SPRINT queen Phil Healy raced to the summit in Irish athletics despite her home club never having its own track.
This summer the Irish 100m record holder is on course to fly Bandon Athletic Club’s flag on the world stage when she competes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, yet her club has never had a place to call home – but that is all about to change.
In March Bandon AC revealed its exciting plans to build its home on an eight-acre site at Clancool Beg, just outside Bandon. The club has been granted full planning permission for the development of a 400-metre all-weather track, a field event area and an indoor training facility. The indoor area, as well as having space for sprints and long distance, will also include jumps and throws areas.
At last, Bandon AC will have its own home – and Olympic hopeful Healy is excited about the new development.
‘There has never been a full track in Bandon at any point so this is massive for the area and the town,’ Healy says.
‘When I was younger I always trained on the grass track in the Town Park. There was about an 80-metre strip of tartan at Bandon Grammar that the club used so I would have had that or once a week we went up to CIT.’
But now, thanks to Bandon AC’s ambitions, the club will be able to provide the best facilities to its athletes at home in West Cork.
‘The club has been on the go over 50 years and lately we have been between Bandon Grammar School during the winter and the Town Park in Bandon during the summer,’ explains club vice-chairman Adrian O’Flynn.
‘Having a base and a home where the club can have its athletes train on a regular basis is important.’
Right now, every Friday evening and Saturday morning athletes from Bandon AC make the 80-minute round trip from home to Cork IT to access the college’s track facilities because they don’t have their own in Bandon. There is no running track at the Grammar School and while the Town Park has a grass track it’s not the same as running on a tartan track.
‘Athletes need those track facilities,’ O’Flynn says.
‘It will mean that our athletes won’t have to travel to Cork city to use the track because we will now have those facilities in Bandon.
‘Rest and recovery is key for athletes but at the moment they have to travel 30 to 40 minutes to Cork city to access a track to train on whereas if they have the facilities on their doorstep that is more time for them to rest and recover.’
The club recently launched a GoFundMe page to raise €100,000 for phase one of their project – work on the six-lane all-weather track. This development phase is expected to cost over €500,000. From levelling and fencing the entire site to laying the sub base before the tartan track goes down and everything else involved, this is a huge undertaking. The club, which currently has over 500 members, hopes that work on the site will begin in October and that the all-weather track will be installed in 2022.
‘For phase one we are looking at somewhere in the region of €500,000 so our fundraising and the allocation of grants, like the Capital Grant, are key areas that we are focussed on right now,’ O’Flynn says.
‘The project team/development committee has been very active in all of this and has identified the different steps that need to happen to get us from where we are now to where we want to be.’
Club chairman Patrick McSweeney recently explained that the new all-weather track will be owned and controlled by the club, unlike the majority of other all-weather tracks in Ireland. He also noted that Bandon AC is one of the largest juvenile clubs affiliated to Athletics Ireland, but due to lack of access to its current facilities it has not always been able to accept members and the club frequently has a waiting list.
‘Once this development is complete, the club's expectations would be that it can eradicate waiting lists,’ McSweeney said.
These new facilities will also help promote athletics right across West Cork and help to nurture the talent of future stars. Bandon AC is currently home to Ireland’s fastest woman Phil Healy, national men’s long jump champion Shane Howard and Irish senior women’s hammer champion Nicola Tuthill, as well as several other talented local athletes like Lauren McCourt and Fionn Harrington who were both in action at the recent Irish Milers meet in Belfast.