A unique development deep in the West of Ireland

In the Autumn of 2018 I attended a Connacht GAA launch of a new development they were planning called an ‘Air Dome’ which was to be constructed at the Centre of Excellence complex at Bekan outside Ballyhaunis.

The plans looked impressive but I suspect that I was not alone that day in dismissing this as just another ‘new fangled idea’ that sounded great in theory but maybe not in practice. How very wrong I was.

The idea was to build a full size GAA pitch indoors that not alone could stage Football and Hurling matches up to adult level, but it would be a training and fitness centre and much more too, and that would be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Last week in the company of Connacht GAA Games Development Manager (and Roscommon senior player) Cathal Cregg, who was also one of the prime movers behind the new facility, I toured the new dome which is now fully finished. Put simply, it is stunning.

It takes a lot to render me speechless, but this new ‘Air Dome’ is the finest sporting facility that I have seen in any country never mind here in Ireland. I know there is nothing like here and I doubt if there is anything like it anywhere in the world. In fact it is the largest sports air dome to be found anywhere on the planet. It is a very simple concept. The dome is blown up by air provided by three big generators, and the building is airtight all the time. But to see it in reality it is some feat of construction and engineering.

It’s the brainchild of Connacht Council Secretary John Prenty and former Games Development Manager (and Roscommon team manager) John Tobin. The project was taken on by Cathal Cregg and others and it was finished this year. In fact the Connacht Council got the keys of the new facility just last Friday week.

Cathal began by telling me the history behind the development “It was always in the Connacht Council plans to develop and indoor arena to play games in. The idea at the start was that it would be a solid structure, but the GAA pitch dimensions are just too big for that. But Prunty Pitches saw this idea at a road show and they approached John Prenty. Then we looked at a smaller version in Castlebar which is over a couple of tennis courts, and the idea took off from there. About 18 months ago myself and John (Prenty) went to Finland to look what they had in the north of the country and we saw one dome that was 20 meters shorter and 20 meters narrower and 6 or 7 meters lower.”

“This building here is 150 meters long by 100 meters wide and it is 26 meters high. The pitch is 130 meters by 80. It doesn’t look that high, but I can tell you a lot of people have tried to hit the roof with a football and they haven’t succeeded yet.”

“You can play a full game of football or hurling here and there will be 600 seats down along one side for spectators and that can be increased in time too.”

Cathal explains the concept behind the huge building. “The building is air tight and there are three generators to keep it inflated. It takes a lot to actually inflate the building but once it’s up it takes only one generator to keep it going.”

“The doors we came in are revolving doors so no air gets out and there are big doors where you can bring in lorries etc with equipment, but there are two doors for that and an air corridor in between. But if you lose any air it automatically re-inflates to it’s full pressure.”

There is magnificent floodlighting system that reflects the light upwards and means that there is no glare on players during a match. “They tell me that the floodlighting system is 1000 lux and to put that into context you need about 750 lux for live television”
There is a large translucent section in the roof which allows in natural light which is also unique. “The translucent section is much bigger than the one we saw in Finland and it has worked out great and it will cut down on costs too.”

The magnificent pitch is covered in the latest synthetic grass as Cathal explains. “This is the latest 4G surface. It is from a company in Sligo called SIS who do a lot of pitches for FIFA worldwide. It’s a much better than the old synthetic surfaces when players could get ‘burn’ injuries from sliding on it, but that won’t happen on this pitch. It’s the most modern design available.”

“This is the biggest sports dome in the world. There may be bigger constructions but none specifically for sport.”

(Article for The Roscommon People. Photographs from Michael McCormack)


Fascinating documentary on BBC2 about the England World Cup winning team from 1966.

A lot of the players have now passed away but it was brilliant programme. Alf Ramsey was a unique manager who would never be swayed by public opinion or the media. He had probably the best goal scorer in world football in Jimmy Greaves in the squad and although Greaves was injured during the tournament he was fit for the final but Ramsey didn’t pick him, opting for Geoff Hurst instead.

The rest as they say is history.

The programme featured extensive interviews with Greaves who never really got over being left out for the final. Even after 50 years the pain was clear for all to see.
It was also fascinating to see a very emotional Bobby Charlton express his frustration at being asked to man-mark Franz Beckenbaur in the final. It was a totally new role for him and 50 years later he shed tears as he told of not being able to fully participate in the final in a creative way. Incredibly the German management had also asked Beckenbaur to man-mark Charlton and both players cancelled each other out on the day.

But there was so much other stuff covered in the programme such as the apalling treatment the the wives and girlfriends of the players, the dislike that Alf Ramsey had for the media, the new phenomenon of matches being live on TV, the savage tackling that went on in most matches and the incredible leadership shown by a few of the players notably Bobby Moore.

Top class stuff