Arklow United plans new all-weather pitch to help grow female game in Wicklow

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Eoin Mac RaghnaillWicklow People

Arklow United have lodged a planning application with Wicklow County Council for the construction of a new all weather pitch, a move driven by a need to accommodate more footballers, particularly females.

With a total of 19 juvenile teams within the club and a huge demand for training slots, Arklow United have outgrown their existing 68x38m astroturf training facility.

The newly proposed development, a 40m X 25m full 5-a-side training pitch, will accommodate at least two more teams and will go a long way to alleviating scheduling pressure. Arklow United club secretary David McBride said that the ambitious plans, which also provide for  the erection of four 10m high floodlight posts and a 5m high protective netting, have been in the works for some time.

“We’re in a situation where we have about 300 kids in the club now and the current training pitch we have limits how much training we can do,” David said.

“We hold our training sessions between 4.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m., Monday to Friday, so we only really have around 20 training hours available for 19 teams, so there’s a real shortfall there at the moment.”

“It’s been a source of frustration for both the coaches and the players who want to get out there and train more frequently, but the opportunities are simply not available to do so. We had to do something and, as it happens, we have the funds available to us at present to do so.”

As David explained, the blossoming Wicklow female soccer scene has exploded in Arklow in recent years. He expects Ireland’s recent qualification for the women’s World Cup to have a profound affect on player numbers, with an entire generation of Irish girls inspired to take up the sport. Although there are currently no female soccer leagues in Wicklow, David said that it hasn’t stopped Arklow girls from getting involved.

“The other driver behind the new pitch is that we have a lot of girls who are looking to join the club,” David said.

“We’re certainly looking at going down the route of having girl’s and women’s teams in the near future. We’re going to need more room for that influx of footballers, so it’s very much a case of future planning.

“We’re big believers of girls playing with the boys for as long as they can. But, inevitably, that only works up to a certain age. The girls will eventually want to play with other girls. So, without dedicated girl’s teams, we can’t offer them any progression and we can’t hold onto those players.

“If and when we do start girl’s teams, we’ll probably keep them mixed up to a certain age,” David continued. “We’re firm believers that the girl’s and boys should play together from the age of 8 through to the age of 12.

“This means that, by the time the girls join a girl’s team at U13 or U14 level, they already have four years of playing with the boys under their belt, and that will certainly work to their advantage. Of course, that’s just an opinion, not everyone will feel that’s the best way to proceed. However, the Ireland women’s team manager Vera Pauw has spoke about those benefits in the past, and we would tend to agree.

“That’s the way they train girls in academies in Holland and Belgium, so it’s not new thinking by any means. It’s tried and tested.”

David is keen to emphasise that the club are acting now because they are in a financial position to do so. Arklow United have shared their land with Gaelscoil an Inbhir Mhóir for more than two decades now, which has provided a steady stream of income. However, that is all set to change in the near future.

“The majority of the work we’ve been able to do at the club has been funded by Gaelscoil an Inbhir Mhóir being on our premises,” David explained. “Once the waste water treatment plant goes ahead the school will move to their new home over in Ferrybank – they already have planning permission for it.

“So, what we have to do now, while we have the funds, is develop our club. We have the funds now, that’s why we’re looking to act on it.

“Because of the income from the school we haven’t had to fundraise recently, but that’s going to change in the years to come.

“We’re going to have to become self sufficient. We ran a couple of lip-sync events in the Arklow Bay Hotel and they both sold out, so we know we’re capable of putting on a good fundraiser.

“There has been some talk about renting out the new pitch for a couple of hours a week once it’s completed, but I really cant see that happening,” David added.

“We never get enquiries about our current pitch, probably because it’s common knowledge that there’s always a team training on it. We are the training hub for the WDSL as well, so they do use it for about six hours at the weekend, but we never get questions about the availability at the weekend from elsewhere.

“But who knows. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ll just be delighted to get the new pitch up and running so we can continue to grow the club and increase the opportunities for females to progress in the sport here in Arklow.

A decision is due on Arklow United’s planning application by December 29. Submissions can be made by the public up until November 28.

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