Our on-field successes can boost sporting tourism in Galway

Tomorrow night, on a field in Kerry, there exists the potential that Galway United will capture the First Division title and with it, seize the sole guaranteed promotion ticket back to the Premier Division. If it happens, and if not, there is another chance at home to Finn Harps next Monday, it will represent a return to the top tier for the first time since the club has dined at the main table under the new ownership.

What it means is that next season, United will be playing among the top teams in the country. The creme de la creme of Irish football will be coming west every two weeks to play our side that has powered its way through the First Division this season. I must admit, after leaving the Markets Field in Limerick last winter after United had unfairly lost heavily to Waterford United, that it was hard to be optimistic, but with shrewd signings and management, the club has now almost certainly regained its place among the best.

Here I divert the train of thought...a few weeks back, I was driving across the UK and in need of a stop mid-journey, I opted to stay in a little hotel not far from Wrexham in Wales. I was drawn there by the recent Disney Plus TV show Welcome to Wrexham which follows the fortunes of the famous old club which had fallen on hard times, become non-league and was saved from obscurity by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McIlhenney.

Myself and my wife and daughter are fans of the programme, so we popped into the town, visited the club, had a drink in the adjoining Turf where the club was founded in the late 1800s. During our time there, we bumped into many of the locals who have become the stars of the show and each and every one of of them was gracious with their time for selfies and chats and coffees.

The connection with Galway United... well, the hotelier who owned the establishment told me that he is inundated with guests staying in the area because of the attraction of the club, the buzz that’s around, the benefit from sports tourism. Remember, this is not the Camp Nou or the Santiago Bernabeau, but a ground that is much more wholesome and earthy.

Last Friday night, when Galway United hosted and then thrashed Dundalk in the cup semi-final, 150 of the visiting fans had booked hotels in the city and in the environs. They came for the football and stayed for the craic. Next season, all of the well-supported Premier Division teams will be visiting Galway a few times. If each visit can flog a few hundred hotel rooms, the benefit to the locality becomes obvious.

Coupled with the success of Connacht Rugby and the development of their facilties, sports tourism is a new and welcome addition to the Galway economy, throughout the year, and not just the sporadic summertime rush we have with the All-Ireland championships.

The rising tide of our teams can rise the boats of our local economy. The facilities are good, the atmosphere is good and the city and its people are welcoming. By all working together, we get to give people a nice break in the west as well as contributing to the conviviality of the sporting events.

So congrats to all at United for their success this season. Already, their women’s team have won All-Island honours, and tomorrow night, hopefully, that Avenir Cup will have a new bedfellow in the Galway United trophy cabinet.


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