There was a fairly low-key official opening of the Darver Centre of Excellence last Friday night, performed by GAA president, Liam O’Neill. That, perhaps, is how the men responsible for driving the project from theoutset, turning what appeared at the beginning to be an over-ambitious plan into a reality, would have wanted it.
From the day, back in 2002, when the Co Board, under the chairmanship of Paddy McMahon, decided to explore the possibility of providing a badly-needed training and development centre up until four years ago when it was stood down, the ad hoc committee that drove the project worked quietly but tirelessly.
The committee’s make-up underwent a few changes, but permanent throughout its eight-year existence were Paddy McMahon, two former Co Board officers, Pat Toner and Colm Marry, and Seamus Kirk, who acted as chairman. Also, the late Brendan Carthy, whose expertise in the field of planning and development made him an invaluable asset in his role as project manager, working in a voluntary capacity. Denis Williams was project engineer.
In a county where, for over the previous hundred years-plus the ruling body had provided nothing by way of facilities, most notably a county ground, what was achieved in a relatively short space of time was quite remarkable. The county is presently populated by the finest of grounds and clubhouses, but all are the work of clubs and their dedicated members.
Thirty-five acres of agricultural land in the townland of Newtowndarver was transformed to become a facility the envy of counties up and down the country. It now boasts of five floodlit sand-based pitches along with a synthetic pitch, also floodlit, and a two-storey clubhouse, in which there are among the facilities 12 dressing rooms, gym, kitchen, administrative offices and seminar and meeting rooms.
It also has a walkway, Sli na Slainte, which has proven itself hugely popular with people even beyond the GAA ranks.
Prior to developing a similar project at Garvaghy, near Omagh, using the Darver template, Tyrone officials made several visits to Louth – while, addressing a meeting of the Donegal Co Board a number of years back, Brian McEniff, a member of the Board’s Business and Planning sub-committee, told delegates they “should follow the example of Louth when they build their centre of excellence”.
And, soon after becoming county team manager, near the end of 2012, Aidan O’Rourke said: “Facilities like Darver make the job exciting, and I don’t think it is matched anywhere else in the country. The facility is a credit to Louth.”
Aside from overseeing the development, the committee also played a major part in raising the money to finance the project. Over €6 million came from a variety of sources, Louth people and businesses contributing generously to the huge amount raised through voluntary subscriptions, two of them amounting to six figures and others five figures. Clubs also played their part, and at a time when the Celtic Tiger was roaring loudest, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, visited Darver on a whistle-stop tour of the county and announced a €1 million grant towards the project.
There was also a Sports Capital Grant of €200,000, a quarter of a million from the assets accrued through the rent of Croke Park to the IRFU and FAI and €100,000 from Lottery funding.
The ad hoc committee had plans to stay in place until the debt of approximately €800,000 was wiped out, and central to fundraising was a county-wide weekly lotto with a projected profit of €180,000 annually. The lotto was, in fact, got up and running, in 2008, but became a County Board promotion.
The Board’s decision in June of 2010 to disband the committee, replacing it with one comprised of two of its own officers and three club representatives caused surprise to many, and disappointment to the people who had given so much of their time to almost bringing to completion what stands today as the county’s finest facility. If there had been requests to the committee to come under the auspices of the Board, they weren’t made public.