Connacht Hockey’s “Misneach Le Cheile” campaign gathered pace this week with Canadian-Irish automation software company, SmartSimple Software, coming on board as the first corporate sponsor to step in to support the campaign for access to much-needed facilities.
It is among a number of positive inroads with preliminary plans to get a first club up and running in Mayo getting under way.
And representatives from Connacht Hockey were among a group from Doughiska, Roscam and Ardaun who are meeting Minister for Sport Jack Chambers last Friday. They are part of a multi-sport proposal and believe a 2G turf could be a centrepiece of the proposal and can have much wider benefits.
European Hockey Federation President Marijke Fleuren has also personally taken up the case, writing to Minster Catherine Martin to push for improved facilities.
The western branch recently launched the €1 million campaign, calling for equal opportunities to access sports facilities for their community, other minority sports and Women in Sport.
The catalyst for the movement was the planned and confirmed removal of the suitable playing surface at Oranmore Village, a decision taken by the Board of the Oranmore Community Development Group.
The community decided now is the time to fight for access to correct facilities, other sports are well catered for ahead of minority sports in the region and the sport is being left behind.
Since the 2018 World Cup silver medal and last year’s Olympic qualification, the five clubs in Galway have been inundated with requests from young girls to take up the sport.
But while interest is at its highest, the ability to cater for them has become markedly more acute with the recent decision to replace the Oranmore astroturf pitch from 2G to a 3G surface, unusable from a hockey perspective.
It follows the loss of a full-size pitch in 2013 in Mervue which was replaced by a 3G turf, taking away the ability for Connacht to host tournaments like intervarsities.
And now the problem is even more acute. It means over 200 newcomers will likely be turned away this season with just NUIG’s Dangan pitch on the west side of the city serving five clubs – Renmore, Kinvara, Galway, NUIG and Greenfields. The nearest other pitches in the province are in Athlone and Sligo.
“Facilities affect everyone,” Connacht Hockey’s Aisling Keogh explains. “Dangan is now saturated with five clubs using it. The overspill was going to Oranmore before. Without it, everyone is fighting for pitch time. We can’t run fundamental coaching courses; we can’t develop our umpires.
“If you have an EY Hockey League game, we have to take time away from junior girls on Saturday. They are just told, ‘sorry’. There is a knock-on everywhere.
“Then you have Kinvara who have 200 members and more knocking on the door and they have to turn them away. Renmore is the same as well as the other clubs and they have to just say ‘sorry, we have no space’.”
Young Kinvara members Alanna Huban and Zoe Rodgers took the cause, hand-delivering letters to the door of Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in Dublin to plead their case.
They are part of a multi-sport proposal and believe a 2G turf could be a centrepiece of the proposal and can have much wider benefits.
Indeed, their proposal is a more progressive one overall, believing that Ireland needs to get out of the cycle of individual clubs and organisations scrabbling and competing for grants. Instead, a focus on clusters of sports facilities – as happens in many European cities – in strategic areas would benefit more people and more sports.
“With the amount of 3G pitches going down, they are mostly secondary facilities for soccer, GAA and rugby. If only one in ten were 2G and could be used for hockey as well as these other sports, it would be massive.
“It’s not just about a hockey pitch but minority sports in general who are being left behind. We’re putting it out there for all minority sports. But we are not going to give up until we have got a pitch!”
As for the sponsorship, Brendan Bradley, Managing Director of SmartSimple Software’s Dublin based office said: “The entire SmartSimple team is delighted to support Women in Sport and equal opportunities for accessing facilities in the community.
“We believe it’s important that both girls and boys in the Region have the same opportunity to stay active, build self-confidence and develop their skills and talents, all in a suitable space open to all.
“Connacht Hockey’s campaign aligns well with our over five-year membership to the Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion,” Mr. Bradley continued, “Inclusivity is a deeply important value of our team and how our software helps our clients to connect and empower their communities, so we stand strongly behind gender equality in sport”.
** To donate to the campaign, visit Connacht Hockey’s GoFundMe page today at https://gf.me/u/ym5vmk