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JP makes it a big day for tiny GAA club

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Looking out onto the all weather pitch at the opening of the Staker Wallace GAA Club frrom inside the new clubhouse.

Picture.Press 22

Looking out onto the all weather pitch at the opening of the Staker Wallace GAA Club frrom inside the new clubhouse. Picture.Press 22

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Former Irish rugby star Keith Wood with JP McManus

IT'S the stuff of fairytales for a tiny GAA club.

But when you have a benefactor like financier JP McManus anything is possible.

Thanks to his influence, the official opening of Staker Wallace's new state-of-the-art facilities, in Kilbreedy Co Limerick, attracted more than 4,000 people. The highlight was a match between the current All-Ireland hurling champions Kilkenny and Limerick.

The Artane Boys Band played beforehand and the Limerick and Kilkenny teams that contested the 1973 All-Ireland senior hurling final were also invited as guests of honour.

LAVISH

Caterers in a marquee fed 350 people who attended a meal hosted by Mr McManus in the new clubhouse afterwards.

The club, which has just 110 members, was provided with two full-sized pitches and a new clubhouse after it agreed to sell its former grounds to Mr McManus – who needed the land to ringfence his lavish mansion at Martinstown.

In return, the GAA club received two floodlit, sand-capped and mole-drained pitches, a community field and a large clubhouse with four dressing rooms, an upstairs meeting room, and a sports hall.

The quality of the facilities is such that the Limerick county hurlers regularly train at Staker Wallace.

Mr McManus was accompanied by his wife Noreen, daughter Sue Ann and sons John and Kieran. He said the GAA Club deserved its new facilities.

"There's great community spirit here in Staker Wallace and they are doing a lot here. And everyone appreciates the work they are doing with the youth and they deserve support," he said.

All of the players from both the present and 1973 Limerick hurling teams were booted and suited by Mr McManus for the occasion. It's understood he ordered more than 200 suits from Tony Connolly's menswear store in Limerick for the event.

"We are all dressed in suits by JP – shirts, ties, shoes, socks, the whole lot, so there's no expense spared," said Pat Hartigan, who was among the members of the 1973 All-Ireland winning Limerick team, along with Joe McKenna and Richie Bennis. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, who also played in the 1973 final, was invited but was unable to attend as he is recovering from cardiac surgery.

Tommy Cooke, who will be 99 in August, and is the only surviving member of the 1940 All- Ireland winning Limerick hurling team, watched last night's match from the comfort of the new clubhouse.

GENEROSITY

"This is a beautiful place, when you think we didn't even get cup of tea after we won the All Ireland in 1940," joked the retired farmer.

Legendary Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin was present but unable to play due to his leg injury.

"It's amazing to see facilities like this for the local community. For a small club it is something they should be very proud of," he said.

Micheal O Muircheartaigh, who was also present, said it was "fantastic to see a small rural club with every one of the modern facilities".

Staker Wallace Club chairman Ken Heelan paid tribute to Mr McManus for his generosity.

"Before we had one field that wasn't anywhere near sand capped or mole drained and we had a community centre – but this is much bigger," he said.

Staker Wallace called its new sports field the Fr John Ryan Memorial Park in memory of the late parish priest.

Former Irish rugby international Keith Wood and former Tipperary all-Ireland hurler and manager Nicky English were also at the event.

Irish Independent