Donegal chairman Sean Dunnion at the Donegal Training Centre
Another milestone was reached in recent weeks on the biggest infrastructural project that has ever been undertaken by Donegal GAA.
That is the county’s new Training Centre on the Broad Road, Convoy.
Formerly known as the county’s Centre of Excellence, but county officials now prefer to refer to it as the County Training Centre.
The milestone was the playing of the first football game on the third of the four pitches which have been developed on the 26 acre site.
The fourth and final of the pitches developed on the site is ready and is expected to be open for use early in the new year.
Two of the pitches, which are both floodlit, are up and in operation for a number years and are used by county teams including seniors, U-21 minor, U-16 and development squads in both hurling and football.
Donegal Ladies, at all levels, have also trained at the facility. However, this is a well aired bone of contention with Donegal Ladies GAA officials.
There is also room on the site for a fifth full side playing area. A 4G floodlit playing area was in the initial plans when the site was purchased back in 2008.
But those plans have been shelved for now due to cost constraints and are now very much on the long finger.
Another major phase of the development is the building of new clubrooms and a suite of dressing rooms.
The clubrooms finally to be built on the site is a much scaled down on the initial plans drawn up when the site was first published.
“We are delighted to have reached the stage where we are ready to submit the plans for our new clubrooms/dressing rooms at the Centre,” Sean Dunnion, told last Sunday’s Donegal annual Convention in Donegal Town.
“A huge amount of work went in over the last 12 months to come up with a building that is fit for purpose.
“We went back and re-designed it and we are very happy with the final outcome of the design.”
The new building is over two floors and will house seven dressing room, a medical room and toilets downstairs.
And upstairs will be home to administrative rooms, a large hall for meetings and a gymnasium.
“We feel it is going to be a functional building and will cater for all our needs.”
The building has a price tag of in the region of €1.5 million and it is hoped to have it complete and fully functional by the third quarter in 2018.
“The aim is to go to planning by the end of the year. The plans are ready; it is just a matter of submitting them at this stage,” the chairman insisted.
“From the time the plans are submitted until you get a decision is an eight week period.
“So all going well and planning is granted we would hope to be going to tender by the end of March or early April at the latest.
“This hopefully, again all going well, would see work get underway in the third quarter of next year (2017).
12 months to build
“They are telling us as well to allow 12 months for building so this would take us to the third quarter in 2018 for completion.”
Funding of €550,000 is already in place made up of €250,000 from Croke Park and €300,000 from the Sports Capital grant.
This leaves a balance of in the region of €1 million the Donegal board are going to have to raise and in the next two years.
“It is a massive project and we are under no illusion to the task that is facing us.
“But we are going to sit down at the beginning of the new year and draw up our financial plan for the project and this will include fundraising initiatives to finance the project.”
Donegal senior footballers have taken up a long-standing invite to New York in recent weeks. And Rory Gallagher is to take his senior squad to the Big Apple for two challenge/friendly games against New York, who by then will have begun their preparations for the Connacht championship.
“We will certainly be using that trip to network and form friendships with Donegal exiles living in New York and the East coast.
“But we will be calling on Donegal people, and especially Donegal GAA supporters both at home and abroad, to support our fundraising initiatives whatever they may be so that we can maintain our place among the top counties in the country.
“If we don’t provide the facilities and have the right environment for our players into the future will won’t be able to compete to the level we are currently at.”
Somewhere between €2.6 and €2.8 million is believed to have been spent on the development so far and that includes the €1.25 million paid for the land.
€2.6 million spent so far
“The last figure I saw was €2.45 million and was one I used in a presentation in November 2015. And pitches three and four have been completed since, though a good deal of work was done on them at that stage,” the chairman told the Democrat, this week.
“I’d say we are looking at a spend of something in the region of €2.6 million rather than €2.8 million,” he added.
Croke Park has funded the project to the tune of €1.25 million with €250,000 earmarked for the new clubhouse and dressing rooms.
The €250,000 was extra and as a result of Donegal raising €125,000. This was during Grace Boyle’s time as treasurer.A fundraising drive in 2015 also raised in the region of €160,000.
In addition to the Croke Park grant the development so far has been paid for by a bank loan of €750,000 and a loan from Croke Park of €240,000 plus the board's own resources.
“The €750,000 bank loan was for the purchase of the land and the €240,000 was for development work on the site. Those loans have another three years to run.
It has been a long hard slog to get to the stage where the county had four full size playing pitches, two of them floodlit.
Officials have received much criticism for the slow place of the development in recent years.
But Donegal was unfortunate in that they purchased at the height of the boom and just before the collapse of the Irish economy.
It hasn’t been easy to raise finance over the last six years during one of the worst ever recessions ever experienced in the country.
Part of the delay, too, was due to the architects of the initial clubroom going into liquidation and new architects had to be found.
The final phase of the development is to erect fencing around one of the floodlit pitches and the erection of a small covered spectator stand; the development of a 100 metre by 35 metre sand based training area for heavy winter training and the tarmacing of the carpark and around the clubrooms.
But those plans are down the road. The focus now is on the much needed clubrooms and dressing rooms to replace the existing portacabins.