Collooney handball club celebrate opening of its 40 x 20 handball court
The Collooney handball club will celebrate another major milestone in their 86 year history with the opening of their new 40 x 20 court on Friday 29th August next, writes Michael McGee.
The club has a rich history. In 1928 the then Chairman Alfie Higgins a signal man on the Midland Railway & Secretary WP McElroy approached the land owners the Cooper Family of Markree Castle who kindly donated a plot of ground on the Fairgreen.
At the official opening that year Joe & Paddy Bergin who had local connections and were residing in Tipperary played Jim Hunt & Eddie Perry from Sligo. Others who played included Joe Lane, Guard Cunnion from Ballintogher, Jim & Mickey O’Rourke from Ballisodare.
The Club has seen many changes along the way.
In 1996/97 the height of the walls was extended to 27ft and the installing of a new floor. Dressing rooms were added in 1999.The old galvanised roof was replaced in 2001 with a modern roof. With the added facilities Collooney hosted many Connacht handball championships matches and a number of All-Ireland semi-finals & finals.
The idea of a 40 x 20 handball court was first mooted in 2007 by Paddy Walsh, & Stanley Harte club stalwarts and others who were coaching the young players in Collooney.
McGarry’s midas touch
And with that the idea firmly ingrained in Development Chairman Hugh McGarry mind the seeds were sown. McGarry immediately set out about forming a Committee to undertake the seemingly impossible task. In fact the project was nearly grounded before it even started. The Park Committee who own the park were reluctant at first to give up any ground at and McGarry the man that he is bought a piece of additional ground and exchanged it for the ground where the 40 x 20 court is presently built. McGarry’s midas touch made sure the project would progress and has worked tirelessly on it. And with that McGarry & Co could dare to dream an almost impossible dream.
Fundraising began almost immediately with tickets sales bringing in €13,000 initially.
The Committee members included Hugh McGarry, Paddy Walsh, Stanley Harte, Peter Davey, Mick Kelly, Peter Chambers, Connell Cannon, Shane Bruen, Michael McGee, Brendan Carey, Seamus Duffy, Aoife McDonagh & Denise Mullen.
In August of 2009 Andy Healy (a Sligo native) President of the Boston Sligo Association handed over $2,000 to the club following a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser in Boston to club officials in Collooney handball club.
The plans for the handball court was unveiled in January 2011 in Collooney Former Chairman of the Owenmore G.A.A Club Martin Cannon spoke at the unveiling of the plans as did then Sligo G.A.A Chairman Cyril Feehily & P.J. Moran the technical advisor. Fr. Pat Peyton PP Collooney was also in attendance and has given the club great encouragement for many years. The Club got great support from the local Owenmore Gaels G.A.A Club with their award winning Connolly Park and the Fairgreen Committee opening the Children’s playground beside the handball court.
The sod turning ceremony took place on Friday May 18th 2012 and was attended by local politicians, G.A.A. Officials & the people of Collooney. What pleased the Club most was the entire Collooney community turned out for the celebrations. Local G.A.A stalwarts Michael Flynn & Maureen Mullin were given the honour of turning the first sod on the club’s new handball court. Maureen Mullin was treasurer of the St. Feichin’s Community Games from 1973-1998 and Treasurer of the Teeling Centre for the past 27 years. Michael Flynn was handball trustee back in the 1970’s.
Last year the club received the welcome news that they would receive funding of €50,000 from the Department of Sports and Tourism which greatly helped in reducing the overall cost of the project.
A huge amount of work went into it according to McGarry the development Chairman. “It is a great site and fundamentally we wanted it to be in the middle of the village and beside the existing alley. There was a lot of work to do to get the loan from Clann Credo as we had to prove to them what sources of income we have and this had to be certified by an accountant. We also had to provide them with Bank Statements etc. The Bingo is proving very successful for us and we need to keep the money coming in to pay off the debt.”
McGarry is very positive about the future of the Collooney handball centre. “Boys & Girls will now have a home venue to train and the court will now be up to inter county standard. Our players will now be training in the best facilities going.”
McGarry acknowledged the great work of PJ Moran Engineer who designed the building. “Once we seen the blueprint from P.J. on paper we worked on from that. Shane Malone is the main contractor and numerous tradesmen all did an outstanding job for us. I cannot be more pleased with how it all turned out.”
The Development Chairman greatly acknowledged the extraordinary support from all the people who attend the club’s weekly bingo in the Collooney hall each Thursday evening.
“Without their support this would not have been possible.”
McGarry also “praised the committee for their commitment, dedication and energy and to all the people in Collooney who have supported handball over many years.”
The Club also received a loan of €76,000 from “Clann Credo and the money is being paid back by two sources of revenue the Bingo and from the club members themselves who put in €5 every week. The bingo is running for the past 4 years.
The main contractor is Shane Malone from Boyle. Shane has already built two award winning developments in Collooney at Bramble Hallow and at Hawthorn Court. The Club’s Technical Advisor is none other than P.J. Moran an All-Ireland handball champion from Roscommon.
The Club’s players have distinguished themselves at National & International level. Players of the calibre of Shane Bruen, Paddy Walsh, Vincent McKeon, Hugh McGarry, Connell Cannon, Mick Kelly, Peter Davey, John McLoughlin, Seamus Duffy, Stanley Harte, Sean Coen, Mick McMorrow, Michael McGee & Peter Chambers all have won numerous Connacht & All-Ireland handball titles. Two months ago the Club reached the All-Ireland club semi-finals. Shane Bruen has already reached this year’s All-Ireland’s semi-finals. Two of the club’s best known players Paddy Walsh & Mick Kelly between them have won a staggering 39 All-Ireland handball titles.
And with the likes of Stanley Harte Jnr, Patrick Fox, Tommy Trill all coming through the underage structure hopes are high of future success.
The cost of the entire project is costing €200,000 to build. Legendary players Paddy Walsh & Mick Kelly have been given the honour of cutting the tape to open the new court.
The project began on August 12th 2013.
It says much for Hugh McGarry and his committee that in the middle of a recession the project stayed on course. At the sod turning ceremony on the 18th May 2012 with words taken from a famous Barack Obama speech McGarry gave a passionate and rousing speech that will live long in the memory. In his last parting words he said to all in attendance he said “Stick with us and we will do it. If feidir linn.” McGarry’s superhuman efforts and that of his team have seen an almost impossible dream become a reality.
The modern building stands in the shadow of the majestic spire of the Church of the Assumption in Collooney. Handball in Collooney has finally come home. Home in the heart of Collooney. The visionaries of 1928 will be more than pleased with what their successors have now achieved.
McGarry’s prophetic words have come true “Yes we can and Yes we did it”
The historic opening will begin with an Ecumenical blessing by Fr Pat Peyton PP Collooney & Rev Adam Pullen Ballisodare at 5.30 p.m. Legendary handball players Paddy Walsh & Mick Kelly will have the honour of cutting the tape to open the new facility. Collooney handball club development Chairman Hugh McGarry will deliver the speech. Refreshments will be provided and the Collooney handball club extend an invitation for all to attend.