Connacht GAA hope to have what they claim is the biggest sports air dome of its kind in the world open by early December. The air dome, which will be 150 metres in length by 100 metres in width, will accommodate a pitch almost the size of MacHale Park in Castlebar and will be able to host FBD Connacht League matches when it is operational with some 600 seats in its initial phase.
Connacht GAA aim to use it predominantly as the hub for their coaching and games development programmes but matches affected by adverse weather will be facilitated there, Connacht Council GAA secretary John Prenty said yesterday. It will be open to other sports too provided clearance is given from the GAA’s Central Council which has relaxed its rules towards the staging of other sports in recent months. The facility will be based on their 83-acre centre of excellence in Bekan just outside Ballyhaunis and just a few miles from Knock where a regional airport was built in the 1980s that many thought at the time was unnecessary.
The air dome for Gaelic games may draw some similar reaction now in places but Prenty outlined yesterday that the facility will be debt-free with €2.1 million already pledged by the Department of Rural and Community development’s €1 billion fund. The rest of the project will be resourced from GAA funds and relevant philanthropic funds, Prenty said. “It’s the biggest sporting dome in the world and the biggest indoor facility in the country, we think. It will be a huge boost to the Association in Connacht,” he stated.
“It will have a full-size pitch, a gym and eventually a running track. We can play FBD Connacht League games, minor league games, any kind of a schools game. “We had 1,500 school games played here last year. Some were played in bad conditions. “They can all be accommodated in this. But the main focus will be on coaching and games development,” he said.
When the dome is raised, it will cost in the region of €400 per month to keep inflated, Prenty estimated. Connacht Council officials visited a similar facility in Finland as part of a fact-finding mission.
At a presentation yesterday, it was revealed that the only facility of its kind that is bigger is used for recycling in South Korea.The cost of the project is estimated to be at around €3 million and work will begin in early June, it is hoped, with a planned completion date in late November. “We’d hope that construction will take around five months,” Prenty said.