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Connacht Air Dome a sanctuary and a beacon for the GAA

The launch of the 2024 Connacht SFC took place in the University of Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome on Wednesday.

There are 210 clubs in the western province and it must be safe ground to suggest that the vast majority of them have by now played or trained in the venue.

With the weather so harsh over the past seven months, the Dome has been packed out every day.

But even if the weather had been more favourable it would have remained a hive of activity.

Quite simply, with its full-size GAA pitch and ability to transform into a venue for exhibitions, concerts and conferences, the Dome has become a beacon of light for the Association, especially in times of challenging weather.

It is a project that was almost 10 years ahead of its time in terms of finances and approach to sustainability.

Extensive research some years ago first led Connacht GAA to conclude that the optimal choice for the site and Bekan was an inflatable airdome and in late 2018, the province was among the first round of successful applicants for the Department of Rural and Community Development’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.

In that fund Minister Michael Ring announced an award of €2.1m towards the construction of an air dome.

Central GAA funds presented the province with €700,000 while the Council themselves added another €300,00.

For a project that cost €3.1m, it is estimated that the current cost would be almost three times as much due to inflation and other economic factors.

Construction on the project began in October 2019 and nine months later, the largest sports air dome in the world was inflated.

A naming rights partnership with the University of Galway was later agreed for the venue that boasts a full-size indoor pitch, running track, fully equipped gym and portable stand.

Within 72 hours, the Dome can be transformed into a fully functional, adaptable conference arena. Capacity numbers include 2,000-plus for games and crowds of between 10,000 to 20,000 for concerts and conferences.

As inter-county players, coaches and managers from Connacht mingled with the media yesterday, children covered every area of the field inside with mini-games.

Outside ice cream vans, toilets and coffee shops catered for the visitors. Around 60% of the numbers at the venue are made up of LGFA and camogie players while an annual flagship project is Cúl Camps, with over 200 camps for boys and girls throughout the province every summer.

Connacht GAA CEO John Prenty and Operations Manager Adrian Hassett and the team welcomed 182,000 visitors in 2023.

Three events alone brought in 12,000 children to use the facilities. Spanish soccer giants Barcelona have visited with their facilities team as part of an Erasmus programme.

Connacht GAA has also worked with FA Wales and FC Porto in various sustainability programmes.

To underline its community ethos, a physio centre where people can do exercises is in operation and the prospect of providing MRI, DEXA scanner and X-Ray machines is being considered.

Galway and Roscommon in action during the 2022 FBD League final

Barcelona’s visit to Bekan was in part of their consideration of changing climatic trends.

Frequently, their teams have been forced to train in heavy downpours and other challenging weather conditions.

Just a few months ago Barcelona faced placing a ban on using showers at their temporary home stadium, Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, due to Catalonia’s severe drought.

Whilst playing there during renovations at Nou Camp, the club was told it had to ‘compensate’ for any additional water use, as warned by David Mascort, Minister of Climate Action.

Two years ago, the GAA held its annual Congress at the Dome in Bekan.

There it was revealed that the Association intended to pursue the construction of air domes in all provinces.

With the weather preventing many clubs, schools, underage, college and representative teams across all codes from playing matches and training, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the country follows Connacht GAA’s lead.

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