In times of old, our ancestors built places of worship, soaring churches, round towers pointing at the skies. Around the world, most civilisations did likewise, digging amphitheatres into undulating hills; surrounding places of conquest with walls to form an arena for entertainment or persecution, to where the hordes thronged to fill their thoughts with admiration and revulsion at gladiators and beleaguered prophets.
The word stadium came from the Greek ‘stadion’ which meant the equivalent of 600 human feet. The Roman preferred to operate in double paces, with their stadia being the equivalent of 125 ‘double-passus’ -, all being in and around 600 feet in total. They were places in which we could admire, and where the performers could inspire. Stages upon which a chosen few would enthral the crowds.
We are woefully short of stages here in Galway; every year we engage makeshift ones to gather around. This week, we got news that we are getting a new one.
In the construction of this stadium at the Sportsground, Connacht Rugby is creating a better arena for all of this admiration and inspiration. With all that goes on in the way things are normally run in this part of the world, it is heartening to see and hear the professional coordinated approach that it has taken to this and other projects.
All alternatives have been looked at; those who may be impacted have either been spoken to, or will be consulted in the very near future. There is a degree of certainty about the path to funding and planning that is not common. You can be sure that this will happen the way the Connacht executives say it will.
The fact that they are laying an artificial pitch and creating an indoor training pitch shows too that they are shedding the misperception that a game away to Connacht is a game against the home team and the weather of the wild Atlantic coast. By being able to prep for games in an indoor facility, and be able to train year-round on their match pitch will also offer them the chance for improvement that has been denied them by the lack of facilities they currently endure.
But this is not good news for just rugby fans or supporters of Connacht. It is a boon to us all. We can never have too many sports facilities, at a time when this country is soaring up the obesity league. This is also another reason for people to visit our city and to find facilities that they expect in modern times.
I wrote here many times that what happens in Galway in the next ten years will shape this place for the next century. In terms of hospitals and sports facilities and run down railway stations and waste docklands, it is time to get rid of all that is not fit for purpose and replace them with things that are.
It is also a realistic propsosal — not a 30,000 seater white elephant that will lie empty 350 days a year. The new Sportsground too will not be shut to other sports. The professional team who run the club are only too aware of what a strong selling point this is, at a time when publicly funded sports facilities need to be inclusive and not exclusive.
The conveyor belt of talent that is coming out of the provinces over the past few years deserves stadiums like this to play on. The ability of Connacht to have many players capped at what is the most successful time in Irish rugby shows what can be achieved when the players have the confidence and talent to express themselves. The Connacht stars have done this so far without the top facilities. Just watch them go when they are able to have the best like the rest.
Well done, Connacht Rugby for your vision and ambition.