*Syl O’Connor, Marty Morrissey and Terence Chaplin. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
SIXMILEBRIDGE GAA CLUB officially opened their €1.2m Indoor Arena in front of a large crowd on Friday evening.
An idea that was first mooted seven years ago by former Clare minor hurling manager, Terence Chaplin was celebrated in The Bridge with the official opening of the state-of-the-art facility. The Arena is comprised of a 60×30 indoor playing facility plus a 60×20 fully lit outdoor facility and external hurling wall.
Though it is a facility that will aid Sixmilebridge in continuing to build for the future it also honours the past with a memorial plaque visible at the entrance naming several influential persons within the club that have passed on to their eternal reward.
Planning permission for the facility located beside the club’s Cappa Lodge pitch was lodged in November 2016 when Paddy Meehan was in the role of Chairman. Meehan who managed the club to win the 2002 Clare SHC is no longer involved in the club but was a central figure at the early days of the project which was certainly one of the most ambitious sporting developments in the county.
December 2021 saw Syl O’Connor elected as Chairman of the club, he had been responsible for winning the contract to construct the facility and attended his first meeting of the club back in the parochial hall in 1974.
Sod was officially turned in June 2018 when machinery entered the site and in December of that year a steel structure was put in place.
Teams entered The Arena for the first time in January 2023 with sides from U5 to senior in hurling and camogie making use of the facility. The launch of Spraoi Saturdays sees 300 plus children train on Saturdays while the parish league was held indoors for the first time in 2023.
Speaking on Friday, Syl praised the role of volunteers within the club as he flagged “a gang of helpers” were setting up The Arena at 23:40 on Thursday night in advance of the opening. “We were hoping during the week that we might end up with a crowd, it’s a huge crowd and is way beyond our expectations”. The opening was attended by up to 600 people, tallies from the club indicate.
“Some of the greatest stories ever written begam with the words ‘once upon a time’ and once upon a time at a club meeting under ‘Any Other Business’ around this time in 2016 one man (Terence Chaplin) put up his hand and asked what young players would do at the end of October onwards,” O’Connor a familiar voice as Clare FM’s main sporting commentator added. He said almost half a million euro has been generated by the club in fundraising for The Arena with memorable events such as Strictly Come Dancing, Clare’s Fittest Family and Stars In Your Eyes helping to finance the project but also bring the club together.
When the project was initially launched, Marty Morrissey was the special guest, “In 2016 he came all the way down from Dublin and went back home just for the launch,” Syl said. He outlined that the RTÉ broadcaster wouldn’t take a cent for his contribution, instead as an act of goodwill he was put in the lotto draw for a period of months and emerged as a weekly winner on four occasions.
Co parish priest, Fr Damien Nolan in his blessing remarked, “let yellow cards and red cards be few and none” when it comes to hurling in the facility. As he concluded the prayer, a shout of ‘Up the Bridge’ echoed out across The Arena from one underage player.
Eoin Gavin, Chairman of the Sixmilebridge underage club said “it is great to be here at last”. He believed the facility served as “a great step forward”. He recounted that over the bad weather in the past month on one particular evening conditions were so bad that he maintained the U16 hurlers were “the only team across the country” able to train due to the Arena.
Chairman of Sixmilebridge Camogie Club, Tom Healy said with 313 members they are “very proud to be the largest camogie club in the county” and that the Arena will assist in their development.
Mayor of Clare, Cllr Cooney stated, “the arena is a symbol of how a club can harness the energy of a club and community to benefit the area for a long time to come”. He added, “this development delivered in 2023 is a credit to everyone involved and a credit to this community”.
During his involvement with the club’s U14 teams in 2015 and 2016 with championship commencing at the end of March, access to pitches was always an issue, Chaplin explained. He said the construction of The Arena is a sign that The Bridge “want to go on further”. Secretary of the club, Adrian Hogan remarked, “the club will never stand still”.
Addressing the crowd, Marty Morrissey highlighted in December it will be forty years since I commentated on Sixmilebridge’s Munster club win, “I did an interview then with a man who was a hero in my eyes, Sean Stack”. He admitted that he was not a fan of the split season model. The RTÉ commentator added, “Fifteen Clare senior hurling championships and three Munster clubs, you are Sixmilebridge and you are a benchmark for everyone else in this county, so often you lead on the field and now you are leading off the field”.
Morrissey concluded, “Sixmilebridge is the greatest parish in Co Clare, apart from Kilmurry Ibrickane”.