and Footballers as well as a long spell as National Talent Athletic Development Lead with the IRFU.

The session was made extra special with the participation of Mayo’s two new teams, Ballina and Moytura. Both clubs fielded at Junior level this year after an absence of many years. This is a sign of the ever-increasing interest in hurling in Mayo and is testament to the hard work of Games Promotion Officer Adrian Hession and many other people. Hurling needs more clubs in all these counties and when one notes that two new teams also participated in Fermanagh this year the signs are good for hurling.

One player in a tweet after the session said it was “his best ever sporting occasion” so that is a great summary of the night we had in Bekan!

Earlier on in the day I was privileged to assist Damien Coleman and Adrian Hession in coaching another brand-new hurling unit. Coláiste Pobail Acla (Achill Island) have just commenced hurling and they were granted a session in the Dome to further encourage their interest in our national game. They were all quite happy to make the four-hour round-trip to get the opportunity to play in this wonderful facility and their enthusiasm was infectious.

I’m not sure if any of them had to row a boat to get over like the legendary footballer Mick O’ Connell had to do from his home on Valentia Island to play with Kerry. If so, then that would certainly cover the S&C part of their programme! Again, the session, expertly conducted by Damien and Adrian, emphasised the importance of mastering the basics.

So, what does the future hold for hurling in the developing counties? Well, with facilities such as in the Connacht Centre of Excellence it can just be onwards and upwards. Five full sized floodlight Prunty Pitches (we met Mr. Prunty also) and a full sized floodlight Astro pitch were phenomenal facilities already, but the addition of the Air Dome is just mind blowing so a massive congratulations to all involved in its development.

Finally, it does not always rain in Connacht, just in Winter like everywhere else. To play our native game looking over at Benbulben or down at Our Lady’s shrine in Knock, not to mention places like Easkey or Westport is a wonderful privilege indeed. To the coaches in these and other counties, keep up the wonderful work you are all doing. We look forward to having a few pucks out on Achill Island in the not too distant future (weather permitting).